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Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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BREAKTHROUGHS

From cutting-edge technology to the performing arts, from youth activists to senior leaders, the Main Stage and Academic Science portions of the 2021 Nobel Prize Summit included a range of ideas and actors. This chapter highlights presentations by climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, President of the Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo, and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry. Both the Main Stage and Academic Science sessions convened panels on technological and social innovations, which are also summarized in this chapter.

In introducing the theme of “breakthroughs,” Johan Rockström explained on the Main Stage, “Breakthroughs are what we need because we have entered the decisive decade for humanity. We are running out of carbon budget. Intact nature that builds our resilience is increasingly rare, and we are coming dangerously close to the tipping point. At the same time, we see social tipping points emerging. Can we make this year a positive tipping point for humanity?” He pointed to the alignment of four unstoppable forces: political, economic, technological, and social movements. He looked to an integration of policy, technology, and behavior change that must add up to planetary scale during what he termed a disruptive decade.

Image MAIN STAGE: Diverse Voices

Next Generation

Xiye Bastida (Re-Earth Initiative) introduced herself as a 19-year-old climate justice activist born and raised in Mexico. She noted she is one of many young people demanding climate justice by protesting and organizing strikes to stop investment in fossil fuel spending and infrastructure and, instead, promote investment in climate education, renewable energy, and meeting the 1.5 °C temperature target contained in the Paris Agreement. Carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases must be targeted, she said. Noting the communities that rely on the health of the Amazon rainforest, Congo Basin, and other

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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fragile ecosystems, “We must keep in mind that climate justice is social justice,” as well as examine “our very own foundation of morals and values.” She requested that summit participants question the assumptions on which their knowledge and expertise are based. “Most of our frameworks for science, international relations, economics and other fields are rooted in areas of objectivity and emotional detachment with the ultimate goal of striving for money and power,” Bastida asserted. She challenged those frameworks, especially the assumption of the tragedy of the commons, which is when people look out for their own good. She countered with the work of Nobel Prize laureate Elinor Ostrom, who asserted that local communities are able to work together to maintain balance with nature. Instead of always striving to get ahead, she said, “it is time to look back at ancestral wisdom that teaches how to live in harmony with Mother Earth, nature, and each other.”

Bastida urged closing the gap between science and policy by drawing on scholarship from feminist international politics, climate psychology, urban health, and other fields. “Most of this research remains within journals,” Bastida lamented. Instead, she urged for a uniting of academia, public policy, and civil society to develop intersectional climate solutions that address the complexities of the crisis in a just and equitable way. She concluded:

The youth and the generations of tomorrow demand that you use your knowledge and power of innovation to prevent runaway climate change. We must keep fossil fuel in the ground. We must stop the production of plastics. We must draw down excess carbon in the atmosphere. We must stop the overproduction of goods. We must receive comprehensive climate education. We must center marginalized communities in solutions. We must acknowledge the rights of nature in legislation. We must heal our relationship with Mother Earth, and we need all of us. Science, innovation, and government must be aligned to take care of life, not destroy it.

Island Nations

President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) David Panuelo issued “an island nation’s call to action” and cited the findings in Making Peace with Nature, which provides a scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity, and pollution emergencies (UNEP, 2021). Actions today—not tomorrow or next year—must change, Panuelo asserted. He noted his government’s full endorsement of the recent work of Sir David Attenborough and his conclusion that “the living world is a unique and spectacular marvel, yet the way we humans live on Earth is sending it into a deep decline.” Panuelo drew on Attenborough’s (2020) film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet and this statement from the film to describe what climate change means for his country and actions the global community should take.1

As of April 2021, FSM comprises 607 islands covering more than 700,000 square kilometers of land and more than 2.2 million square kilometers of ocean territory. This ocean-state is threatened, Panuelo said. Most of the land consists of low-lying atolls just 1 to 5 meters above sea level and is vulnerable to floods, typhoons, landslides, eroding shorelines, and other disturbances. The western Micronesian states lie in the most active tropical cyclone basin in the world. The Global Climate Risk Index assesses the FSM as the third most at-risk among the

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1 For more information, see https://www.attenboroughfilm.com.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Pacific island nations (after Fiji and Vanuatu) (Eckstein et al., 2021).2 The effects of climate change are already being seen, including both increased and reduced rainfall depending on location. As the sea level rises, protective coral reefs are overwhelmed and storms become stronger. “For the FSM, climate change is our single greatest security threat. Part of the answer to this threat is that the world must transition to sustainable and renewable energy,” he said. He called for global action to meet the commitments under the Paris Agreement and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, similar to what happened with the Montreal Protocol and the recent Kigali Amendment.3 He urged the UN Security Council to work toward these goals.

Image MAIN STAGE: A Commitment to Cooperation

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry spoke with National Academy of Sciences (NAS) President Marcia McNutt several days after participating in the April 22–23, 2021, Leaders Summit on Climate convened by President Biden.4 At that gathering, he reported, the world leaders present announced ambitious targets to reduce emissions to keep the goal of limited global warming to 1.5 °C within reach. McNutt asked Kerry what scientists could do to help meet those targets.

Kerry responded that scientists have provided information about the problem and solutions but the information has been misused in some situations. “We’re in a difficult moment,” he acknowledged. “We are confronting in the United States and around the world whether we can establish a baseline of truth in our society. It is critical to do that in respect to the climate crisis because the stakes are so high. And yet, we see a polarization based on politics and exploitation,” Kerry asserted.

People need to fight back against “paid-for denial” claims related to climate. “We have to reestablish a baseline of truth or we cannot build consensus in society,” he stated. Post–World War II, scientists helped rein in atomic weapons, including some of the same scientists who developed the technology. A leading role for science and scientists is needed now, he urged, especially in the decade ahead. “We are in a war against denial,” he said and urged scientists to be at the front of the fight. He underlined that 2020 to 2030 is a critical decade.

Kerry agreed with McNutt that “we need to put ‘science on steroids.’” For example, discoveries are being made related to battery storage and to green and blue hydrogen, but the challenge is getting technologies to scale and in the marketplace. “We are on the cusp of the greatest transformation since the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “This is an enormous market, with 10 billion potential users in the next 30 years.” The private sector is moving in this direction, but coal must be reined in. “It has to happen at an accelerated pace. Business-as-usual and polarization will make it difficult,” he stated. Kerry noted his team is pushing toward the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow ambitiously, because the United States and other top 20 economies represent 81 percent of global emissions.5

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2 According to Table 4: Climate Risk Index for 2000–2019, three Pacific island countries most affected include Fiji (rank 19), Vanuatu (rank 37), and Micronesia (rank 40).

3 For information on the Kigali Amendment, which aims for a phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons, see https://www.unido.org/our-focus-safeguarding-environment-implementation-multilateral-environmental-agreements-montreal-protocol/montreal-protocol-evolves-fight-climate-change.

4 For information on the Leaders Summit, see https://www.state.gov/leaders-summit-on-climate.

5 For information on the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, see https://ukcop26.org.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Image MAIN STAGE: Innovative Solutions

Two panels on the Main Stage focused on breakthrough ideas related to technology and community empowerment.

Avenues for Action

Nisha Anand (Dream Corps) moderated a panel on the Main Stage about breakthrough ideas in different fields. Participants included Nobel Prize laureate Sir Richard Roberts (New England Biolabs), Tamar Krishnamurti (University of Pittsburgh and Naima Health), and Rana el Kaliouby (Affectiva).

To ensure effective communication between scientists and the general public, Roberts says scientists should be able to clearly explain what is happening in their labs to their family and friends. Language accessibility is essential to ease distrust about science, he stressed. “We use acronyms and terms that are hard to understand to show how smart we are,” he asserted. “That is not smart. What is smart is explaining things in terms that everyone can understand.”

“We are all connected economically, through the environment
and in a One Health manner as seen in the pandemic.
And we are connected socially as well. It is summits like this
that allow us to understand the connections we all have
and how these connections can make us stronger.”

—Marcia McNutt

Krishnamurti compares quality of life today to that of earlier generations. “I believe you can measure the health and thriving of a nation by how its mothers are faring. By that metric, we are not doing that well in the United States,” she said. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and the rate has been increasing while the rate in other developed nations has been decreasing. She noted the majority of these deaths are preventable and occur because of systems failures in which risks are not identified and addressed. Racism plays a role, she added, with the maternal mortality rate in Black and Indigenous communities 2 to 4 times higher than in white, Hispanic, and Asian American communities. Patient-centered technology—collecting information between prenatal visits to connect patients with resources in a more timely way—is one proven solution.

Technological stewardship is a guiding principle for el Kaliouby, who builds artificial emotional intelligence tools so computers can detect and interact with humans more similarly to how humans interact with each other. One application is a more data-driven approach to mental health. When asked how diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can be brought into technology, el Kaliouby said one issue is that technology is a male-dominated industry, but offered suggestions for different stakeholders. Consumers and users of technology have power to support companies that support DEI values. Thought leaders and managers can be intentional about prioritizing DEI, such as by ensuring data diversity and mitigating against algorithmic bias.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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In discussing leadership during science-related crises, Krishnamurti commented that women leaders have been lauded for their pandemic responses. Returning to Roberts’s discussion of science communication and its role in decision-making, she said many successes in female-headed nations have been in implementing behavioral changes in response to the pandemic. A key is to engage in good risk communication from the start, rather than counter misinformation when it emerges. If people hear clear, transparent messages from trustworthy sources, especially paired with social structure supports, they will act. Diversity in leadership is necessary with different lived experience, she added, to represent the voices of the people the leaders are serving.

Other obstacles exist even with strong leadership, as seen in vaccine distribution, Anand pointed out. Developed countries focus on what is good for them without giving much thought to the rest of the world, Roberts said. He related this to food security and said he is undertaking a campaign to support GMO (genetically modified organism) agricultural technology, especially on lands affected by climate change. He added that without higher yields, people will flee hunger in their native countries, and migration will increase.

Empathy is at the core of communications, trust, and loyalty, and it represents a strand in solving problems, Anand commented. She asked el Kaliouby if and how machines learn emotional intelligence and empathy. El Kaliouby replied that machines learn emotional skills without truly being empathetic. They can contribute to transformative technologies, such as in health and transportation, but the technology could be misused. She said she supports thoughtful regulation to stop nefarious use cases and that company leaders must also take a stand and refuse business that may misuse the technology. Krishnamurti stressed the importance of bringing in the human element in planning, conducting, and disseminating research, including research based on artificial intelligence (AI).

In addition to its benefits, technology can breed misinformation, the participants noted. Roberts expressed concern about social media when algorithms direct information, especially deliberately biased information, from the internet to certain recipients. He suggested using AI in a more positive way. El Kaliouby pointed to the Partnership on AI consortium as a way to get involved.6 Krishnamurti is focused on going from “big data” to “better data.” Scientists must be more thoughtful about data, she urged. They should include other fields and community members as coproducers of research. She urged scientists to get involved politically.

Giving Power to Solutions

United Nations Under Secretary-General Natalia Kanem (United Nations Population Fund [UNFPA]) and Nobel Prize laureate Steven Chu (Stanford University) engaged in a conversation about empowering local communities, especially girls and women. The world’s population is projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, an increase of 25 percent from today. “It is critical that we get smart about the relationship between the population and the planet to make the best policy decisions and choices, and avoid the pitfalls of the past,” Kanem said.

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6 See https://www.partnershiponai.org.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Global concern might be expressed about population growth, but decisions about family size are implemented on an individual basis, Kanem stated. She continued, “Over time, the world has realized that you can’t dictate population size to people. It’s the woman’s choice. Given the choice, women know what they want. They want the number of children they can afford and nurture.” To Kanem, one way to “give power to solutions” is by supporting women’s power to control their own fertility. Studies have shown that when women have this control, they are more likely to have power in other spheres of their lives related to health, education, income, and safety. Currently, about 218 million women want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to modern contraception, she said, which UNFPA addresses through work with low- and middle-income countries. Data and evidence show that humans created but can also solve many of the problems related to population and to other issues discussed throughout the summit, she added.

Chu reflected that a woman’s right to choose is linked with many sustainability problems, such as growing food and providing water for a growing population. “As people rise out of poverty, they will naturally consume more energy,” he added. “We can’t really talk about sustainability until the world’s population is stabilized.” He noted that in societies with rapidly increasing prosperity and education, and where women have the ability to control their own bodies, population rates go down. This phenomenon cuts across all countries, religions, and races, he added, and he disputed the notion by some economists that falling birth rates will hamper prosperity, which he likened to a Ponzi scheme. “I deeply believe it is possible to have rising prosperity with a stable or even declining population. Unless we get off this treadmill, we can’t have real sustainability,” he said.

Global population figures can mask inequalities within societies, Kanem said. “How you invest in the people you have makes a huge difference. A girl who marries as a child has limited options for participation, which has implications for herself, her family, and society,” she explained. The pandemic has revealed the “fault lines” of what years of poor health systems and structural inequality will do. Climate issues also hit the poorest and most vulnerable first.

Kanem noted that UNFPA used digital technology during the pandemic, including telehealth, and will continue to do so, especially to reach remote areas, although bridging the digital divide is a challenge. “As head of the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, one of my greatest wishes for the girls of the world is for them to have mobile phones under their control,” Kanem said. She explained this connects a girl to information and connections for rescue during an emergency, among other benefits. “Part of a ‘power of solutions’ discussion is flexibility, whether policy on the page or practice on the ground in communities, to be able to let people devise their own solutions,” she said.

Chu recalled a visit to villages in Africa and a conversation with a resident who explained that, in the past, having a large family was a form of insurance, given child mortality rates, something less required today. Increased health care lowers the birth rate, and more resources can be focused on fewer children. “In this deeply connected world, relieving poverty, increasing education, and improving health care mean that you aren’t on this [population] treadmill,” Chu said. Kanem said ultimately the power of human rights is part

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
×

of preserving the planet. The ability of women and girls to exercise control leads UNFPA to develop the message that “the future belongs to the 10-year-old girl.” A girl should be equipped, educated, and able to exert power over her own body and sphere, Kanem said.

Both Chu and Kanem expressed optimism about the “leapfrogging” of technology so that, for example, families do not have to wait for landlines or electricity but instead have access to cell phones, solar power, and energy storage.

Image FROM THE SCIENCE SESSIONS: Science-Supporting Transformations

Reflecting on previous presentations during the summit, Rosina Bierbaum (University of Michigan and University of Maryland) commented, “We have heard the science needs are great and the time to achieve global sustainability is short. We need transformational change and not incremental change.” Bierbaum led a facilitated discussion about science in the service of society with Nobel Prize laureate Brian Schmidt (Australian National University), Marcia McNutt (NAS), Nobel Prize laureate Yuan Tseh Lee (University of California, Berkeley), and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (Potsdam Institute).

“We are confronting in the United States and around the world
whether we can establish a baseline of truth in our society.
It is critical to do that in respect to the climate crisis
because the stakes are so high.”

—John Kerry

Science for Transformative Change

Bierbaum began by asking the panelists what they see as scientific priorities to achieve change. Schellnhuber called for more awareness of risk. Recalling the research leading up to the Montreal Protocol, he said that “humanity had a very narrow window of escape,” which science made clear to policy makers. He questioned whether the current level of risk to the system is truly understood. To look at climate change, biodiversity loss, and related issues, Schellnhuber said, “We need a radical systems analysis of existential risks.” Bierbaum commented on the need for a risk assessment that encompasses not just economic risks but also ecological and social risks.

Given the intersection of food, water, and energy systems, science is needed to advance adaptive capacity, Schmidt said. For example, as the climate changes, the places where food is grown will change, creating the need for agricultural transformation. Technology exists, but he warned about the need to look at opportunities and threats together: “You must be careful about what you do. If you think only about an opportunity, you can set off a cascading set of events that causes more harm than good.”

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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“My view is that whether we achieve climate goals or not will depend on how we reach out to the developing world,” McNutt said. “We do not have the time or the carbon budget to allow them to follow the tortuous path that the developed world took—carbon-based sources and then switch to renewables.” Leapfrogging technologies, such as cell phones, are an example (see also “Giving Power to Solutions,” above). Looking at the equity issue, solutions must be cheaper, better for the environment, and better for people. “The academic community needs to create roadmaps for doing that,” she said. “It is possible. We have to make it a priority.”

Historically, physics, chemistry, and biology have identified environmental problems, but Lee called for a larger role for social sciences and for redesigning higher education so that students learn both social and natural sciences. Figuring out what types of technologies are wanted and acceptable is needed for leapfrogging. He warned not just to add a token social scientist to a team but ensure that social science plays a central role in technological development.

New Funding Models and Frameworks

Bierbaum observed that the private and philanthropic sectors are funding research and development, which may be changing the historic public-private science relationship and may play a role in scale-up. Schmidt said public funding often focuses research within national boundaries, while philanthropies can build systems across boundaries to deal with systemic global issues. He noted that the reality is that private-sector funding is small relative to government funding, but it has been leveraged effectively. “Researchers from different countries can work together in a more holistic way, and that’s where the opportunity comes from,” he said.

Science can serve as an integrating force across different international agreements and Sustainable Development Goals, Bierbaum commented. Schellnhuber noted he considers effective demonstration projects as “disruptive innovation plus good governance.” He said his involvement with the European Green Deal has made him realize the need for a “new narrative of modernity.”7 He pointed to research to transform the built environment from a source of carbon dioxide (CO2) to a sink for CO2, such as articulated by the New European Bauhaus movement.8 “We need a narrative about the transformation of the sector and then move in all types of innovation. An integrated project at continental scale—we can learn from each other and bring everyone along,” he said. “Rapid scale-up is needed but is often not thought through.”

Convergence of the blue (ocean-based) and green (land-based) economies has gained momentum. McNutt referred to earlier comments by Partha Dasgupta that “if we can’t put a price on nature, we aren’t going to value it.” Science needs to help put a price on nature, she said. Demonstration projects can show what works and help put a price on how conservation helps multiple generations in the future. She noted that the benefits of the Information Age are recognized. “A new age could be ushered in by valuing the blue-green economy that could surpass even the Information Age in terms of its value to society,” McNutt asserted. “But we have to first make sure we know how to measure worth and policies to revalue nature.” With these values quantified, she predicted, private industry would step in and make sustainability the way to conduct business.

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7 See https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en.

8 See https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/index_en.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Humans are part of nature, Lee commented. “Humanity and nature must survive together; this is a philosophical understanding. Realization of complex problems and solutions must undergird education of the next generation.”

Key Building Blocks for Transformative Change

Bierbaum asked each panelist for a takeaway suggestion about achieving transformative change. Lee said he would encourage people to live better with less and reduce consumption. Schmidt agreed but added there must be incentives. The most rapid area of progress, he said, is around electricity and solar energy, and this should be a priority. Schellnhuber offered two ideas: solid analysis to transform the built environment into a carbon sink and development of an Earth system model. “We do not have an Earth system model that can be run on a planetary scale. It sounds utopian, but it could be achieved in the next 10 years.” To help the public understand what is at stake, McNutt suggested scientific cooperation with Hollywood on a blockbuster movie that shows what would happen if the natural world were not preserved. Bierbaum said this idea underlines the importance of narrative. She recalled that going to a location to describe the specific impacts of climate change on that place was more powerful than discussing more abstract, global climate change.

Schellnhuber concluded that the present time is a golden opportunity for science. Young people are interested, and it is important to get them involved. McNutt added it is also important for scientists to address the problem of misinformation that spreads online. Schmidt urged fellow scientists to figure out how they can help find “action at scale now.” Lee shared his vision of harnessing technology to go beyond the goal of increased consumption. Bierbaum closed by saying that science is not always the loudest voice, but it is a very important voice. “We must all be civic scientists to explain the importance of these issues,” she urged.

Image FROM THE SCIENCE SESSIONS: Breakthroughs in Technologies and Social Innovation for Resilient Societies and Global Sustainability

Leena Srivastava (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) facilitated a discussion with Sir Richard Roberts, Jennifer Doudna (University of California, Berkeley), Karen Seto (Yale University), and Frank Geels (University of Manchester). Srivastava introduced the session by stating:

We are experiencing and expecting many exciting opportunities for human progress driven by innovations. Technological innovations are leveraging and combining developments in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other areas, whereas social innovations are being driven by a much more informed, demanding, and doubting society, contributing to both co-creation and consensus-based innovation. The growth of citizen engagement and activism are also leading to innovations in planning and policy making. If harnessed effectively, they can counterbalance the negative effects of technological developments, increasing the possibilities for global sustainability. However, inequality will have to be addressed squarely and up front to ensure resiliency.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Important Innovations

Roberts drew from the COVID-19 crisis to laud biotechnology-driven advances in the development and improvement of rapid testing and messenger RNA vaccines. However, he said, the testing methods took a long time for regulatory approval, and he called for a way to get groundbreaking biotechnology innovations into the hands of the public sooner. The vaccines are an example of the need for support of critical science at early stages, he added. A decade ago, the researchers who developed the technology had scant funding and support. Many other aspects of biotechnology have been useful, and he singled out the need to respond to climate change by growing plants that are more resistant to changes, especially in the developing world.

Doudna briefly explained the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology that she pioneered9 and its capability to alter DNA sequences in cells so that it is now a globally accepted technology to alter genetic material in any organism. It has been a transformational opportunity and meant that scientists can study the function of sets of genes in a targeted fashion, she explained. Importantly, she added, it is an example of the value of fundamental research, as the early work that she, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and others undertook was motivated by understanding fundamental biology of a bacterial immune system. Now it is having an impact on therapeutic intervention, such as with sickle cell disease, but it remains very expensive. Doudna noted that her institute has the goal to innovate but also make innovations affordable. Genome technology can also help with climate change, she added, but she stressed the need for responsible use and appropriate regulation.

Seto noted that some of the issues discussed at the summit have another issue at the center: the urbanization of societies. Every day, she explained, an area equal to about 20,000 American football fields becomes urbanized, including biodiverse ecosystems and agricultural lands. Urban areas generate about 70 percent of fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions, and the global population of cities and towns grows by 1.3 million people every week. Looking back into history, she said the microscope, telescope, and camera were technologies that allowed for new ways of seeing. Today, widespread satellites are transforming the way to see the planet from new perspectives. Remote sensing enables a way to see and understand grand challenges of urbanization across countries and can be a central element to transition societies to be healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable. She singled out NASA’s Black Marble product, developed from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, which is the only satellite primarily looking at human activity.10 Analyses and applications from the data collected range from economic activity to changes in energy use to wildfire and hurricane effects. Satellite imagery and analysis is transforming understanding of the world, especially of vulnerable populations, she said.

Geels spoke of transitions in governance, drawing from the field of systems transitions research. Many sustainability innovations related to mobility, food production, and energy exist, but most are not yet diffusing at sufficient speed to address global problems, he noted.

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9 See https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2020/press-release.

10 See https://blackmarble.gsfc.nasa.gov and Román et al., 2018.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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He explained transitions happen through interactions at three levels: emerging novelties at a micro level face uphill struggles against entrenched systems at a meso level in the context of exogenous macro-level trends (Geels et al., 2017). Radical innovations may diffuse when macro-level pressures on existing systems create tensions and windows of opportunity. Diffusion is also affected by investments, consumer enthusiasm, and other variables. Incumbent firms may resist radical change when this threatens their business models. Policy makers can address this resistance by forcing incumbents to change (through regulations), helping companies and workers adapt to the change (through subsidies or retraining programs), or circumventing incumbents by supporting new entrants.

Mobilizing Political Will and Trust in Science

As Geels noted, public support plays a big role in getting policy makers to support innovations. Small businesses, consumer preferences, and a positive cultural narrative can start small and then scale political will. Seto commented on the power of images in public perceptions. She reminded participants of a famous photograph taken of Earth from Apollo 8, which she noted many have been called the most influential environmental photograph ever.11 Remote sensing can play a similar role, when people can see their home, community, or region affected by sea-level rise and other impacts. Roberts pointed out, however, that images are used for good and for bad purposes.

Public mistrust of science was raised by several speakers throughout the session, and the panelists urged scientists to confront this issue directly, despite the difficulty. Doudna said availability of information is great, but it can also be manipulated or confused. She urged scientists to discuss their work publicly and demonstrate the value of science in society. Education and everyday conversation should weave science into people’s daily lives far more than in recent decades. Roberts said scientists must talk in language that people understand. Geels said mistrust of science is part of a large sense of public anger and fear.

REFERENCES

Attenborough, D., narr. 2020. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, A. Fothergill, J. Hughes, and K. Scholey, dirs. London: Altitude Film Entertainment; Bristol: Silverback Films; Washington, DC: World Wildlife Fund. Released on October 4, 2020, on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/80216393.

Eckstein, D., V. Künzel, and L. Schäfer. 2021. Global Climate Risk Index: Who Suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events? Weather-Related Loss Events in 2019 and 2000–2019. https://germanwatch.org/sites/default/files/Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202021_1.pdf.

Geels, F. W., B. K. Sovacoo, T. Schwanen, and S. Sorrell. 2017. Sociotechnical transitions for deep decarbonization. Science 357(6357):1242–1244.

Román, M. O., Z. Wang, Q. Sun, V. Kalb, S. D. Miller, A. Molthan, L. Schultz, J. Bell, E. C. Stokes, B. Pandey, K. C. Seto, D. Hall, T. Oda, R. E. Wolfe, G. Lin, N. Golpayegani, S. Devadiga, C. Davidson, S. Sarkar, C. Praderas, J. Schmaltz, R. Boller, J. Stevens, O. M. Ramos González, E. Padilla, J. Alonso, Y. Detrés, R. Armstrong, I. Miranda, Y. Conte, N. Marrero, K. MacManus, T. Esch, and E. J. Masuoka. 2018. NASA’s Black Marble nighttime lights product suite. Remote Sensing of Environment 210:113–143. DOI:10.1016/j.rse.2018.03.017.

UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program). 2021. Making Peace with Nature: A Scientific Blueprint to Tackle the Climate, Biodiversity, and Pollution Emergencies. https://www.unep.org/resources/making-peace-nature.

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11 See https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/apollo-8-earthrise.

Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Breakthroughs.." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. 2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26310.
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2021 Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future: Proceedings of a Summit Get This Book
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Our future depends on our collective ability to become effective stewards of the global commons - the climate, ice, land, ocean, fresh water, forests, soils and rich diversity of life. Hosted by the Nobel Foundation and organized by the US National Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Stockholm Resilience Centre/Beijer Institute, the first Nobel Prize Summit brought together Nobel Prize laureates, scientists, policy makers, business leaders, and youth leaders to explore the question: What can be achieved in this decade to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all of humanity?

From April 26-28, 2021, this virtual event combined keynotes and lively discussion with live performance and theatre. Framed around the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, speakers explored solutions to some of humanity's greatest challenges: climate change and biodiversity loss, increasing inequality, and technological innovation in support of societal goals. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions of the Summit.

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