[ASC-media] Media release: Science and ethics - Can Homo sapiens survive?

Australian Academy of Science scied at science.org.au
Fri May 27 14:57:45 EST 2005


27 May 2005


Science and ethics: Can Homo sapiens survive?

A unique multidisciplinary conference entitled Science and ethics: Can
Homo sapiens survive? was held at the Australian Academy of Science in
Canberra on 17-18 May. The conference, organised by Manning Clark House
in honour of Professor Frank Fenner, reached the conclusion that, while
at risk from natural global disasters (super volcanos or asteroid
impact) and human-induced global impacts, Homo sapiens is likely to
survive for the foreseeable future.


However, and this is just as important as the survival of the human
species, civilisation as we know it will not survive beyond a few
decades unless there is a radical change in human culture, from a
society driven by the pursuit of material wealth to one focused on human
well-being. Science and the ethics of science are an aid to survival and
indeed are necessary to address today's risks and tomorrow's

There are several reasons for this, all of them reflecting applications
and changed behaviours arising from advances in science and technology.
Although these advances open doors for improvements in human health,
well-being, and an increasingly open society, they also increase
imbalances in wealth and power, raise barriers and foster exploitations
in societies, and cause major changes to ecosystems and global systems. 


The self-generated negative impacts include:

1.  The explosive growth of the human population in the past sixty years
and the inevitable addition of another two to three billion humans to
the existing six billion by 2050.

2.  The enormous global expenditure of nation states on military
equipment, including nuclear arms, and the role of arms trade. The
stockpiles of nuclear weapons held by several of the wealthy countries
encourage rather than prevent the spread of nuclear arms capability to
other nations.

3.  The continuing overexploitation and pollution of land, fresh water
and fisheries. 

4.  The increasing degradation of natural ecosystems, which provide
irreplaceable 'ecosystem services'. The atmospheric pollution with
greenhouse gases due to overuse of fossil fuels, which have a 'life' of
several decades, is already at dangerous levels, and emissions are still
increasing globally.

5.   Unless we focus on human well-being in place of material
accumulation, the quality of life will decline. The likelihood is that
this overexploitation will result in ever increasing conflicts, within
and between nation-states, especially over supplies of fresh water
needed for food production.

These multiple threats to human lives, health and well-being can only be
attacked by a change in the behaviour of human beings from the current
preoccupation with material wealth, that is, from a philosophy of 'I
want' to an acceptance of 'I need', just enough to provide a fulfilling
life. In fact, a focus on human well-being in place of material
accumulation would actually improve the quality of life. Such a change
requires a different approach to economic measurement, and the
identification of objectives other than material gain. 


These changes will have enormous effects on societies such as ours,
effects that are likely to be resisted by corporations, advertisers and
a public disenfranchised by monolithic mass media, education in decline,
and low integrity in politics. In parallel with these changes,
governments must ensure that the changes in employment that will follow,
if this re-orientation of objectives occurs, are devoted to tackling the
causes of each of the items mentioned above.


The conference drew upon the expertise of speakers in a variety of
fields including law, economics, medicine, politics, journalism,
Aboriginal affairs, Earth sciences, religion, education, nuclear
armaments, defence studies and ecology (the program is available at


Professor Frank Fenner, Professor Stephen Boyden, Professor David Green,
Dr Andrew Glikson and Mr Sebastian Clark.


For further information: Professor Frank Fenner, phone (02) 6125 2526.



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