Global warming is not that kind of threat, its potential consequences are at some point in the future and might affect different locales in different ways. And a wider circle of actors are able to respond to it: Governments, non-profits, businesses, and individuals, here in the US and in other countries, all can take or encourage a range of actions. Equally important, the global warming issue is indicative of our times, in which the threats that worry us most are associated with systems that are large in scale, extend across national boundaries, and involve complex relations between humans and their environment, natural or social. Global warming, disease pandemics, and (to a degree) terrorism fit this profile. All are hard to understand and control in their entirety and resist "silver bullet" solutions.
DOES TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION STILL HAVE THE SAME HOLD ON THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION AS IT DID DURING THE SPACE RACE WITH THE SOVIETS? HOW HAVE AMERICAN ATTITUDES SHIFTED? If I was pushed to single out one signature legacy of the Cold War years it might be this: That the US government, for the first time, made a firm, substantial, continuing commitment to stimulate developments in science and technology. Through this commitment, Americans came to see such activity as in the public interest and normal. It has had dramatic effect — increasing the number of engineers and scientists, channeling dollars into universities and industry, giving economic life to communities all across the US, making science and mathematics education a priority of primary and secondary schools, and many other far-reaching consequences. The history of Rhode Island and Providence are very much a part of this post-World War II story.
Americans have had a long love affair with innovation and progress. Daniel Boorstin, a well-known historian and a former Librarian of Congress, wrote in 1978 The Republic of Technology, arguing that innovation and the idea of progress were deeply ingrained in the American experience. But in that Cold War period in which he penned this book, Americans were balancing this enthusiasm with a more complex and wary view of technology and its relation to everyday life. One can see this in the important connection between spaceflight and the emerging modern environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The "big" technologies of satellites and human space exploration gave us wondrous images of Earth, a blue marble in darkness of space. Such images helped stimulate the idea that all of us had a responsibility for the health and preservation of the planet and gave powerful meaning to catchphrases such as "act locally, think globally." Today, we like innovation, but we like the possibility of its scrutiny, too.
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