December 1, 2020
The tragedy of the current coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the inspiring capacity of humankind to adapt its behavior to address a world-wide threat to public health. That said, there is another disaster directly in front of us, looming larger with every passing day, that threatens our entire planet. That threat is global warming and its planet-wide effects on climate and the consequent collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity. The evidence is clear, and without any question, this is a global crisis facing all people.1,2 It is not hyperbole to state that the future of the Earth as we know it is at stake and could become incapable of supporting the life of our own species among many other species. Human activities that result in the generation of greenhouse gases, and the ever-growing human population engaging in such activities, are unquestionably the primary drivers of global warming. The evidence for these conclusions is incontrovertible.
When we emerge from the coronavirus lock-down, there will be enormous pressure to “return to normal” and to resume “business as usual.” However, this pandemic-induced pause in the drumbeat of our lives has shown the possibility to stymie greenhouse gas emissions and to implement other appropriate actions that will begin to slow global warming. Excessive air travel is one of the major ways in which scientists contribute as individuals to global warming, and there is a compelling need to limit such behavior as we move forward. As participants in this behavior, we have a moral responsibility, as well as the capability, to provide leadership in establishing new paradigms for scientific connectivity. This letter is, therefore, a call to members of the major US scientific organizations and societies that interface among biology, chemistry and physics to move forward in a sustainable and concerted manner.
In the short term, we ask that all scientific-based interactions continue to plan all-remote (i.e., electronic online) formats for research conferences, scientific symposia, local seminar series, meetings of your advisory boards, editorial committees, etc. For the longer term, rather than depending on every organization and institution to grapple with these issues on their own, we call for implementation of a remote summit meeting with representatives from the stakeholders to be held as early as possible in 2021. Such a gathering would address how best to restructure science-related meetings. It will permit an opportunity to share experiences and technologies for providing visually appealing and interactive remote venues for scientific exchange, using the expertise that has been emerging under Covid-19. In this way, we can productively and cooperatively mobilize our cumulative knowledge and best redefine how we go forward to promote future scientific exchange and progress.
Implementation of change must be sensitive to the needs of younger scientists who may view attendance at conferences an avenue for advancing their knowledge base and careers. We anticipate that the increasing acceptance of pre-prints for the publication of research findings will make the use of such meetings less compelling. There will also be tremendous benefits to the increasing use of technology in lieu of in-person meetings that include an enormous savings of time and money as well as a worldwide democratization of the access to and distribution of scientific knowledge.
We are requesting your signature on this letter, as the first step toward establishing a format and timeline for a broadly based summit meeting. A ground swell of support from members of the US scientific establishment is needed to reinforce the urgent need for our community to do its part. We are excited by the possibilities of joining forces to establish a blueprint and precedent for action that can guide similar initiatives among other disciplines and in other countries.
Judith P. Klinman
Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology in the Graduate School
Michael A. Marletta
Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology
Jeremy W. Thorner
Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology
1 “Witnessing Climate Change”, DAEDALUS (Fall 2020 Issue), American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA. 2.“Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change”, Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times Magazine (August 1, 2018), New York, NY.