Dr. Trent: It’s true that NASA has a rich history of research knowledge and it employs a lot of great scientists and engineers that are accomplishing amazing things, but as I learn more and more about the magnitude of the problems we are confroting as a society, as a species, and even as a planet, I’m convinced that the way forward will require the attention of all our research agencies – DOE, USGS, EPA, USDA, NASA and others. It will ultimately require a global participation if we want to minimize pain and suffering and maintain the semblance of civilization in the future. In my view, NASA and the other space agencies of the world have the kind of global perspective that is going to be needed and as I’ve said, NASA has a history of succeeding in accomplishing huge systems engineering projects, like putting people on the Moon and bringing them back alive. I think a lot of people in the US, and perhaps even the world, think that NASA should be taking this leadership role, providing critical information and guidance for planet Earth. Much as I’m excited about NASA’s exploration of the Moon and Mars and beyond, I think we have a responsibility to turn our attention to Earth for a while. I think a lot of people share this opinion and I anticipate that NASA will be a very different agency within a year from now.
NTB: What aspect of your different jobs gives you the most personal satisfaction? Dr. Trent: That’s a good question. These days I don’t feel as though I have the luxury of purely academic research, given what I’ve learned over the last year about our global predicament. I’m not happy about the legacy our generation will leave to the coming generations and I’m not thinking so much about my “personal satisfaction.”
One of the inspiring speakers in our GREEN seminar series, William McDonough, quoted the former Minister of Oil for Saudi Arabia, Sheik Ahmed Yamani, as saying: “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.” Indeed, the Stone Age ended because we developed better technologies. We’ll be able to leave the petroleum age if and only if we develop technologies that will allow us to move on. I’m hoping the US will lead the world by embracing change toward sustainable lifestyles and that NASA will be called upon to help develop, evaluate and implement the support systems for this change to sustainability. It would give me great personal satisfaction to see the US move in that direction and to see NASA play an important role in the process. I want to help create the tools that will be valuable to generations to come.