Global problems interrelated, Nobel winner warns

The Nation - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Many of the world's problems, while seemingly unrelated, are in fact "grossly interdependent" and require commitments from communities and governments on a global scale if they are to be solved, a Nobel laureate told a Bangkok audience yesterday.

Professor Jerome Karle, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1985, spoke on "The Role of Science and Technology for World Peace" at Chulalongkorn University as part of a series of lectures and forums organised by the Viennabased International Peace Foundation and a number of local groups.

The New Yorkborn scientist touched upon a wide range of issues - including economics, education, the environment, ethics, population and quality of life - and made numerous proposals for tackling problems in these areas.

On the economic front, Karle urged societies to find nonviolent ways to deal with economic stresses and perceived inequalities. He also singled out the arms trade, dominated by a few powerful countries, as an obstacle to achieving world peace.

"The large and apparently irresistible profit motive in the selling of arms makes control very difficult. The economic gain may be short range but the harm can be major and longlasting," he warned.

Karle said that while an "automation revolution" has taken place in technologically advanced societies, many citizens of these societies are now deprived of meaningful employment as a result. The impact of rapid technological development on quality of life must be considered, he said.

A decent standard of living, he said, includes a degree of privacy and room for thought and contemplation - things not readily found in congested cities.

On ethics and education, Karle said it is important for young people to be trained from an early age to question the contemporary concepts and ideas that swirl around them. "Education obtained in the absence of finetuned reasoning and an ethical sensitivity is probably a major contributor to societal ills."

On the environment, he said minimisation of the various threats from air pollution, depletion of the ozone layer, chemical and radioactive waste, erosion, desertification and other forms of environmental degradation would require nothing less than cooperation among societies and governments on a global scale.

The big challenge facing humanity, he said, is how to live in a world whose future is threatened.

"Do we want nature to take its course, a path that is often extremely harsh, or will the world's population and leadership be willing and able to take the major courageous steps required to mitigate nature's harshness, preserve the Earth and generate a more equitable and humane future?"

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation