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50 New ‘Manhattan Projects’

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Posted on Jun 17, 2008
climate change
Greenpeace / Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez

On the left, the resort area La Manga de Mar Menor in Spain as it looks now, and on the right, artists Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez’s image of what the same spot might look like in the future, because of climate change.

By Vladimir Keilis-Borok and Michael D. Intriligator

Imagine another major earthquake of the magnitude of the 1994 Northridge quake in Southern California, but this time centered in downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco or Tokyo. Or imagine a series of major terrorist attacks on New York or London, but this time using nuclear or biological weapons. Or imagine a repeat of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 that killed more people than both world wars combined. Or imagine an international financial crisis, such as the 1997-98 one that spread from Thailand to many other nations, including the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and eventually even to Russia, but this time starting in the U.S. and spreading worldwide, repeating the experience of the Great Depression, which started in October 1929. Or imagine the accidental launching of a nuclear weapon or a massive release of radioactivity from the enormous nuclear wastes in both the U.S. and Russia.

These threats and others pose dangers as great as any we have ever faced, yet the truth is that we are not prepared to cope with any of them. Indeed, these acute or chronic dangers keep escalating despite the billions of dollars devoted to contain them using existing technologies.

Both history and common sense teach us that to overcome these threats requires innovative research at the frontier of basic science. Such research has again and again rescued humankind from immediate dangers through decisively better new technologies. We would like to propose a new approach to setting up such research that would address the major threats humanity faces.

The Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II provides a useful model of how we might now mobilize science to address these major global dangers. The military threats of a world war led to international cooperation of distinguished scientists to work in large-scale efforts to achieve scientific breakthroughs. Such international scientific cooperation has tremendous potential to develop creative ways of dealing with many of the challenges that we now face. There are also other instances of such international scientific cooperation, not only the building of the atomic bomb, which was a major technological accomplishment, regardless of whether one supports or deplores the atomic bomb itself. These include the development of hybrid strains of rice, wheat and corn in the agricultural experimental stations of the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico and the Philippines as part of the Green Revolution. Another example is the genetic/genomic revolution that led to new vaccines and other approaches to medical research as developed by private pharmaceutical houses using scientists worldwide. All three of these examples show the potential for such a massive and focused scientific approach that could be initiated and funded by a government, as in the case of the Manhattan Project; or by a foundation, as in the case of the Green Revolution; or by the private sector, as in the case of the genetic/genomic revolution.

With appropriate policies and actions, the scientific establishment can be organized to focus its resources on current global threats. To conduct such research, however, it would be necessary to mobilize our relevant intellectual resources and research facilities with the same determination that drove the wartime projects. A program of global scientific cooperation has tremendous potential to address many of the threats and challenges we face.


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Now may be the right time to establish some 50 new “Manhattan Projects.” Each would focus on a specific problem of immense global significance and urgency, like those above and many others, relying on international and interdisciplinary teams of outstanding scientists. Such global scientific cooperation could lead to significant breakthroughs that no nation would be able to accomplish alone.

These new projects could target a wide range of issues using recent developments in science and technology. Some might focus on the dangers identified earlier, while others might focus on other global challenges. These may include:
• Developing alternatives to the global reliance on fossil fuels of oil, gas and coal as our major energy source, particularly renewable nonpolluting energy sources, including the development of new technologies for the incineration of industrial and municipal wastes that can, in effect, turn garbage into fuel, both eliminating solid wastes and generating electric power and thermal energy with no environmental damage.
• Addressing the issues of global warming and climate change.
• Creating new materials and recovering mineral and other resources of the continental shelf.
• Developing novel forms of transportation, such as using dirigibles to replace trucks.
• Addressing internal conflicts (civil wars), especially those in Africa, and global trade in both large and small arms. The latter might include a further development of the proposal of Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias that there be an embargo on arms shipments to sub-Saharan Africa to help reduce the conflicts in that region, including some of the largest wars being fought on the planet today .
• Treating global water resource supply and how to avoid possible future water wars.
• Addressing global hunger and malnutrition, including global food supplies and food security, implying the possibility or necessity of a second Green Revolution to develop new agricultural technologies and also providing micro nutrients to prevent disease and malnutrition.
• Dealing with the problem of failing or failed states, such as Somalia, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.

Innovative approaches in any of these areas would have enormous value for the entire global population.

But are the crises we face of sufficient enormousness to justify such large-scale efforts? Absolutely! Just consider the possibilities of future natural disasters, such as those mentioned earlier, that could have global repercussions. Natural disasters are, however, only one of many threats of similar if not larger scale. Never before has the world lived with such huge risks. The focus of cooperation in these various new projects should be on areas of transcendent importance for our very survival.

To establish these projects would require a bold new initiative. We suggest a simple, straightforward mechanism to help scientists develop such proposals and begin the process of initiating them. First, we would suggest inviting the submission of brief pre-proposals that are adequately based on previous studies. Second, we would recommend having them reviewed by a panel of outstanding scientists that would award grants to work out detailed proposals. Some deviation from the usual review process would probably be necessary. For example, recent achievements of the authors of proposals should be given a larger than usual relative weight; and the authors should be invited to discuss objections. This would help to ensure that the most outstanding ideas were not rejected because they were too unusual and had been rejected by the usual peer review process but still had great potential.

These proposals would be the final product of this venture. The history of basic research gives us assurance that some of them would be sufficiently compelling to be funded by an appropriate source. Depending on the nature of a proposal, this source could be a government agency, an international organization, a nongovernment organization, a consortium of private foundations, etc. This new approach would be a major success if even a few of the proposals generated their own support; that is, if the decision-makers concluded that they could not afford to reject them.

We have to realize that we are already in the midst of a new type of world war when considering the combined threats of natural and man-made disasters. What will be decisive in this war, however, are intellectual resources, with frontier research providing a springboard for new technologies. Through establishing new and cooperative global projects, we can tackle these threats. Overall, we are suggesting a way of mobilizing science in a new type of cooperative effort to deal with some of the gravest challenges facing humanity as a whole.

Vladimir Keilis-Borok is Distinguished Professor at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and the Department of Earth and Space Science, University of California, Los Angeles. Michael D. Intriligator is Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles, and Senior Fellow at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. They presented this paper at the New School of Athens/Global Governance Group conference in Athens on April 4, 2008. It is based on their article (in Russian) with colleagues from Russia, France and the U.S.: “Basic Science for the Survival of Humanity in the Third World War,” by Mikhail V. Alfimov, Robert Corell, Vincent Courtillot, Vladimir E. Fortov, Michael D. Intriligator and Vladimir Keilis-Borok, in Kommersant Daily, Nov. 29, 1997. The article above has been edited by Truthdig.


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By satya, June 25, 2008 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I generally agree with the idea of at least a few new “Manhattan Projects.”  A couple of comments: The original Manhattan Project was not international, it just involved scientists we had collected from other countries for a variety of reasons.  I think the alternative energy project (partly equivalent to the global warming one) should be a US government priority.  We should not wait to get international agreements, although obviously this would be useful.  It’s not really clear to me how the international agreements would work.  How, for example, do we do better than the limited efforts of the UN in working on civil wars?  It’s hard to see how to get people to stop fighting each other who have done it for hundreds of years.  There have been some successes, but it would be interesting to see some “out-of-the-box” suggestions in the paper about what might be done.  Overall, I strongly agree that the Manhattan Project idea could be very beneficial. 

I also agree with some of the other comments that a fundamental driver of our current problems is unchecked population growth.  It is not clear we will be able to avoid the age-old solutions to this problem of famine, disease, and war, but we can hope that people’s survival instincts will lead them to control growth without coercion.

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By TAO Walker, June 18, 2008 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

Nothing like a lethal dose of “....the hair of the dog (roaming globally in feral packs, here in these latter days)....” that’s ravenously tearing your throats out already, to cure what ails the punch-drunk domesticated peoples of the world, eh?  This old Savage, even after all these years of watching it happen time-after-time, still is a little surprised when the same monomaniacal linearity that has served so well to bring about these montrously problematical conditions is again put forth, by seemingly serious professional experts, as “THE” solution to them all.  Even at our most desolate, us surviving free wild natural Human Beings knew better than to look for some kind of actually beneficent “deliverance” from….oh, say the Seventh Cavalry, f’r instance.

So if the “civilized” peoples are so smart, how come they can’t come-up with anything but more-and-more-and-more of the same stupid behavior that got them into their increasingly self-inflicted (and even now near terminal) predicament, in what are pre-destined to be their vain and feckless and desperate attempts to get out of it?  Could their dogmatic, self-glorifying, and (on The-Record) ridiculous assumptions of “superiority” be in-fact but one of several symptoms of an abysmal ignorance about Life, and their place in HER scheme-of-things, that must, if not remedied, see them soon staggering into oblivion?

Rationalism, if not yet quite having run its inevitably disastrous course, has surely at least shown itself by this late date to be (by itself) a woefully inadequate faculty for any truly mutually beneficial Human engagement with the Living Arrangement here.  Meantime, “TLC,” a likely viable alternative, is much more talked-about than actually practiced….especially towards our arbitrarily-(and foolishly)-designated “lesser” relatives here in The Hoop of Life.

Admitting that one is addicted to things that are destroying everything supposedly held dear (including the very “least” of these, in actuality, one’s own “self”) is not an easy thing to do.  Yet it is perhaps THE vital pre-requisite to even a GhostDancers’ chance of recovery.  The domesticated peoples are without exception so addicted.  That is a truth so “self-evident” it is almost embarassing to point it out.  Maybe only us few remaining natural-born Heyokas are sufficiently careless of our “reputations” to even bother anymore.

So here goes one more time.  Try the Tiyospaye Way, tame Two-legged Sisters and Brothers.  You’ve got nothing to lose but everything you’ll be a lot better-off without.


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By Paracelsus, June 18, 2008 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

Did you know that go ahead forthe Manhattan Project came from a bunch of wealthy powerful men in togas at Bohemian Grove?

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By Paracelsus, June 18, 2008 at 10:31 am Link to this comment

I don’t think the Green Revolution was all that wonderful. It did benefit the AgPetroChem cartels. The small farmer could not compete. Many nations became dumping grounds for over produced goods. When you hear that a Rockefeller operation is only here to help, get suspicious.

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By John William Reitter, June 18, 2008 at 5:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Electricity is the future. Electric cars, electric homes and electric mass transit. Electricity is easy to distribute and the infrastructure is already there. But we need a cleaner, cheaper, safer way of producing it. Nuclear, solar, wind, water, geothermal…all these powers need to be modernized and advanced to new generations of technology and implemented asap. We need a moon shot program to free us of dependence on foreign oil. We are borrowing from China to pay Saudi Arabia to fund the hate schools called madrassas. Right now we are not free. We are enslaved by our addiction to oil, and it is killing us and our planet. This is a much larger problem than terrorism, because it is one of the root causes of terror.

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By jackpine savage, June 18, 2008 at 4:35 am Link to this comment

It’s a swell idea that will never fly. 

Samosamo points out the fundamental problem of population expansion vs. the finite resources of the planet.  Add to this the Western notion that we should all live for as close to forever as medically possible.  Then add the belief that we should all be as rich as possible.

Ideas like the one in this article are asking that humanity transcend its fundamental, animal nature…or - worse - presupposing that we’ve already managed such a transcendence.  In reality, we humans are following your basic, ecological population graph.  Without sufficient checks on our population, we have/will expand until we can’t expand any more…and then our population will crash.  It’s happened innumerable times before; it’s happened in your backyard.

But if we want to alleviate the problem to some degree, i would suggest that the overriding motif of our efforts be decentralization…and you can bet your bottom dollar that the chances of that happening voluntarily are slim.

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By samosamo, June 18, 2008 at 4:13 am Link to this comment

The biggest issue for the human race is its population and expansion. There are now not enough resources to provide for the ideal life that a whole lot of people would like to bestowe on each and every person on this planet, something like an average. The politics, religions, economics and human/animal traits(greed and the other 6 deadly sins) are together too much of a force to allow a ‘level’ playing field as all of these things have in common an individual(s) vying for the head of the class, the one to tell the other what to be, how to act and just plain dominate others. And one of the cute tricks about this is to make as many people possible believe that all persons can lead a equal life of everyone else. And this is on the same line of bull fed to people to make them think that by giving hunger will be ended, cancer will be defeated, no more heart attacks, etc. All this vectors down in the politics, religion, economics where control, manipulation and repression of whole segements of class is possible.
So the human side is pretty much hardwired for its own destruction but the other part of nature will forever have a hand or say-so in what happens to life on this planet. And it will be in the form of climate change for the biggest chances with huge geological and astronomical events every once in a great while coming into play.
Climate change of which global warming is a part of, is a continual process mostly related to the orital eccentricies of the earth around the sun with tilt and presesseion mixed in. These are the long term parts lasting millions of years if not billions. The near and present term has the basic climate cycles of the El Nino Southern Oscillation that produces the droughts and flooding that have hampered people for as long as we have been around. The ocean currents play a part and none of this is predictable and avoidable. Changes will be fast and severe and as you may see it definitely will have affects on the life on this planet and the food sources.
All of this happened before and will continue to happen. Just so happens that a class of people realize this and will jump right in and NOT help but take advantage of it for their financial, political and religious gains. It has happened before and will happen again. That is why it is to some people’s benefit to take the ability away from other people to defend and provide for themselves and their families. THERE IS MONEY TO BE MADE IN DOING IT.
So, how does an intelligent species go about the task of controlling its population for people to have more control over their lives instead of allowing some evil and criminal few to do so?

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By Christian de Coninck, June 18, 2008 at 1:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The new Manhattan project would not be focues on finding new free energy sources, it would focus on getting those technnologies released from (illegal) security classification and corporate black-shelves. They aldready exist. Hundreds have testified to this, violating their imposed oaths. These people want their work out to benefit mankind, just like Eisenhower wanted to begin with.

Maxwell, Tesla, Faraday, Kaluza, Gabriel Kron and Einsteins incomplete but highly engineerrable (both sides worked on it under the second world war) Unified Field Theory have been explored in secret for decades by contract companies such as:
Raython, GE, Lockheed, Northrop, SAIC, E-Systems, BAE Systems, Bell Aerospace a.o.

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By niloroth, June 17, 2008 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

use nuclear power.  As much as green peace loves to bash it, the next generation nuclear power plants run off the waste of the old ones, as well as the materials in disarmed warheads.  Add to that they are designed to go “off on fail” and you have a safe, stable, and carbon negative power source.

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