NAPLES — They promised solutions to the world’s problems. They delivered.
As the first day of the Imagine Solutions Conference kicked off at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, experts in science, finance, education, medicine, philanthropy, journalism and the arts took to the stage to tackle issues in a series of 17-minute presentations.
“I’m not sure if the human species is up to this,” mused Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, during his speech, in which he discussed a plan to solve the world’s collapsing ecosystem, the growing freshwater crisis, the global food shortage and civilization’s dependency on fossil fuels. His answer: Farming halophytes - plants that grow in saltwater.
With 97-percent of all water being seawater, and 44-percent of land in the world a desert, Bushnell said embracing the cultivation of halophytes is a cheap and viable answer to solving a growing number of crises.
“Fresh water scarcity is the single greatest threat to humanity,” Bushnell told the audience, adding his plan would solve the fresh water and food shortages, the energy crisis and global warming by using otherwise useless land.
Imagine Solutions, in its second year, is modeled after the long-running TED conference, which promotes “ideas worth spreading” to solve issues surrounding global warming, poverty, human rights and sustainability through technology, entertainment and design.
The morning session included soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick, who underwent a bilateral lung transplant in 2009 after being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. She punctuated her story of trial and recovery by appealing to the audience to not let disease derail their lives, then stood and sang, drawing a standing ovation.
Speakers also talked about nano technology infused into medicine, such as tiny robot probes that can be ingested orally to gather data on your body’s health; and new smart phone technologies and their evolving roles in medicine.
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, stood before the crowd and described the flawed culture of business CEOs profiting from the “expectations game,” as opposed to the “real game,” while investors enjoy less earnings and the market volatility has increased.
Martin said Wall Street should take a lesson from the NFL, where players are not allowed to bet on the games. With CEOs compensated with stock options tied to the expectations of company performance, rather than real performance, CEOs have a tendency to make as much money as possible, then cash out. This, Martin said, leads to the market hitting record peaks and troughs.
“It isn’t about increasing real performance,” Martin said. “It’s about increasing expectations.”
Speakers also gave presentations on the importance in investing in women, both here and abroad.
Anne Mosle, executive director of Ascend, an initiative of the Aspen Institute that aims to lift women out of poverty, said many families can play by all of the rules and never be able to get ahead because of the systems in place.
With one in four children living in poverty in the United States, “our fates are all connected and we can’t afford to lose them,” Mosle said.
One effective way to accomplish this, Mosle said, is to invest in women’s education and job training because 62 percent of families in poverty are led by single mothers.
“Let’s think about targeted investments in the women who are the backbones of these families,” Mosle said.
Following several seminars on education, including a dual presentation by Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) co-founder Dave Levin, local teacher Jolie Ducey, a Head Start teacher at Estates Elementary School, said she was impressed by the talent and scope of the speakers.
“It’s inspiring,” Ducey said. “And it’s good to know that people understand the day-to-day struggles of what we face as educators.”
The Imagine Solutions Conference continues from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday. For more information, contact Beth Oliver at (239) 216-4228, or e-mail: Beth@ImagineSolutionsConference.com.