The Future of Climate Transitions: Marking Earth Day
Published April 21, 2022
Earlier this month, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change, and issued a stark warning: “The evidence is clear: the time for action is now.” To limit global warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) and secure a liveable future, the world needs to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030.
On Earth Day 2022, this call to action resonates loudly. As extreme weather events and other environmental impacts multiply, climate change feels like a ticking time bomb. But there is a risk that, faced with an existential challenge and gloomy predictions, individuals and communities—particularly young people—become overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness.
At the New York Academy of Sciences, we want to use our convening power and our status as an independent, democratic, multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral institution to contribute to the public conversation about climate change. We can harness the expertise of our 20,000 member-strong global network of scientists—from our young high school students in the Junior Academy to the Nobel Laureates on our President’s Council—to broaden our understanding of various aspects of climate change and explore ways to support the transition to a low-carbon future.
Expanding public discourse
Environmental issues have long featured in our activities. We have held conferences and webinars on climate-related topics such as the impact of climate change on human health, its effects on environmental ecosystems and explored how policymakers can use scientific knowledge of climate change to inform decision making.
As an independent body, the Academy can use its unique platform to raise difficult questions. In the months and years ahead, we intend to organize a series of conferences to address the complexities of climate change and the science around it. How do scientists make their discoveries, and how do they evaluate discrepant data as they seek to better understand complex systems? Science operates in ways that often appear mysterious to non-scientists who want to hold to a fixed truth. While science has made enormous progress in our understanding of so many aspects of the world, science continuously evolves through a process of debate, peer review, revision, and experimentation. In the end, it is this process rather than any particular finding on its own that makes scientific knowledge so authoritative and reliable.
Climate change is a source of growing concern for many people who wonder what they can do at an individual level. We need therefore to examine the role of individual behavior and collective action in the transition to a more sustainable way of life. The Academy promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), but also deeply values the social sciences and arts and culture. We aim to contribute to a healthy public debate on possible pathways to reliance and sustainability, which will involve collective action at national and global levels along with individual contributions of many kinds.
Preparation and mitigation
In partnership with IBM, we recently launched the International Science Reserve (ISR) whose mission it is to help us prepare for complex global crises, so we can limit their negative impact on individuals as well as on societies. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that when disaster hits, science needs to react quickly and decisively to save lives, ensure the continuity of services, and support recovery.
Scientists worldwide, contributing their knowledge and resources, are already participating in ISR readiness exercises to address specific threats. Our first such exercise focused on wildfires, which have increased in intensity and frequency around the world, in large part the result of climate change and its myriad and complex effects on our weather. The ISR will tap the expertise of scientists across disciplines to tackle other risks, many of them related to the global environmental crisis.
Inspiring a global generation
The New York Academy of Sciences is deeply committed to a global approach. The pandemic demonstrated the importance of international collaboration across the scientific community. At a time when globalization appears in retreat, we believe in a planetary approach to foster innovation and produce solutions. By teaming up with our peers around the world, scientists at all levels—including the STEM students who participate in our international educational programs—will generate the energy and creativity needed to limit the damage of global crises and help us chart a path forward that will lead to greater resilience and a shared sense of control over our collective future.
Environmental issues feature heavily in our STEM educational programs for middle and high school students as participants from around the world display a great interest in climate-related issues. Our mentoring and educational projects nurture their passion for science but also show these young people that they can make a difference and contribute to averting environmental disaster, even if problems cannot be solved overnight. The future may be full of peril, but if work together we believe it is also full of great promise.
Despite the sobering projections contained in its latest assessment, the IPCC stressed that the goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is still within reach. One of the missions of the New York Academy of Sciences is to catalyze collective action to address global challenges. None is as complex, daunting and urgent as climate change. By supporting scientific education and collaboration—and by bringing together individuals, organizations, private sector companies and decision makers—the Academy aims to contribute to a brighter and more sustainable future.