Former President Bill Clinton, in Minneapolis Monday, called the planet's problems "an engineer's dream."
And he had a highly receptive audience: the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The organization's annual convention drew thousands of scientists from the U.S. and around the globe.
Mr. Clinton told them they'll be needed more than ever in the next 50 years to battle three major trends: climate change, resource depletion and booming population.
"The planet's population in 43 years is predicted to go from 6.5 billion to 9 billion people," Clinton said.
"Almost all those people are going to be born in countries that are presently unable to adequately support the people who live there."
"If you have been an interested observer of the illegal immigration debate in the United States Congress, you just wait, you ain't seen nothing yet."
As dismal as the outlook can seem at times, Clinton told the group they hold the keys to solving these monumental tasks. And he said some of them, such as weaning the planet off oil, can actually be turned into positives.
"Denmark in the last few years has increased the size of it's economy by 50% and increased it's energy use ZERO. That's an engineering triumph."
The irony Mr Clinton pointed out was that all of the three big trends -- climate change, depleted resources and population growth -- are in some ways the result of scientific breakthroughs, innovations that made life better in most ways.
Now the challenge is to design ways to survive all that amazing progress.
"What are the answers to all of these things? It's an engineer's dream."
The conventioneers seemed to be dreaming of lunch as they left the speech, but those we asked felt the message was on target.
"For this group that deals a lot with issues of water, food, and fiber it really resonates well with us," Bob Gustafson told KARE 11.
The Ohio State ag engineering professor added, "It's a dream in that it's a real true challenge that you can really get into and work on. It can be a nightmare if we can't get it right."
The society's members are involved in a broad range of production, research and regulation of food, clothing, medicine and bio-fuels. The convention's technical sessions ranged from the self-explanatory "precision irrigation" to the more esoteric "challenges in lignocellulostic conversion."
One of the conventioneers, Vykundeshwari Ganesan, is working on "distillers grain flow properties." Distillers grain is the livestock feed made as a byproduct of ethanol production.
Ganesan, a native of India, told KARE 11 the challenge is to make it edible for humans as well. But we shouldn't expect it in our breakfast cereals anytime soon, right?
She laughed, "Yeah you can expect it! It will happen!"
The society gave Clinton a special commendation for his foundation's work on hunger and sustainable agriculture initiatives in Africa and targeting greenhouse gas emissions in larger cities.
Clinton said the initial results in a section of Rwanda have been encouraging.
"Our yields were up on average 340% in the main crops. The area went from being an hungry place to being a food surplus place, where we had to do storage so we could redistribute the food to the hungry areas of the country."
In the interest of full disclosure, the former president prefaced the progress report with a word about nature's role.
"Before I tell you what geniuses we are I can also tell you we had a pretty good rain."
(Copyright 2007 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)