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One of World's Largest Annual Science Conferences Opens in San Francisco

One of the world's largest annual science conferences has opened in San Francisco. VOA's Art Chimes reports that this year's theme links science and a sustainable world.

The head of the group sponsoring this meeting says achieving a sustainable future requires facing challenges on a variety of fronts, from protecting oceans from overfishing to avoiding the use of nuclear weapons.

Other challenges, such as climate change, would seem more likely to have solutions based on science and technology. But the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS, John Holdren, himself a leading environmental scientist, says it would be a mistake to rely on science alone for the answer. "I'm a great believer in progress in science and technology, but the notion that science and technology are always going to ride to the rescue just in time is a very dangerous notion," he said.

Instead, he says, answers will come not just from scientists, but from economists, policymakers and academics, as well as from consumers making sustainability-friendly choices in their everyday lives.

Holdren says consumers do need more help in making those choices. "That is, consumers need to know what their options are, they need to know which ones will save them money, as well as energy and greenhouse gases, and we can do a lot better at that. We need more efforts to reach out to consumers with the information they need. But a lot of progress has been made. We have appliance labeling in many parts of the world, where you can look at a refrigerator you're about to buy and it tells you right on the label how many kilowatt hours a year it will use and how that compares to the average and the best and the worst, but we need to work much harder at that," he said.

Although consumers and other non-scientists have a role to play, AAAS President John Holdren said the scientific community also must take part. He said they should insist that policymakers get the facts right as they debate policy. And he is urging scientists to donate 10 percent of their time to helping solve the larger problems of the human condition.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting continues through Monday.