WH Adviser Explains Vision for ‘Public-Private Partnerships Involving Foreign Nations’

Terence P. Jeffrey | November 5, 2012 | 6:41pm EST
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John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, speaking at the Oct. 23, 2012 Naval Science and Technology Partnership Conference, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Va. (Office of Naval Research/John F. Williams)

(CNSNews.com) - John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, recently told a conference sponsored by the Office of Naval Research that “public-private partnerships involving foreign nations" are an “important element of the Administration’s focus on public-private collaboration.”

In the past, writing in collaboration with anti-population-growth advocate Paul Ehlrich, Holdren has said that humanity must face up to a “world of zero net physical growth” and that: “Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.”

“What is actually required is nothing less than the transformation of human society,” Holdren said in a book he co-authored in 1973 with Paul and Anne Ehrlich.

On Oct. 23, Holdren spoke at the Naval Science and Technology Partnership Conference that was held at a hotel in Arlington, Va., and sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. His speech has been posted on the White House website.

“I’m especially happy to share the Administration’s views on science, technology, and innovation with this audience because it’s precisely the mix of industry, academia, government, and the military represented in this hall that is at the core of this Administration’s strategy for strengthening our science, technology, and innovation ecosystem--including of course STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education--that is so central for meeting all of our national goals,” Holdren said.

Holdren told the audience that President Obama understands security to include the “environmental dimensions of our well-being.”

“It certainly has been a privilege and a pleasure for me to serve as the science and technology advisor for a President who understands with crystal clarity the importance and the promise that science and technology hold—not just for our national security in the narrow sense but for our security in the broader sense that includes the economic and environmental dimensions of our well-being,” said Holdren.

In his speech, Holdren touted the benefits of “public-private partnerships,” pointing, for example, to partnerships advanced by the Department of Energy. In closing, he explained why the administration believes it is important to develop international public-private partnerships.

“Now I’d like to wrap up by talking about one other important element of the Administration’s focus on public-private collaboration, and that is in the domain of international science and technology cooperation,” said Holdren.

“I raise it in part because I think a lot of you here—maybe especially many of you with dot-mil email addresses—probably assume that public-private partnerships involving foreign nations must be too sensitive, or too difficult to take on,” said Holdren. “Maybe you think the potential risks almost automatically outweigh the potential benefits.

“Well I am here to say that, while of course there are going to be limits on this kind of collaboration in the military domain and other sensitive domains, there is actually a lot of opportunity to advance innovation with international partners—a lot of innovation that can benefit our nation directly,” said Holdren.

“My opinions on this come from having a front-row seat in a number of such venues: I serve as the co-chair of six bilateral S&T ministerial meetings--with Japan, Korea, Brazil, Russia, China, and India—and I can say without hesitation that the nation has benefited enormously from those shared arrangements, through cost-sharing and by gaining access to resources that would otherwise not be available,” said Holdren.

He did not elaborate on how the United States might have benefited from any collaboration with China, but he did point to a number of examples, including one involving Brazil.

“And at the last ministerial meeting with Brazil, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense signed an agreement to exchange R&D information on topics of mutual interest, including biofuels,” said Holdren.

In 1995, Holdren joined with Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich and Gretchen Daily of Stanford University to co-author an essay entitled “The Meaning of Sustainability: Biogeophysical Aspects,” that was included in a book published by the World Bank.

In this essay, Holdren and his co-authors said: “We know for certain, for example, that: No form of material growth (including population growth) other than asymptotic growth, is sustainable.”

“This is enough,” Holdren and his co-authors said, “to say quite a lot about what needs to be faced up to eventually (a world of zero net physical growth), what should be done now (change unsustainable practices, reduce excessive material consumption, slow down population growth), and what the penalty will be for postponing attention to population limitation (lower well-being per person).”

“The large gaps between rich and poor that characterize income distribution within and between countries today are incompatible with social stability and with cooperative approaches to achieving environmental sustainability,” Holdren and his co-authors wrote.

In 1973, Holdren made similar points in a book co-authored with Paul and Anne Ehrlich entitled, “Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions.”

“A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote in that book. “De-development means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with realities of ecology and the global resource situation. Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses in overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries.”

“Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being,” Holdren and his co-authors said.

“We have only hinted at the complexity of problems in wise development,” Holdren and his co-authors wrote. “What is actually required is nothing less than the transformation of human society. For if these programs can have any chance for success, mankind will finally have to start treating the entire globe as a single entity and all human problems as part of the same complex fabric. In many cases parochial national interests will have to be submerged for the common interest of all people. Some degree of sovereignty will have to be sacrificed if rational control over the planet’s resources and the maintenance of the quality of the oceans and atmosphere are to be achieved.”

Holdren has served as President Obama’s top science adviser since the beginning of the administration.

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