JAN WOUTER VASBINDER & DANIEL R. BROOKS
Climate change above all
Director, Para Limes, Valkenburg, the Netherlands (J.W.V.);
Visiting senior fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, Köszeg, Hungary (D.R.B.).
Europe’s strengths, weaknesses, structures and spats seem trivial in the face of global climate change. Why this isn’t the primary focus of every research programme throughout Europe, and globally, is baffling to us.
We have become a technological species clustered in urbanized, sedentary and highdensity settings susceptible to shortfalls in food production, shortages of drinking water and pandemics. The number and intensity of disruptions, and their global impact, will increase as a result of the accelerating development and impact of technology; the growing dependence of our trading and support systems on the integrity of cyberspace; increased energy needs and decreased resource security; the failing global financial system and our vulnerability to terrorism and populism.
We have been living beyond our means in our technological niche, and the bill is now due. Human population — urban density and global numbers — must decrease if we are to survive as a technological species, but by more gentle ways than wars, famine, drought and pandemics. The time is short, the danger is great, and we are largely unprepared — but we can change that by refocusing European initiatives and programmes such as Horizon Europe and the ERC Grand Challenges Network towards this, the grandest challenge of all.
Science has not been primarily about raising questions that are relevant for society. Now it must be. The scientific community has developed its own pace and priorities, producing an increasing number of disciplines largely disconnected from society.
This has led to a sluggish and unfocused response to global climate change. Science must step off its treadmill, explore beyond the familiar boundaries of disciplines, and collaborate with non-science entities that know how to translate plans into action. We must prioritize activities designed to buy time for survival, fit the knowledge we have to the problems we see, create applications that work, and focus on proactive, not reactive, policies.