This is the text of the speech given by President Michael D. Higgins at the opening ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum Conference (ESOF 2012) in Dublin earlier this month
There is no doubt that, as a nation we continue to have much to offer the world of science and technology and thus it is of great benefit and encouragement to us to have been given this opportunity to share the best of Ireland and the best of Irish research with others at this very large gathering of scientists, business leaders, and science enthusiasts.
I am delighted that during my first year as President, Dublin has been designated as the City of Science.
During this special year we will have a valuable opportunity to bring together the worlds of arts, culture and science, exploring the link between these domains and ensuring that we fully utilise our creativity in all its forms. I have previously said that I want my term in office to be a Presidency of ideas.
I have spoken of the limitless possibilities that are there if we play to all our strengths – ár feidireachtaí gan teorainn.
We must aspire to turn the best of ideas into living realities for all of our people, realising our limitless possibilities.
This indeed is closely linked to the journey from scientific discovery to appreciation, as well as the process of transforming the outputs of publicly-funded research into successful commercial innovations and outcomes, all themes that will be explored over the course of this conference.
I know that the Science in the City Public Engagement Programme is set to run for ten days around the conference here in Dublin and delegates will have the opportunity to engage with the general public and the general public will likewise engage with science and scientific themes around this exciting time.
I note, as an example of multi-disciplinary, innovative thinking, that the conference has engaged twenty of Ireland’s well known poets to contribute 12 lines on the theme of science.
John Deane’s poem The Moon and the Stars on the coming of electricity to rural homes in Ireland captures the wonder of science – that ‘giant step into the new world’.
It also reminds us of the wonder of nature and of what is truly valuable, both of which are often put at risk as societies modernise.
Do take time to read the small book of poems, edited by Iggy McGovern of Trinity College, a copy of which is in each of your conference packs and I’m sure you’ll find new and original thinking on your subject from the perspective of the poet.
Poets and scientists are both respondents to wonder and while both work their disciplines both also may be the beneficiaries of serendipity.
I am looking forward to seeing further reconnection of the arts with the sciences during this momentous year for Irish science. This need for a connecting discourse for science, technology, society and culture is indeed a pervading theme throughout this conference and one which I hope will encourage continued innovation and original inter-disciplinary thinking.
There can be no doubt that recognising and being open to new paradigms of thought and action can only enrich our social, cultural and economic development and lead to a common shared future built on the spirit of co-operation, the collective will, real participation and an exciting sense of what might be possible.
Creative original thinking
Now is the time for all of us to contribute to the debate about the economic model that will guide Ireland, and indeed Europe, into the future and towards an economy that is growth oriented and delivers jobs, but is also sustainable over the longer term and fair in the opportunities it offers to all our citizens to participate in society.
What you discuss is also of relevance for those crafting the Irish and European policy in relation to development theory and practice.
Innovation based on creative original thinking is the key to unlocking Ireland’s future economic potential. However, this has to be done though the adoption of approaches that are sustainable – addressing the world’s resource, climate and environmental challenges; providing employment opportunities and promoting full participation; and working with the full support of local, regional, national, EU and international-level policies.
Thankfully there is growing awareness that the economies of the world need to be put on a more sustainable path; that current systems of production and consumption need to re-imagined and re-invented and that we need to use our resources more efficiently and I would say, with moral responsibility, if we are to secure a better future for all. We cannot be regarded as either moral or sustainable if, for example, we allow the hunger of the world to be a matter of spectator.
According to Professor Howard Stein of the University of Michigan:
“Commodity markets are being driven not by fundamentals of producers and end users but by other factors. Among other things, commodities are seen as good hedge when the value of the dollar falls which lowers the value of global commodities in non-dollar terms. Strategies now include speculation on food which has become a bio-substitute for fuels with frightening implications to the welfare of millions of net food buyers in poor developing countries.
“In 2011, for example, it is estimated that 61% of the wheat futures market was held by speculators compared to only 12% in the mid-90s prior to deregulation. The amount of money flowing to speculation in food markets futures continues to grow appreciably and roughly doubled between 2006 and 2011. The result was a steep rise in food prices which more than doubled between June 2003 and June 2008. After declining following the financial crisis they started rising and peaked in April 2011 at more than 2 ½ times the pre-deregulation level in June 1999.
“The impact on food consumers in poor African countries is well documented. IMF estimates that on average the internal price of food rises by .33% for every 1% in global food prices. In a survey of 58 developing countries, food prices were up by 56% between 2007 and 2010 putting millions more at risk of undernourishment and malnutrition.”
- Stein, Howard. (2012) The Neoliberal Policy Paradigm and the Great Recession (paper presented at Trinity College Dublin
We are living in an age where technological and scientific advancement, although a positive and necessary thing, constantly brings with it new dilemmas, new choices, new ethical decisions.
With each new technological and scientific breakthrough come a set of difficult questions. In a globalised economy it is increasingly important that governments and business act together to ensure an environment that respects and implements a balance between ethics and economics. With the advance of globalisation, come new responsibilities. We need little less than a globalisation of ethics.
For instance, we know that the world’s population will increase from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050 and with this global food supply will need to more than double. We will need to achieve this increased production under increasingly tight water and land constraints.
To do this successfully we must reconcile these urgent goals: the achievement of global food security with the safeguarding of biodiversity and protection of our environment.
The challenge will continue to be finding ways to increase production with fewer resources.
However, the most urgent need is to have the courage to take cognizance of indigenous wisdom to take account of those who toil in the fields for survival, to jettison programmes that have such an ideological bias as to sacrifice those who labour in favour of imposed, non-verified models of commodification. Our development proposals must be based on rights, respect, dignity, sufficiency.
It is essential that we understand that sustainable development is not a set of problems to be solved, but as John Crowley of UNESCO tells us “an enduring condition to be lived with.”
Business and business development policies cannot focus solely on their responsibility to earn profit for their shareholders but must include respect for the environment and for local communities, a value on human rights, fair working conditions and the eradication of corruption.
In this way we can build a promising future underpinned by a solid foundation of excellent science and technological innovation informed by a contemporary ethic founded on a justice drawing on the need of the many rather than the speculative adventures of the few.
I would like to conclude by wishing you all a very successful, productive and enjoyable conference.
Finally, I would like to thank the Euroscience organisation for their awarding of this magnificent event to Ireland, an honour for which we are deeply appreciative.
Thank you all very much.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir