Academia Europaea: Lord Martin Rees

06 March 2019

"Advances in technology have led to a world where most people enjoy a safer, longer, and more satisfying life than previous generations, and these positive trends could continue. On the other hand, environmental degradation, unchecked climate change, and unintended consequences of advanced technology are collaterals of these advances. A world with a higher population more demanding of energy and resources and more empowered by technology could trigger serious, even catastrophic, setbacks to our society. There’s an institutional failure to plan long-term, and plan globally.

Politicians look to their own voters and the next election. Stockholders expect a payoff in the short run. We downplay what’s happening even now in faraway countries. And we discount too heavily the problems we’ll leave for new generations. Without a broader perspective, without realizing that we’re all on this crowded world together, governments won’t properly prioritise projects that are long-term in a political perspective, even if a mere instant in the history of the planet. This is the first century, in the 45 million since our Earth formed, where one species — ours — can determine the planet’s future.

It would be a shaming contrast with our forebears if, despite our far greater knowledge and wider horizons, we persisted in short-term policies that denied future generations a fair inheritance.

Our perspectives should be global and stretch at least a century ahead. Our responsibility to our children, to the poorest, and to preserve life’s diversity surely demands nothing less.

Activists and experts by themselves can’t sustain political commitment to these long-term issues. Only if their voice is amplified by a wide public, and by the media, will long-term global causes rise high enough on the political agenda."

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