As biomedical scientists continue to battle the deadly pandemic this year to help the world return to normalcy, researchers across the disciplines still aim to hit big milestones or launch new projects despite the challenges brought by COVID-19. European scientists will also have to contend with the aftermath of Brexit. Many U.S. scientists, in contrast, have a more hopeful political outlook, with some likely to play an invigorated role in tackling another global crisis, climate change, after President-elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to make it a top priority, is sworn in this month. In this article, Science’s news staff forecasts areas of research and policy we expect to make headlines this year, from protecting the high seas’ biodiversity to probing how ancient humans interacted.
People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse, according to the first academic study of the issue.
The researchers surveyed 600 people aged 27 to 45 who were already factoring climate concerns into their reproductive choices and found 96% were very or extremely concerned about the wellbeing of their potential future children in a climate-changed world. One 27-year-old woman said: “I feel like I can’t in good conscience bring a child into this world and force them to try and survive what may be apocalyptic conditions.”
In periodic assessment reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the next of which is due to be published next year – key findings are displayed in an array of charts, maps and other graphics. These figures are intended to help readers understand often complicated topics. But do decision-makers correctly interpret them? And do decision-makers know which graphics they do or do not understand?
“2021 must be the year of a great leap towards carbon neutrality,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General to a virtual gathering of influential leaders on Monday. “Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.” “By early 2021, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy are very likely to have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality,” he said. “The signal this sends to markets, institutional investors and decision-makers is clear. Carbon should be given a price. We must shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters.” He added that financial reporting on exposure to climate risks should be made mandatory, while authorities must integrate the carbon neutrality goal into economic and fiscal policies in order to truly transform industry, agriculture, transportation and the energy sector.
Scientists for Global Responsibility, a U.K.-based organization, has launched a new initiative with an Open Letter in The Guardian on November 7, stating: “Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth. We may look beyond our planet with wonder and learn, but this is our only viable home.” The online campaign asks the world’s climate scientists to sign an Oath, modelled on the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, by which they “pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption.”
In August, as wildfires crept close to the historic Lick Observatory near San Jose, California, Claire Max watched as live webcams showed flames edging toward observatory buildings and several telescopes. In the end, firefighters kept the flames at bay. Although two unused buildings were destroyed and several houses were damaged, the working telescopes only had a bit of ash on the mirrors. “We really lucked out,” says Max, director of the University of California Observatories, which runs Lick. Coastal California has always experienced cycles of drought and fire, she says. “But it’s perfectly plausible for people to say global warming didn’t make it any better.”