It is already three years since I had the idea of MPE2013, and now MPE2013 is launched! During these years, I had email exchanges with more than 100 partners, I was involved in several committees and I made friends around the world. The enthusiasm for MPE2013 continues to grow. The first year, it was necessary to be proactive in order to attract new partners. Also, it took time to get people at the school level interested. Now, MPE2013 spreads by itself and new partners join regularly. More countries or regions decide to organize activities for the schools. For instance, in France, the Ministry of Education decided that the theme of the 2013 week of mathematics would be MPE. The Math Awareness Month in the United States will deal with Sustainability. And I just learnt that India is organizing a large MPE competition in the schools of the countries with deadline in mid-June 2013.
Today’s international launch of MPE 2013 coincides with the Canadian launch that takes place during the winter meeting of the Canadian Mathematical Society in Montreal. Part of the color of this launch comes from the fact that several public activities will take place in French. The launch starts with a panel discussion (in French) chaired by the science journalist Pierre Chastenay: “What can mathematics do for the planet?” Ivar Ekeland (UBC and Paris-Dauphine), a great popularizer of mathematics will be one of the panellists. He will also deliver an MPE public lecture “Une longue histoire: la planète Terre et les mathématiques”. I had fascinating discussions with him, where he would explain to me some of the main challenges of the economy of sustainability: you invest now for benefits to be felt in 50 to 100 years. How do you calculate the interest rates? The second MPE public lecture, “The complex challenge of sustainability”, will be given by Doyne Farmer (Oxford). We can read in his abstract: “Sustainability forces us to think clearly about our vision of the future, putting philosophy into direct contact with science.” I had met Doyne at a workshop on “Mathematical Challenges in Sustainability” in DIMACS in November 2010 and I had been very impressed his global vision of the planetary problems. As mathematicians, it is a challenge for us to make sure that we address the real problems that may require new tools, and not just to find applications for the tools that we already master.
The meeting will start with a lecture by Graciela Chichilnisky, a mathematician and economist from Columbia University. Graciela Chichilnisky is scientifically very involved in all questions of sustainability. She introduced the concept of basic needs voted by 153 nations at the UN Earth Summit in 1993. She is also the author of the carbon market of the UN Kyoto Protocol that became international law in 2005. And she was US Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that received the 2007 Nobel Prize. If you read her book “Saving Kyoto”, you will learn that she is present at these international conferences on climate change and working so as to influence the final agreements to be signed by the participants. Graciela Chichilnisky is a model of a scientist that has combined high-level science with commitment to saving the planet. She was certainly an inspiration for me during these last years when working on MPE2013.
The meeting comprises two other plenary lectures related to MPE. Catherine Sulem (Toronto) will speak of the fascinating subject of large ocean waves like tsunamis. The speed of propagation of such waves depends from the depth of the ocean, and also of the bottom topography. Their impact further depends on the shape of the coastline.
Among the four themes of MPE2013, we find a planet supporting life and a planet organized by civilizations. The lecture of Martin Nowak (Harvard) will make the link between these two themes by presenting the role of cooperation in the evolution and in the survival of intelligent life on Earth.
If MPE2013 is so successful, it is not only because it is timely. It is also because of the commitments of many mathematicians that have worked very hard to make it a success. MPE2013 could not have reached the breadth it now without the immense role played by American Institute of Mathematics and its Director, Brian Conrey. Today I thank all the others globally. But, I certainly wish to present them to you in one of my next blogs.