Author Archive for Ellen Mika

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Sunil Paul Releases Gigaton Throwdown Report

Joel Makower | two steps forward | July 23, 2009

This blog post highlights former OTA analyst Sunil Paul’s recent initiative, Gigaton Throwdown , which asked, “What would it take to aggressively scale up clean energy to have a major impact on job growth, energy independence, and climate change over the next ten years?”

The project involved dozens of people  and asked how a single technology could reduce carbon dioxide emissions and  greenhouse gases  by a gigaton (1 billion metric tons) by the year 2020.

“The markets for clean technology involve a coordinated effort in three principal areas: technology, policy, and capital. Each of these plays a role in scaling technologies, clean or otherwise, and each of these “levers” must be pulled in proper sequence so as to create sustained, orderly markets that can exist without subsidies.” Makower said.

The report concludes that seven of the nine technologies analyzed  have the potential today to scale up rapidly and massively by 2020.  “We sort of already get the technology pieces of it,” Paul said.   “And we know there is a lot of capital sitting on the sidelines that is ready to invest given the right kind of long-term opportunity.” What’s needed now, he says, is political leadership and action.

The complete Gigaton Throwdown report and more can be found  at the initiative’s  website.

Andrew Wyckoff appointed to head OECD Directorate

American Association for the Advancement of Science | July 22, 2009

According to a AAAS Policy Alert, Andrew Wyckoff has been appointed as director of the Science, Technology and Industry Directorate (STI) of the  Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).   The Directorate’s mission is to provide analysis of science, technology and industry to inform government decisions about  growth, employment and well-being.

Wyckoff, a former OTA staffer,  has been a key science and technology analyst for OECD in Paris for almost fifteeen years.

Memories of McNamara

The Honorable Robert M. McNamara reflected upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other topics, at a forum for the 20th anniversary of OTA.  He concluded that we should seek to return to a non-nuclear world as far as achievable and he recommended that the international community redouble its efforts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The Soviet Union, Cuba, and the United States brought the world to the brink of a nuclear disaster in October, 1962, as a result of the distortions of misinformation, miscalculation, and misjudgment of their political leaders, according to McNamara, a former Secretary of Defense and former President of The World Bank.

“In this age of high-technology weaponry, crisis management is dangerous, difficult, and uncertain.  Therefore it is crisis avoidance that is important,” McNamara said.  The combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons carries a very high risk of destroying not tens or hundreds of thousands of lives but of destroying nations.

Stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them, according to McNamara, would require some form of collective security action by a multinational institution such as the United Nations.

“To begin with the council should agree to prohibit the development, production, or purchase of any of those weapons,” he said.  Any country violating that ban should be subjected to strict economic sanctions and if sanctions failed, then U.N. military action would be necessary.  Countries currently possessing these weapons- including the United States- would be subject to international inspections and control, and would be asked to approve a treaty prohibiting their first use.

McNamara said that a system for collective action would allow reductions of military spending and the huge savings could be used to address the pressing human physical and infrastructure needs across the globe.

“If development that meets the needs of all social groups is to occur, if democracy is to spread, there must be … a relatively equitable distribution of resources.   That is not occurring today,” McNamara said.  He pointed out that in many parts of the world, military expenditures strengthen the political influence of the armed forces at the expense of the civil groups and economic systems function primarily to befit a relatively limited number of people.

“I think the international community needs to identify ways in which it can reward those countries that reduce security and related expenditures in favor of development,” McNamara said.  He strongly urged linking financial assistance to developing countries to their movement toward optimal levels of military expenditures.

” If together we are bold, if east and west and north and south dare break out of the mindsets that have guided …our actions for the past four decades, we can reshape international institutions,  …we can reshape relations among nations,  …and we can dramatically reduce military expenditures, which have been a derivative of those relationships and we do so in a ways which will lead to a more peaceful world, a more prosperous world, for all of the peoples of this interdependent world, McNamara said.

“It’s the first time in my adult life that we have had such an opportunity.  Pray God we seize it,” he concluded.

OTA’s Forum on Technology and Governance in the 1990’s was hosted by the Technology Assessment Board for Congress on January 27, 1993.  Robert McNamara’s full presentation and others with questions and answers are available at the OTA Archive.

OTA Forum on Technology and Governance in the 1990’s

On January 27, 1993 – in OTA’s 20th year – the Technology Assessment Board hosted a forum for the Congress on upcoming socio-technical issues. The original program is available here. The video from that session is available in nine parts below.

Welcome and Opening Remarks:

Dr. Roger Herdman – Director, OTA

Congressman George E. Brown, Jr. – Chair, Technology Assessment Board

Senator Edward M. Kennedy – Technology Assessment Board

International Security (15:20)

The Honorable Robert M. McNamara-

Former Secretary of Defense

Former President, The World Bank

International Security (cont’d.)

International Security (cont’d.)

International Security Q & A (1:40)

Congressman George E. Brown, Jr. – Chair, Technology Assessment Board

International Security Q & A (cont’d.)

Introduction (4:30)

Dr. Roger Herdman – Director of OTA

Congressman Amo Houghton, Jr. – Technology Assessment Board

Sustaining the Global Environment (7:50)

The Honorable Gro Harlem Brundtland-

Prime Minister of Norway

Chair, World Commission on Environment and Development

Sustaining the Global Environment (cont’d.)

Sustaining the Global Environment Q & A (12:10)

Sustaining the Global Environment Q & A (cont’d.)


Dr. Roger Herdman – Director, OTA

Congressman Don Sundquist – Technology Assessment Board

Congressman John Dingell – Technology Assessment Board

Economic Competitiveness in America (5:00)

Dr. Laura D’Andrea Tyson-

Chair-designate, President’s Council of Economic Advisors

Introduction (4:50)

Congressman Don Sundquist – Technology Assessment Board

Remarks (43:25)

Dr. John H. Gibbons, former Director, Office of Technology Assessment


Congressman Don Sundquist – Technology Assessment Board

Senator David Durenberger – Technology Assessment Board

Healthcare (3:30)

Dr. Arnold S. Relman-

Professor of Medicine and Social Medicine, Harvard School of Medicine

Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, New England Journal of Medicine

Healthcare Q & A (48:00)

Congressman Don Sundquist – Technology Assessment Board


Congressman Don Sundquist – Technology Assessment Board

Senator Orrin G. Hatch – Technology Assessment Board

Education (4:50)

Mr. Derek Bok –

President Emeritus, Harvard University

Education Q & A (50:00)

Congressman Don Sundquist – Technology Assessment Board

Ash Carter Assumes DoD Post

Department of Defense | April 27, 2009

According to a Department of Defense press release,  Dr. Ashton Carter was sworn in as Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics  on April 27, 2009.   Before returning to Washington,  Dr. Carter was chair of the International and Global Affairs  faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Co-Director of the Preventive Defense Project (with former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry). In 1984,  Dr. Carter prepared a report for OTA, Directed Energy Missile Defense In Space.

Seismologists monitor North Korea’s nuclear blasts

Dan Vergano | USA Today | May 29, 2009

A column about measuring the size of underground nuclear blasts by their seismic waves refers to a 1988 OTA report, “Seismic Verification of Nuclear Testing Treaties,” that suggested that it might be difficult to detect a nucleat test smaller than 5 kilotons.

In the two decades since that report, verification has improved and now smaller blasts can be detected, the article says.