Top thinkers tackle State of the World |

Top thinkers tackle State of the World

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Is it too late for mankind to achieve a sustainable future? Is the global economy on an unstoppable collision course with the Earth’s ecosystems?

To put it bluntly, are we in deep trouble?

The questions alone are enough to make most of us cringe. Burying our heads in the sand is a tempting response. Fortunately, some of the nation’s leading thinkers are willing to do more than cower.

They will convene in Aspen this summer for the third annual State of the World Conference. They’ll dissect the problems and, more importantly, talk about solutions.

The Sopris Foundation of Aspen and Worldwatch Institute, based in Washington, D.C., will host the three-day event on July 12-14 at The Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium.

“Unlike other feel-good environmental conferences where the audience is assured our problems can be solved and that everything will be all right, this conference will confront head-on the harsh realities and the dramatic steps that have to be taken,” said Kate McBride Puckett, president of the Sopris Foundation and conference director. “We’re going to make this solution-oriented.”

In a letter to conference directors, Tim Wirth phrased the problem this way: “The fact is that by every single measure, the state of our Earth’s health is declining. A huge and radical turnaround is necessary.” Wirth is president of the United Nations Foundation and a former undersecretary of state for Global Affairs and U.S. senator from Colorado.

This year’s conference will focus on whether a sustainable future is even possible.

Speakers will address the depletion of ground water and the direct threat it poses on food production and basic living standards; the difficulty in creating a global economy that is both socially and ecologically sustainable; the movement toward a sustainable agriculture system, and more.

Significant this year, said McBride Puckett, will be a panel discussion chaired by Worldwatch Institute founder Lester Brown, during which panelists will be questioned about how best to integrate their practical solutions to the problems. “One of the terms I hope people address is `sustainable.’ People use it so freely,” McBride Puckett said. “We define a sustainable future as one in which we’re not deteriorating the Earth’s systems on which we depend, both in our economic model and in our daily lives.”

The conference is based on the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World report, an annual review of the planet’s health that is published in more than 30 languages. It is also the focus of an annual briefing by the Institute in Washington, D.C.

“We thought it was just so exceptional, we thought more people needed to hear their message,” McBride Puckett said.

The Sopris Foundation, a nonprofit family foundation dedicated to creating awareness of environmental and population issues worldwide, was founded by Kate’s father, John McBride, who was recently named to the Worldwatch Institute board.

Worldwatch is a private, nonprofit research institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental and related issues.

The speakers at this year’s Aspen conference include Worldwatch research authors and other experts, according to McBride Puckett.

In addition to Worldwatch founder Brown, who is also founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, the conference will feature: Richard Lamm, former governor of Colorado; Sandra Postell, director of the Global Water Policy Project; Amory and Hunter Lovins, co-founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute; Wes Jackson, president and founder of the Land Institute; Ed Marsten, publisher of High Country News; Jonette Christian, a renowned speaker on immigration; and Randy Udall, director of the local Community Office of Resource Efficiency.

Registration is $90 for the three-day conference. Those who register online at will receive three free books – Brown’s “Eco-Economy – Building an Economy for the Earth,” the State of the World 2002 report and Worldwatch’s “Vital Signs,” according to McBride Puckett.

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