The U.S. – European Summit on Science, Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Economic Growth

On September 28th, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and Oakridge National Laboratories organized a two-day summit to explore this issue in depth.  Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the European Commission, the event brought together academic leaders, policy makers, scientists, and economists to discuss the impacts of investments in science and technology on the American and European economies.

“Sustainable economic growth and the role that science and technology will play in it….is a question that we will be of commanding importance for the rest of the 21st century.”  Paraphrasing a comment by Lee Hamilton, Wilson Center President and Director, Kent Hughes, Director of the Program on America and the Global Economy, opened the U.S. – European Summit on Science, Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Economic Growth.

Carl Pierce, Director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, welcomed distinguished guests and audience members by emphasizing the need for a greater understanding of the ways science and innovation affect sustainable economic growth.  He noted how important it was to identify and improve the “flow of science from the laboratories to the markets.”

First to present was Jean Michel Baer, Director of the Science and Society Directorate of the European Commission.  Baer began by noting the negative impact of the economic crisis on today’s global markets.  He explained that the inadequate rate in which the U.S. and the EU invest in innovative technology and research could ultimately result in Asia replacing the two as the leaders in science and technology.  He noted that “Rising Asia is a fact, but the EU and the U.S. represent over sixty percent of the world’s science.”  Baer did remark however that when the U.S. and the EU mutually aid each other, both can make significant contributions to sustainable development.

Opening Keynote: John P. Holdren, Science and Technology Advisor to the President, provided insights into the science, technology, and innovation strategy of the Obama administration.  He spoke extensively of the role of science and technology as they relate to national security, healthcare, and the economic recovery.  Holdren also discussed the unprecedented challenges posed by pandemic disease, poverty, and weapons of mass destruction, among other important issues.  Holdren argued that scientific research should not be subject to political polarization and that disagreement in the scientific community should not lead to a failure to act on the most pressing problems of our time, especially climate change.

Arden Bement, Director of the Global Policy Research Institute at Purdue University, then introduced Dr. Cora Marrett, Acting Director of the National Science Foundation.  Marrett spoke about the efforts of the NSF in advancing innovative scientific research.  In keeping with a theme heard throughout the day, Marrett noted the difficulty the science community faces due to the economic climate.  Marrett also argued that the potential reward from scientific breakthroughs is well worth the up-front investment required.

Panel on Science, Energy and Sustainable Econoimc Growth: Marc Kastner, Dean of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, chaired the opening panel.  Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google, opened with the axiom: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”  Reicher then noted what Google regards as the three interdependent elements of success for the future: technology, policies, and finance. Following Reicher was Venky Narayanamurti, Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at Harvard University.  Narayanamurti stressed the importance of applied research and cost-efficient domestic technology policies.  Next to speak was Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center, who mentioned the necessity of reaching across the aisle to form a consensus on energy policy.  William Banholzer, Executive Vice President and CTO of Dow Chemical Company then spoke about the need to understand where investment capital for renewable energy will come from.

Luncheon Address: Jim   Roberto, Associate Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratories introduced Steven Koonin, Under Secretary for Science at the Department of Energy.  Koonin spoke of the need for the U.S. government’s to develop a better “business mindset” in facilitating innovation and investments in research.  Commenting on the necessity of being cost-efficient, Koonin argued that “[e]nergy supply is a commodity and …new technologies in the end have to compete on cost.”  Koonin concluded by noting that as developing nations’ demand grows; they will significantly impact the availability of future energy resources.

Panel on Environment and Sustainable Economic Growth: Chairing panel II, “Environment and Sustainable Economic Growth,” was Kent Hughes.  The first panelist to speak was Bertrand Chateau, President of Enerdata of France who spoke about logistical and transportational challenges in achieving sustainable growth.  Congressman Phil Sharp, President of Resources for the Future, then argued that a large and interconnected free market system often comes with vilification for alleged inaction.  Next was Senator Timothy E. Wirth, President of United Nations Foundation, who spoke of the necessity of governments to accept confirmed scientific facts, stimulate the growth of green jobs, and enforce pre-established laws such as the Clean Air Act of 1990.

Panel on Science, Innovation and Sustainable Econoimc Growth: The third panel was chaired by Jan Simek, the Interim President of the University of Tennessee.”  Charles Holliday, Chairman of Bank of America, opened the panel by discussing how the Bank of America is investing in green technology; making these technologies commercial helping private enterprise turn government research in competitive products.  Deborah Wince-Smith, President of the Council on Competitiveness pointed to the convergence of science and the market, citing the examples of increased food yields and water purification.  Carol Corrado, Senior Advisor and Research Director of Economics at The Conference Board, then discussed the relationship between intangible investments, innovation, and productivity, arguing that “traditional measures of capital are underestimated because the contribution of intangible inputs to innovation aren’t counted as investments.”

Panel on Science, Society, and Sustainable Economic Growth: The final panel was chaired by Thom Mason, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Marilyn Brown of the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech focused on the inefficiency of the US energy system and the efficacy of state policies such as mandated disclosure of energy performance.  Following Brown was Michael Toman, Climate Change Economist at the World Bank, who argued that advancing intergovernmental cooperation is necessary to aid developing countries in addressing the unique challenges they face regarding climate change. Concluding the panel was Pierre Valette, Head of the Economics, Social Sciences, and Humanities Unit of the European Commission, who lauded the European Union’s strategy for smart growth and research.

Concluding Remarks: Robert Shelton, Director of the Energy and Environment Program at the Baker Center, concluded the summit by thanking supporters and sponsors for the days’ events and resources.  He reminded the audience members that the events of the summit were part of a yearlong process which will continue to engage members of the science, technology, innovation, and policy communities by studying and analyzing all of the major themes presented throughout the day.

By: Wesley Milillo

Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy

Photo credit: David Hawxhurst/Woodrow Wilson Center


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