August 15, 2013 Longevity of Human Civilization Symposium at Kluge Center Sept 12

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Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 or

Will the longevity of human civilization on Earth be imperiled, or enhanced, by our world-changing technologies? Scientists, humanists, journalists and science-fiction authors will convene to answer this question in a daylong symposium at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center on Sept. 12.

David H. Grinspoon, the first Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Kluge Center, will lead the discussions.

The symposium, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12, is free and open to the public. The events will take place in room 119 of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

There will be four panels devoted to the theme of longevity. One panel will focus on nature: What of nature is left to be saved and how will humans choose to save it? A second will address human imaginings of the future and will feature science fiction writers in conversations with scientists. A third panel will specifically address world-altering technologies, including those that may affect climate or biological evolution, as well as those that may prevent future disasters. The final panel will be a group discussion summarizing the entirety of the day.

“We’ve reached the stage in Earth’s evolution where humans are now a major agent of planetary change,” says Grinspoon. “Will these abilities threaten our survival as a species, or even threaten the Earth as a whole, or will we come to live comfortably with these new powers and use them to avoid, rather than hasten, disaster? This event is meant to explore these questions from a wide range of perspectives.”


8:30 a.m. Introductory Remarks
Mary A. Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA
Carolyn T. Brown, director of the Office of Scholarly Programs, Library of Congress

9 a.m., Setting the Stage
David Grinspoon, Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress. Each panel below will be moderated by Grinspoon.

9:15 a.m. to 10:25 a.m., The Nature of Nature: What Should We Choose to Save?
David Biello, journalist covering environmental issues in the United States and internationally Odile Madden, materials scientist and engineer at the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute Rick Potts, paleoanthropologist, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History


10:45 a.m. to 11:55 a.m., Seeing What’s in Store: The Future in the Literary and Scientific Imagination
Kim Stanley Robinson, science-fiction author
Ursula Heise, professor of English, UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and immediate past president of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Steven Dick, astronomer, author, historian of science and 2014 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology

Lunch Break

1:15 p.m. to 2:40 p.m., Living with Ourselves: Can We Form a Healthy, Stable, Long-term Relationship with Technology and the Biosphere?
Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, California
Andrew Revkin, non-fiction, science and environmental writer, New York Times DotEarth blog
Ken Caldeira, atmospheric scientist at the Department of Global Ecology of the Carnegie Institution for Science
Jacob Haqq-Misra, planetary climatologist with a specialty in environmental ethics


3 p.m. to 4:20 p.m., Concluding Thoughts An open discussion with all 10 panelists and audience members on questions posed throughout the day.

A well-known researcher in planetary science, Grinspoon has been a scholar-in-residence at the Kluge Center since November 2012, studying the “Anthropocene Era,” the proposed phase of Earth history defined by human influence, from the perspective of astrobiology, the scientific study of life in the universe. This work grew out of his book “Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life,” recipient of the 2004 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Research Nonfiction.

The astrobiology chair is a distinguished senior research position housed within the John W. Kluge Center. Using the collections and services at the Library, the chair holder conducts research at the intersection between the science of astrobiology and its humanistic aspects, particularly its societal implications. The chair honors the late Baruch Blumberg, a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, former member of the Library’s Scholars Council and the founding director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, who actively promoted research and development across disciplines. For more information visit

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit

The NASA Astrobiology Program supports research into the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), an element of that program, is a partnership among NASA, 14 U.S. teams, and 10 international consortia. NAI’s goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research, train a new generation of astrobiology researchers, and share the excitement of astrobiology with learners of all ages.


PR 13-142
ISSN 0731-3527