Science and Society

Where will the world go in 2022?

Written by Kathleen Whitlock, PhD

We have left 2021 behind and (in my case) staggered into 2022, chased by the Greek letters that continue to challenge the health care systems around the globe and laying bare the inequities we knew existed but are now more painfully evident. Here in Chile, like other countries,  “Little O” (o-mikron) cases are surging. We try to keep going, to make progress in research, yet we wonder whether children should be in school and debate the severity of Little O. All aspects of our life are dominated y the pandemic.

In the five global issues to watch in 2022 highlighted by the United Nations (1) COVID response and recovery was the top issue and which of us would disagree? For science 2021 has been an amazing year: initially global solidarity led to vaccines being developed with remarkable speed. Yet, slow and fragmented action and other problems have overshadowed the accomplishments of scientists and led to over 270 million cases worldwide, with a death toll surpassing 5 million. A closer look at the numbers reveals a more troubling aspect of the pandemic: inequality. As of the end of 2021 66% of wealthy country had received al least one vaccine, in contrast to only 9% in low-income countries (2). A recent analysis by the World Economic Forum (WEF) has highlighted soaring income inequalities inexorably linked to increasing gender and ethnic inequalities.

In the global issues to watch in 2022, Climate Change ranked third. In spite of preparing for COP26, 2021 was characterized by a slowing world economy accompanied by rebounding carbon emissions, acceleration of extreme weather events, and heartbreakingly, the loss of biodiversity continued unabated. In spite of alarming indicators in our natural world, experts predict that 2022 may see unprecedented increases in the global demand for coal. They also highlight the “woefully insufficient green COVID-19 recovery policies and programs to ensure a more sustainable and equitable future” REF. This seems all so far from us in our labs, but wait, here are data that numb the mind: a British person produces 200 times the climate emissions of the average Congolese person, and, more terrible, a US person produces 585 times as much! (3). Thus a British person generates as much carbon in two days as a Congolese person generates in a year. To further contemplate energy inequities and global warming, in California the video gaming industry is using more energy than entire African countries.

So what does this have to do with us scientists? The IZFS? Everything. Basic science is based on collaboration; it is overwhelmingly financed through public funding mechanisms within countries and between countries. The WEF described the pandemic as an “economic wrecking ball, with intergenerational consequences”. Without doubt the economic wrecking ball will impact science in the coming year(s).

Will we as scientists act as a global community, will we reach out to help others or will we further our own interests? As President Elect of the IZFS I have had the pleasure to interact with two committees within the IZFS, the Environmental Sustainability Committee and the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, both essential committees for not only the future of the IZFS, but also the future of non-scientists. These committees are made up of young scientists (or at least younger than I!) and they are tackling the challenges of Climate Change and Equality head-on, trying to make not only our Society more aware and proactive, but also working to create global science solidarity where the rising tide will carry all boats.




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