The world is on lockdown. Even religious buildings like synagogues, mosques and churches have closed down because of the current pandemic. Science is informing governments worldwide on how to beat this pandemic. Science is the torchlight that can guide us out of this dark tunnel called COVID19. We’ve always had this torchlight in our bag – the difference is that now we’re finally using it.
While during the recent decades populist and irresponsible politicians never missed a chance to undermine and ridicule science, science is what they ultimately turn to in a time of need, in a crisis, in a global emergency. May this be a (not so) gentle reminder of why science is fundamental if we want human societies to prosper in the years to come.
Even if this time we have listened to science, we have done so too late. Many governments waited until it was almost inevitable to act to avoid millions of deaths. But in fact, science warned us about the risk of a pandemic many years ago. From talks1, to conferences to scientific papers2– all the signs were there. But economic interests prevailed, and science was ignored, only to be rediscovered in the most critical times. Nevertheless, almost like in a fiction movie, science heard our cries for help and came to our rescue. Never before in human history we reacted so quickly to a virus outbreak. In a matter of weeks, scientists genotyped the virus, and we’re now in the process of developing a vaccine in record times.
Just as the medical scientists are the virologists, epidemiologists, human geneticists and so on, the environmental scientists are the biologists, ecologists, climatologists, geographers and many more. Science is one, and different experts are knowledgeable in their own fields. Now, the environmental scientists are warning us, and they have been doing so for years. We need to lessen our environmental footprint if we want to avoid the biggest catastrophe that humankind has every experienced: that of ecological breakdown and climate change. Just as their medical colleagues, the environmental scientists are doing all they can to get the message across to the wider public and politicians – tirelessly so – but it’s almost like their calls are on mute on the receivers’ side. If this trend continues, history risks to repeat although with bigger, less manageable consequences this time.
But it could be different. This pandemic has ultimately put the spotlight on how we are deeply reliant on science to get us out of disastrous situations with minimal collateral damage. It has also reminded us how important science is and why we need to listen to its warnings. “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”, goes the saying. Politicians have been playing games and endlessly undermining science for their own gains. Twisting words and facts to suit their agenda, they have fooled us, distracted us, even told us that science is a hoax3. We can’t let them play us again. If we vote the wrong people into power again, the consequences are on us. Because now we know – even though some of us might have already known – now the wound is fresh for many others. We need to use this moment to build momentum and put pressure on decision makers for a world that is informed by science. We can use this opportunity to demand a system change with shift in socio-political focuses that are not detrimental to the environment and, consequently, human societies.
We made a last-minute u-turn and reached out to science to come and rescue us from the COVID19 pandemic, and science responded. But with the environmental crisis we’re already in those last few minutes. There is no more time, no more waiting, no more delays. If we want science to effectively help us this time too, we need to unmute those calls and listen to them now. Otherwise, a dystopia with greater inequality, famine, wars and conflict awaits us.
Sceptics will always be present – it’s inevitable. This is why tackling misinformation is also key. But not through censorship, through education. If we can help people become proficient in distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources of information, science will emerge victorious and those very people will also rejoice from the possibility of seeing the world in its true, astonishing colours.
Science is what pulls us up when we’re falling. It’s the torchlight we can use to get us out from the most terrible situations. It’s our friend – not our enemy. The global scientific community is working together, united, to help humanity. In doing so, it is also showing us a working model of international cooperation and global solidarity which if embraced by society at large can lead us to achieving equality, justice and sustainability across regions of the world.
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- Cheng, V.C., Lau, S.K., Woo, P.C. and Yuen, K.Y., 2007. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus as an agent of emerging and reemerging infection. Clinical microbiology reviews, 20(4), pp.660-694. https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00023-07
Cover image credits: https://bit.ly/2xEkxFr (edited)