This year humanity experienced a global systemic crisis along the lines of which our Future Earth community had long predicted. Yet, this crisis still came as a shock to many. Each of us, I expect, is reflecting deeply on what this all means for our individual and collective futures.
Much of our work within Future Earth focuses on understanding, mitigating, and responding to global systemic challenges. So while the COVID-19 crisis came as a shock, it was not a surprise for the scientific community.
We understand how interdependent humanity is on each other and nature. Science has enabled us to project the cascading and catastrophic effects that the multiple and interacting forces of the changing climate, loss of biodiversity, and the rise of inequity, will have on global society. We run the models, We tell the stories. We work with decision makers to identify solutions. Yet, the COVID-19 crisis brought us to our knees in a matter of months. One message from this is that science, facts, knowledge matter. But we need knowledge not just about the changes underway, the challenges they create, and the solutions to address them. We most critically need knowledge about how to drive the societal transformations required to manage the global systemic crisis of our future. The real thing is still a wake-up call even for those of us that work on these crises for a living.
This is why the work of Future Earth is more important than ever, not only to anticipate the risks, but also to collaborate towards sustainable responses and solutions. For example, the integrated assessment of the Earth Commission is the first holistic attempt to establish scientific guardrails, to underpin science-based targets for life-supporting systems like land, water, and biodiversity. We need these targets to help companies and cities contribute to the recovery effort. In another first this year, we conducted a survey of over 200 global change scientists to gather their perceptions of global risk and compare them to the views of the business community annually surveyed by the World Economic Forum. This diversity of views is critical to help prioritize future investments. The need to work across boundaries and communities in this work is also critical. Our many national and regional structures can exchange best practices to help inform rapid societal change on a global scale. And of course, Future Earth’s expert networks researching topics like health, infectious disease and emergent risk continue to produce more-than-ever relevant science to help guide decision makers towards a new normal.
The task at hand is to learn from this experience. Now, let’s work together to find ways to bounce forward from this global crisis.
Executive Director, Future Earth