The future: is it still what it used to be?
We enter the '80s with out national confidence shaken and with a lot of people wondering if Paul Valery wasn't right to complain that, "The trouble with the future is that it isn't what it used to be."
While it is true that unprecedented problems confront this nation and mankind generally, it is also true that we are in the process of developing equally unprecedented methods of managing, if not solving, those problems.
Perhaps the most unsettling fact of life . . . is that the earth's human population will double in the next generation. That raises the specter that food for people and forage for animals will grow perilously scarce.
One approach to a solution, for example, is to produce the most meat from the least feed and to breed cattle selectively to achieve this goal. and right now in Sherwood, Maryland, a company is marketing a technique of embryo transplanting that makes it possible for a farmer's best cow to have 12 calves a year instead of one. The upgrading of beef and dairy herds that can result from the use of embryo transplants have very significant and positive implications for the world food supply.
Another problem is cereal foods and our ability to manage the grain economy of the world on a global scale.
Where much of the world once was self-sufficient, now we must learn how to handle bumper crops in one place and drought in another so that they balance out to make a stable supple of grain available everywhere. Up to now, that has not been the case and farmers in America's breadbasket sow and reap in basic ignorance of crop projections in China and the Soviet Union which will determine the size of the market.
We have it in our power to change all that. Thanks to pictures taken by Landsat 571 miles above the earth, predicting the global harvest is now possible. At the Space Center in Houston, an experiment to monitor world wheat production has given conclusive proof that satellites can provide measurements accurate enough for crop forecasting. The three-year project, christened LACIE for Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment, turned in a best estimate of the 1977 Soviet wheat harvest that was as good or better than that from any other source.
Judging by these results, I think it is logical to assume that, in addition to monitoring and predicting crop yields, we can integrate weather satellites and all the various satellite systems which sense and observe the Earth from space into a global information network to warn of natural catastrophes, report on sea conditions, locate distress signals, monitor pollution sources, track deforestation, spot erosion and generally provide the data necessary to restore our planet to health and manage it sensibly.
We have reached a point in our civilization . . . where it is even conceivable that the ultimate solution of our energy dilemma could be a pincers movement from space -- the use of remote sensing to locate new supplies of fossil fuels to sustain us while we evaluate and develop the concept of unlimited solar energy beamed from space to power grids on Earth.
Some day we may even discover that international tensions could be reduced and the threat of nuclear war eliminated by the development of renewable resources from space which would prevent competition for the finite resources in our planet's crust, by a space information system which opens the world to the eyes of all nations, and by a space communications network which would tie the peoples and the nations of the Earth together in the mutual management of the planet in the interests of all its inhabitants.
This probably sounds like pie in the sky coming on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd's announcement that consideration of the SALT II Treaty has been deferred until the next session of Congress.
But are these ideas really as far-fetched when you consider the alternatives?
I have seen almost as unlikely happenings come to pass. For example, in April, 1977, when I proposed the creation of a joint energy project in the Sinai of tremendous scope and potential that would employ the talents of both Egyptians and Israelis to benefit the entire area, the suggestion was considered pretty farout.
That, of course, was seven months before Anwar Sadat made his historic trip to Jerusalem.
This fall when I recommended that $5 million be reappropriated for "Middle East Regional Cooperation and Development" projects to improve relations between Israel and her Arab neighbors, my Sinai proposal suddenly seemed to be a good idea whose time had come.
All of which goes to prove that we shouldn't sell the future short. It can only be what we dare to make it. Paul Valery got it wrong. The future is what it has always been -- overflowing with wonders. The question is: Are we?
In closing, I would like to tell you a story that I think helps answer that question.
When the great French military figure, Marshal Lyautey, was in his late eighties and retired on his farm in Lorraine, he approached his gardener about planting an orchard.
"but," protested the gardener, "the trees would not bear fruit for 20 years."
"Then," replied the aged Marshal. "we must begin planting at once."