Humanity taking a colossal risk with future: Nobels

Paris, France: Failure to halt climate change, environmental degradation, and other interconnected global threats present an existential threat to humanity, according to ten Nobel laureates speaking at the first-ever Nobel Prize Summit on Thursday.

Only fundamental changes in the way society creates, distributes, and absorbs almost everything, beginning with energy, will avert potentially devastating changes, they said in a joint statement signed by 20 other leading thinkers.

"We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth," the statement said. "Without transformational action this decade, humanity is taking colossal risks with our common future."

They noted that the threats of pandemics have increased due to the loss of natural ecosystems, increasingly networked societies, and the dissemination of false news on social media.

The Nobel laureates stated that societies must repair and restore the "global commons" that have enabled our species to thrive, including the atmosphere, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the planet's state.

"There is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it," they warned.

"The next decade is crucial: global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by half and destruction of nature halted and reversed."

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According to scientists, the amount of CO2 that humans will produce while also limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – our "carbon budget" – would be depleted before 2030.

The average global temperature has already risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels.

At the same time, energy demands are rising: by 2050, the world's urban population will grow by around 1.3 million people every week.

Economists Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University and Oliver Hart of Harvard were among the Nobel signatories, as were biophysicists William Moerner of Stanford and Jacques Dubochet of Lausanne University, and astrophysicist Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University.

'Last generation capable of acting' 

There is no Nobel Prize in environmental or Earth science.

"What we are doing is an unregulated experiment on Earth's life-support mechanism," said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a signatory to the declaration.

"We are the last generation with a reasonable chance of retaining long-term stability of critical parts of the Earth system."

According to the statement, the world has sent up one red flag after another of a climate system teetering on the brink of dangerous tipping points.

Parts of the Antarctic ice sheet may have already passed irreversible melting limits, and the circulation of the North Atlantic currents that keep Europe's winters mild has slowed.

Rainforests, permafrost, and coral reefs are all on the verge of collapsing.

The Nobels warned that rising inequalities and distortions in knowledge delivery have reached the level of global crises.

"These supranational problems are interconnected and pose a challenge to the tremendous strides we have achieved in human development," they wrote.

Humanity is only now "waking up late" to these threats, but there is still time to act, according to the declaration, which outlined seven crucial areas.

Linda Buck of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, and virologist Charles Rice of The Rockefeller University have signed.

COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF PHYS.ORG

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