Need To Act Now
To Save The Environment
By Martin Rees
18 January 2007
threat of all-out nuclear war hung over us for 40 years. But this catastrophic
threat could be merely in temporary abeyance. We are confronted by proliferation
of nuclear weapons, in North Korea and Iran for instance. Terrorists
might acquire a nuclear weapon.
The nuclear threat will always
be with us. But it is based on basic science that dates from the 1930s.
What are the potential impacts of 21st-century science? There are grounds
for being a techno-optimist. The technologies that fuel economic growth
today - IT, miniaturisation and biotech - are environmentally and socially
benign. They're sparing of energy, and of raw materials. They boost
the quality of life in the developing as well as the developed world.
That's good news.
Some threats are environmental:
rising populations, especially in the megacities of the developing world,
increasing energy consumption, and so forth. Human actions are transforming,
even ravaging, the entire biosphere, perhaps irreversibly, through global
warming and loss of biodiversity. We've entered the new geological era,
the anthropocene. We don't fully understand the consequences of our
many-faceted assault on the interwoven fabric of atmosphere, water,
land and life.
Humankind's collective impacts
on the biosphere, climate and oceans are unprecedented. These environmentally
driven threats - "threats without enemies" - should loom as
large in the political perspective as did the East/West political divide
during the Cold War era.
Unless they rise higher on
international agendas, remedial action may come too late to prevent
"runaway" climatic or environmental devastation. The UK Government
has taken a welcome lead.
Twenty first-century technology
could offer immense opportunities, for the developing and the developed
world. But it will present new threats more diverse and more intractable
than nuclear weapons did. To confront these threats successfully - and
to avoid foreclosing humanity's long-term potential - scientists need
to channel their efforts wisely and engage with the political process
nationally and internationally.
Martin Rees is president
of the Royal Society
© 2006 Independent News
and Media Limited
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