Posted: April 17, 2008
When Sandra Postel, Mount Holyoke's Leslie and Sarah Miller Director of the Center for the Environment, agreed to write a chapter for a new book predicting the state of the world in 2058, she had no idea of the honor that would be conveyed in the book's subtitle.
The full title of the publication, which appeared April 16 and is edited by newsman Mike Wallace, is The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today: 60 of the World's Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half-Century. Postel penned the chapter "In Harmony with Earth's Water Cycle."
"All I knew when I was contacted by the publisher was that the book would be a collection of essays about visions of what the world will be like in 50 years, and that Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes was the editor," she said. "It's an interesting group of 60--many are names not on the tips of our tongues--and I'm humbled and honored to be among them."
While it's true that many of the contributors aren't household names, readers will recognize others as leading scientists, physicians, noted writers and artists, and religious and political leaders. They include the geneticist Francis S. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project, children's rights advocate Marion Wright Edelman, Internet pioneers Vint Cerf (vice president of Google) and Craig Newmark (founder of craigslist), and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kim Dae-jung (former president of the Republic of Korea), among others. Each considers the future from the perspective of his or her own expertise, and their essays offer a provocative look--sometimes optimistic, sometimes not--at the critical issues of today and tomorrow. Together they predict an end to heart disease and breast cancer, universal telecommuting, the rise of China and India as world leaders, and a human life span of 140 years.
Postel brought impressive credentials of her own to the project: In addition to her work at MHC, she's the director of the Global Water Policy Project, author of Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity (the basis of a PBS documentary) and Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last?, and coauthor of Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature. She's also a 1995 Pew Scholar in Conservation and the Environment, and she was named one of the "Scientific American 50" in 2002 by Scientific American magazine, an award recognizing contributions to science and technology.
"I thought it sounded like a fun exercise to look at the world through a water lens and imagine what it would look like in 50 years," Postel said. "Rather than make a prediction drawn from the trends of today, which would not be a desirable future at all, I decided to present a vision of a world that could be and one that we could work with intention to create."
Readers will have a chance to have their say on the future, too. Wallace's Web site for the book (see link below) invites visitors to make their own predictions about life in 2058.