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The sky over San Francisco and much of northern California turned orange on September 9, 2020 due to numerous climate-driven wildfires burning in the region. (Photo: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

The sky over San Francisco and much of northern California turned orange on September 9, 2020 due to numerous climate-driven wildfires burning in the region. (Photo: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images) 

Nobel Laureates Urge Humanity to Stop 'Taking Colossal Risks With Our Common Future'

"We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet—humans and our societies included—requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons."

Brett Wilkins

Warning that "time is running out to prevent irreversible changes" to the planet, a group of academics including 13 Nobel laureates on Thursday issued an "urgent call for action" in the form of "effective planetary stewardship" to address the climate emergency, global health threats including pandemics, and various forms of inequality. 

"The long-term potential of humanity depends upon our ability today to value our common future. Ultimately, this means valuing the resilience of societies and the resilience of Earth's biosphere."
—Academics' statement

In a statement acknowledging that "humankind faces new challenges at unprecedented scale"—including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency, inequality, and what they call an "information crisis"—the academics assert that "time is the natural resource in shortest supply." 

"The next decade is crucial," they write. "Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by half and destruction of nature halted and reversed. An essential foundation for this transformation is to address destabilizing inequalities in the world. Without transformational action this decade, humanity is taking colossal risks with our common future. Societies risk large-scale, irreversible changes to Earth's biosphere and our lives as part of it."

The statement continues: 

We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included, requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons—the climate, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the state of the planet, and combine to create a unique and harmonious life-support system. There is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it. 

The academics note that geologists believe that around 70 years ago the Earth transitioned from the Holocene epoch of the past 12,000 years into the Anthropocene, a period in which human activity has been the primary influence on climate and the environment. 

"The Anthropocene epoch," they write, "is more likely to be characterized by speed, scale, and shock at global levels."

The statement urges a "decade of action" in service of "effective planetary stewardship," a transformational endeavor that "requires updating our Holocene mindset." 

"We must act on the urgency, the scale, and the interconnectivity between us and our home, planet Earth," it says. "More than anything, planetary stewardship will be facilitated by enhancing social capital—building trust within societies and between societies."

To this end, the signers offer seven proposals, including redefining measures of economic success to include human well-being; boosting science-based education and developing new models for the "free sharing of scientific knowledge"; combating the "industrialization of misinformation"; and fairly pricing economic, environmental, and social externalities.

"Humanity is waking up late to the challenges and opportunities of active planetary stewardship. But we are waking up."
—statement

"Global sustainability offers the only viable path to human safety, equity, health, and progress," the statement says. "Humanity is waking up late to the challenges and opportunities of active planetary stewardship. But we are waking up. Long-term, scientifically based decision-making is always at a disadvantage in the contest with the needs of the present."

"Politicians and scientists must work together to bridge the divide between expert evidence, short-term politics, and the survival of all life on this planet in the Anthropocene epoch," the academics conclude. "The long-term potential of humanity depends upon our ability today to value our common future. Ultimately, this means valuing the resilience of societies and the resilience of Earth's biosphere."

The academics' call to action follows the 2021 Nobel Prize Summit, a first-of-its-kind virtual event at which scientists, policymakers, business leaders, and youth activists explored near-term solutions to set the planet on a path "to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all of humanity." 


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