Global challenges are changing paradigms of science

“As evolutionary Earth dwellers who want to remain in harmony with the planet, it is our duty to join forces to bring about a renewed collective imagination in line with the challenges we face.” Photo: Matthew Brown, File, The Associated Press

By Fanny Ramos Quisby

“We cannot solve problems by thinking the same way we created them.” A century ago, Albert Einstein pointed out with these words that humanity should criticize our way of thinking, which was already creating problems for ourselves and for life on Earth itself.

We constantly see and hear news about environmental changes taking place around us and in different parts of the world, for example climate change, loss of biodiversity, chemical pollution, land degradation, loss of fresh water, ocean acidification, depletion of the ozone layer.

During 2019, hurricanes displaced 465,000 people in seven Caribbean countries, according to the World Health Organization and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). At the same time, floods and landslides displaced 295,000 people in Brazil.

More than 50 million people, slightly more than the population of Colombia, have experienced food and water insecurity due to climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts and storms, particularly in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. In this sense, it is estimated that by 2050, about 30 million people from Central America will migrate to North America due to food issues related to the climate crisis.

As if that weren’t enough, greenhouse gas (GHG) cuts to limit global warming to 1.5°C are a long way off, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It is clear that these changes result from the prevailing model of development of which modern science is a part, although it was modern science, unlike many people, that gave rise to the current model of development. Therefore, as inhabitants of the Earth, we must strive to change this imagination about science and development for an alternative aimed at sustaining life.

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It’s time for science to evolve

Current environmental problems have multiple scopes and dimensions, and occur simultaneously, so dealing with their effects is becoming increasingly complex. Current science aims to develop knowledge and high technology to improve the “management” of the Earth and its resources. However, it may be better to focus on assessing our behavior towards humans and the Earth.

Nowadays, Science tends to develop in isolation from society And in some cases, scientific developments respond only to vested interests. Using methods that are difficult to understand and targeting limited, specialized communities, science appears to be turning its back on populations and their facts and is no longer trusted to solve real-world problems.

On the other hand, there is also a growing isolation of disciplines, and relations between academia, governments and other actors in civil society are fragile and draining.

Transdisciplinary approach, a sophisticated idea

One of the solutions discussed in the academic field is the construction of scientific knowledge with the participation of various actors in society through a process of collaborative learning.

The scientific community is often seen as the elite that exclusively develops and owns knowledge. However, given the current gaps between scientific knowledge and the practices of everyday life, community leaders are calling for science to be opened to other forms of knowledge. There is also a growing consensus among climate change researchers and experts on the importance of the traditional knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities in dealing with climate change.

However, this synergy conflicts with the fact that there are not enough means or incentives for academia, governments and civil society to work more closely with communities on the ground. Moreover, this should be a never ending collaborative learning process, not a simple step to “embed” other ways of knowing. So what is the solution?

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Opening science to other forms of knowledge and promoting cooperation

It is not easy to find a single solution to all aspects of this problem, but often complex problems require a complex set of solutions. In this context, a pervasive concept appeared: “transdisciplinary”, which is not yet fully defined, but rather in the process of evolution. However, many of its characteristics can be observed in the daily practices of the academic and non-academic communities, while enhancing its content.

An example of the international community’s efforts on “transdisciplinary” in science is Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), which is committed to promoting regional cooperation for interdisciplinary research. This organization brings together countries and institutions in the Americas to conduct research on a regional scale, which is necessary and relevant to environmental issues.

Another broader international initiative that promotes interdisciplinary research on issues of global environmental change is Belmont Forum. The projects implemented under this initiative integrate the social and natural sciences as well as the humanities. In addition, projects should be designed and implemented jointly by different stakeholders (academics, public and private sectors, governments, local communities, indigenous peoples, etc.) in a collaborative manner. The projects are developed within the framework of international consortia from at least three countries and are funded by local and international partners.

There are still challenges to overcome, such as national and international institutional agreements, economic and financial systems, which, among others, are designed for the current science and development model. As inhabitants of the Earth in evolution who want to remain in harmony with the planet, it is our duty to join forces to bring about a renewed collective imagination in line with the challenges we face.

Latin America 21

www.latinoamerica21.coma gathering medium committed to disseminating critical opinions and honest information about Latin America.

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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