So the day was full of the kind of lively debate and healthy disagreement that helped give birth to the magazine—and, at the Summit, might have widened the horizons of many people in the room and the many more who, gratifyingly, followed on our live webcast. Happily, that stream is still available for viewing. I hope you'll take part in the day at your own convenience.
We've already had terrific summaries on the Life channel of Deputy USDA Secretary Kathleen Merrigan's morning keynote address, by Dan Fromson, the channel's editor, and our frequent contributor Rebecca Greenfield on the differing views of the correlation between soda consumption and obesity and the utility of a soda tax as expressed by Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, and Zeke Emanuel, who needs no introduction to many Life channel readers.
This morning Dan summarizes the most contentious of the panels, on sustainability—the one that most engaged me, and not just because I moderated it. In helping the AtlanticLIVE team choose panelists, I was struck by the extremely different ways passionate people use the term "sustainability." The ends might be broadly agreed on—conservation of finite resources for current and future generations. But the means by which different people and entire non-profit and for-profit companies want to reach it—biotechnology or organic farming—are radically different.
As the particularly heated exchanged between Gary Hirshberg, of Stonyfield Farms, and Nina Fedoroff, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, showed, the positions are entrenched. And yet I was struck by the common ground they might not have listened for but I heard, for example that "modern," to use Fedoroff's preferred term, seeds are too expensive, and farmers all over the world need ready access to them. (The differences start over patents on seeds, and catch fire around the enforcements of those patents.) And, as it coursed through almost every exchange, the subject of water and the near-term limitations on it pose a more severe and immediate problem than how to feed the world's growing population. (Near-term plug: Buy Charles Fishman's new, very interesting, absorbingly written book on water, The Big Thirst.)
These were the flashiest debates, and they brought some new light as well as heat to well-established disagreements. Listen for the judicious summaries of the differing positions by Molly Jahn, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and her essential call for adding the "environmental balance sheet," similar to Hirshberg's call to include externalities, in any discussion of sustainability. Jahn also mentioned a fresh-as-of-last-week coalition of growers usually on opposite sides of the table: industrial or, as Sarah Alexander, of the Keystone Center gently told us to call it, "commodity" agriculture, and small farmers, who know they need to share information and unite to save resources and keep farming. The group is just forming and will soon lay out a strategy.