Recent wars have only proven that they do not and cannot bring the peace and security we need to address the real problems facing humanity. Today, we need a shift to a new paradigm that places the security of human beings – all human beings – first ~ Garry Jacobs
In spite of the remarkable progress of science and technology since 1950, today the world confronts unprecedented challenges to human security and the sustainability of our life on this planet. The COVID-19 pandemic, the current war in Ukraine and the fast approaching calamity of climate change all pose threats to the security and sustainability of people everywhere – such as adequate food production to feed a rapidly growing population, quality healthcare and cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s, a safe environment with clean energy, pollution-free manufacturing, protection for biodiversity and recycling of precious raw materials – says Garry Jacobs, president and CEO of the World Academy of Art & Science (WAAS) and chairman of the board & CEO of the World University Consortium, who visited Belgrade to attend the recent World Conference on Basic Sciences and Sustainable Development, held on 20th– 22nd September in Belgrade. The conference was organised by WAAS, in collaboration with UNESCO, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Club of Rome, the Serbian Association of Economists, the World University Consortium, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia and Belgrade’s Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences.
“This conference is intended to highlight both the magnitude of the threats and the promising opportunities emerging on the horizons of the basic sciences in order to multiply scientific research efforts around the world to focus on critically important areas and to education policy-makers to recognize the importance of enhanced funding and support for basic science research,” explains our interlocutor. “The Academy is giving great importance to this initiative for several reasons – one arises directly from the historical circumstances in which WAAS was founded and the other from its current work with the United Nations.”
”Fundamental science came of age in the mid-20th century with the advent of antibiotics, television and, of course, nuclear weapons. The Academy’s founders included Albert Einstein, who urged US President Roosevelt to develop an atomic weapon before Germany did, and Robert Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan Project which developed the first atomic bombs detonated in Japan. It also included Jonas Salk, discoverer of the Salk vaccine, who said his vaccine could not be patented because it belongs to all humanity.”
These and many other conscientious scientists and intellectuals who witnessed the enormous potential of science to threaten human security began to explore the idea of an international, non-governmental body that could address the major concerns of humanity. The First International Conference on Science and Human Welfare was held in Washington DC., 1956 calling for the establishment of the World Academy of Art & Science. WAAS was founded in 1960 as a call to science to come out of its ivory tower, turn to address the problems of the real world, take responsibility for the consequences of scientific knowledge and technology, and assume an active role in shaping decision-making to ensure a peaceful, safe world for all. “The primary objective of WAAS is to influence decision-makers in all fields — government, research, business and finance – to address the pressing challenges that confront humanity today with greater urgency and sincerity. Today the threats to human security and sustainability are greater than at any time in the past. WAAS believes it is the responsibility of scientists and intellectuals in all fields to step forward to meet these challenges,” says Jacobs.
I am not pessimistic about the future. On the contrary there are many positive developments and untapped potentials. What is lacking is sufficient understanding, awareness and commitment among both policy-makers and the general public, lulled into complacency or panic by fake news and party politics
That’s also why, adds our interlocutor, WAAS has just entered into collaboration with the United Nations on a global campaign to generate awareness and mobilize all sectors of society to address major threats to human security. The project is called HS4A or Human Security for All.
The presentations at the Belgrade conference documented many of the potential contributions of the basic sciences that merit greater attention and support in fields like physics, chemistry, molecular biology, medicine and healthcare, water, food safety and security, engineering, energy and climate science.
Looking back over the three years that have elapsed since your last visit to Belgrade, what do you consider the most significant changes that have taken place in the world?
In 2013 WAAS collaborated with the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) on a project to study the pressing global challenges confronting humanity. In 2019-20 we joined with UNOG again to examine the type of leadership the world needs to address these challenges. The biggest change that has taken place in the past three years is that all the pressing global challenges have grown in magnitude and intensity, while the multilateral institutions established to address them have been weakened by a retreat of member nation-states to the Cold War mentality that divided global society into opposing camps for four decades. These changes are alarming. If left unaddressed, they will have growing impact on peace, security and well-being worldwide.
When you think about sustainable development during this time of wars, the pandemic and climate change, do you ever suspect that “sustainable growth” is beyond our means as scientists, policymakers and ordinary people? What gives you a sense of optimism, and what leaves you in doubt?
The world today possesses all the resources, technical knowhow and organizational capabilities needed to address the challenges we face and provide for the human security of every person on earth. Global financial resources top US $450 trillion. Our problem is not that we face insurmountable problems but rather that we insist on addressing our problems through outmoded thinking, concepts, policies and institutions. Our concepts are confused and our priorities are contradictory. We strive to control carbon emissions while continuing to subsidize fossil fuels and permit deforestation.
We are still promoting a narrow conception of security in terms of military preparedness, while the greatest threats to human security come from issues that cannot be addressed by producing more weapons. Global military spending exceeds $2 trillion and is rising. In comparison we are spending only about $65 billion to finance more than 40 agencies of the UN system established to address the needs of all humanity. We need a shift to a new paradigm that places the security of human beings – all human beings – first. We need to reject reversion to outmoded ideas that led to the production of more than 70,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Abolishing all these weapons now will make the world a safer, more secure place for people everywhere. Resort to these weapons will severely aggravate the already very serious threats to the global environment.
We need radical reorientation of our educational system to make the social application, implications and consequences of science and technology an integral part of general education
I am not pessimistic about the future. On the contrary there are many positive developments and untapped potentials. What is lacking is sufficient understanding, awareness and commitment among both policy-makers and the general public, lulled into complacency or panic by fake news and party politics. We are still stuck in the outmoded thinking of the Cold War. The old competitive security paradigm is simply not appropriate for the interconnected, interdependent world we live in today. We need to establish a cooperative security system that ensures the rights and safety of people everywhere. Recent wars have only proven that they do not and cannot bring the peace and security we need to address the real problems facing humanity.
This year has been proclaimed the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development. Which disciplines should be mentioned as the top contributors to the advancement of the SDGs?
Virtually every discipline can contribute meaningfully to enhance sustainable development. Some by inventing new health care remedies, others by reducing the consumption of non-renewable energy resources and the pollution they generate, by substituting more abundant resources, recycling and multiplying their factor productivity. It is not possible to predict the winners. But it is possible to reorient and intensify the emphasis of all disciplines on meeting fundamental needs for human security and sustainability.
Another very important thing needed is a radical reorientation of our educational system to make the social application, implications and consequences of science and technology an integral part of general education. Our present system is still focused on producing specialists in narrow fields, when what we need are scientists with a broad understanding of how technology impacts society. Artificial intelligence is an example of a very powerful tool for progress; but, like many technologies, it’s a double-edged sword which can be wielded for both positive and negative purposes. Yet engineering education focuses almost exclusively on the technical dimensions and fails to instil either the awareness or the values needed for conscientious and responsible science.
To illustrate the approach, WAAS is collaborating with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which produces the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the largest annual exhibition of technological advances in the world. CTA has agreed to adopt human security as the main theme for the 2023 CES in order to generate greater awareness among its members of both the critical social needs to be met and vast opportunities that innovative businesses can tap. In fact, WAAS is providing the judges for a special awards program to recognize companies offering on the most innovative products to enhance human security.
The Belgrade conference represented one of the main events within the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD 2022). What is the greatest enduring contribution of this conference?
I consider the greatest enduring contribution is the increased attention and emphasis on the importance of social responsibility in the scientific community combined with a growing awareness among scientists of the potential contributions they can make to society by focusing on socially-important areas rather than pure science for its own sake.
Many institutions were involved in preparations for this event. What role did WAAS play?
WAAS is not a traditional research academy divided into different disciplines and each working on its specialized projects. From the outset, the Academy was established to function as a transdisciplinary, transnational institution focusing on global challenges from the perspective of the whole world and all humanity. Our approach to problems is to bring together experts and generalists from a very wide range of disciplines and professions to work together on problems by viewing them from multiple perspectives.
Artificial intelligence is an example of a very powerful tool for progress; but, like many technologies, it’s a double-edged sword which can be wielded for both positive and negative purposes. Yet engineering education focuses almost exclusively on the technical dimensions and fails to instil either the awareness or the values needed for conscientious and responsible science
For example, our work to evolve the framework for new economic theory has involved representatives from the physical and social sciences and humanities as well as from business, civil society, government and international organizations. We bring the same approach to this project in order to promote a global, transdisciplinary, humancentered, values-based perspective of the role and responsibility of science in a world which transcends compartmentalized disciplines and national boundaries.
One conference topic was “For Women in Science”. Have we managed to remove the glass ceiling and reduce discrimination when it comes to the inclusion of women in basic science disciplines?
Different countries and different institutions have very different records in terms of the inclusion of women, but I think it is fair to say that very few, if any, can claim that gender bias has been fully eliminated. At WAAS we have made considerable strides over the past decade but still have a long way to go. Personally I am convinced that many of the problems we face today would be more effectively addressed if women leaders were in the majority.
I would like to devote this last question to nuclear physics. As we know, many scientists had serious doubts when their scientific advancements led to the invention of the nuclear bomb. Today, again, the world is gripped by the fear of possible nuclear war, while we have similar fears with regard to the implementation of AI, the cloning of human beings or pandemic-causing viruses produced in laboratories. How do we stand today when it comes to ethics in basic science?
Your last question is the most important of all. It raises a fundamental issue that the idealistic founders of WAAS sought to address six decades ago. The world missed a great opportunity to eradicate all nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War. We did succeed in reducing the number of warheads from 70,000 to about 15,000. But that is still 15,000 too many. No one is really safe on earth until all the weapons are outlawed and abolished. Although the power to do so seems to rest with political leaders and diplomats, the truth is that these weapons were created by scientists and scientists cannot wash their hands of responsibility for eradicating them.
The recent threat to resort to nuclear weapons only demonstrates that a single person or organization possessing even one is in a position to blackmail the whole world. Global rule of law can never truly prevail unless or until the entire world community declares that the use, production or possession of these weapons is a crime against humanity. This does not look like a realistic development in the foreseeable future, but history testifies to the fact that many things that seemed inconceivable or even impossible have taken place when they were least expected. Virtually no one foresaw the sudden end of the Cold War, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the massive reduction in military spending and the breakup of the USSR. In July of 1989, President Gorbachev and German Chancellor Kohl met privately and discussed the future of Germany. They both confided that Germany will be reunited in the future but both agreed it would take at least 30 years to bring that about. Within less than 12 months of their meeting, German reunification became a reality. If these two individuals could not foresee such a momentous event even when it was just around the corner, then we must have the humility to concede that our own capacity to anticipate and predict future possibilities is severely limited. To me that provides a reason to believe that if humanity really joins together in a common aspiration for a better future, we can and will achieve it much faster than even the optimists believe is possible.
WAAS believes it is the responsibility of scientists and intellectuals in all fields to step forward to meet the threats to human security and sustainability
Personally I am convinced that many of the problems we face today would be more effectively addressed if women leaders were in the majority
Our problem is not that we face insurmountable problems but rather that we insist on addressing our problems through outmoded thinking, concepts, policies and institutions