“You must understand the past to understand the future”

Peter Friberg.

Dear friend,

Neither the future nor the past is far away from any of us, which is something the author and physicist Andri Snaer Magnason from Iceland points out in his book On Time and Water (Serpent’s Tail 2021). A multitalented author who also ran for the presidency in Iceland and came in third while writing this book.

It took Magnason ten years to write the book about melting glaciers, the rising seas, and acidity changes that had not been seen for 50 million years. I am sure it was a good thing that it took him 10 years. Andri Magnason managed to move my inner circles. There are many compelling scientific reports and articles critical for our understanding, but we need also stories told from different angles to make people aware of how serious the situation of the world´s climate and human health is.

Magnason does not mention climate change that many times in his book. He circles it, but it gets under your skin as he “takes a path to climate science through ancient myths about sacred cows, stories of ancestors and relatives, and interviews with the Dalai Lama.”

To understand the future and to address fundamental changes, you must connect it to time. You must understand the past to understand the future. That is how to avoid short-term thinking. And time is critical. To reach the Paris agreement of global warming of 2°C, preferably 1.5°C, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and to net zero by 2050. The development globally today aims more towards 2.5–3°C.

With the prevailing global rise of temperature by 1.1°C since the preindustrial era, we are putting coral reefs, permafrost, and polar ice at risk, crossing several tipping points, as was outlined in a detailed, extensive analysis in a recent Science article (September 9, 2022).

Another direct result of us pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere seems to make storms more damaging and frequent. Hurricane Ian has unfortunately created a powerful illustration of humanity’s influence on the environment. If we fail in engaging with the climate crisis, it also makes it harder for the public to understand the risks we face.

Research by the International Committee of the Red Cross has found that 60 percent of the 20 countries considered the most vulnerable to climate change are also affected by armed conflict. And according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), people living in conflict regions have higher vulnerability to climatic hazards. Countries experiencing conflict are less able to cope with climate change, and conflicts also often destroy natural environments. Also, conflicts themselves destroy the natural environment. Sadly, we can already see that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to significant environmental losses. And to a surge in the usage of fossil fuel-based energy. This situation calls for even stronger actions for energy transformation to clean energy.

The triple planetary crisis and three interconnected crises – climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and pollution – put human health, well-being, and the planet at risk. These compelling themes and issues will be the program for the 2023 Prince Mahidol Award Conference titled: “Setting a New Health Agenda – at the Nexus of Climate Change, Environment, and Biodiversity”. Clearly, the public health field needs to be more involved and engage in interdisciplinary and multisectoral actions. So, please, stay tuned for this meeting coming up towards the end of January 2022.

Author and scientist (and professor in molecular oncology) who has the talent  to translate the big issues into something you can understand and act upon is Stefan Einhorn. Please, read the interview with him (link).

On November 22nd the 6th Einhorn SIGHT Award will be given to a researcher using her/his talent to improve global health. The ceremony will be at Global Health Night, arranged by our Student Organizations Network at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences where students will discuss and come up with new thinking on “Food security in conflicts”.

When you have heavy information, you must be aware of the words Magnason says. There are limitations in wording.

During the past week, the Nobel Prizes have been awarded in Sweden and Norway. Ground-breaking science, amazing literature, and peace work show the importance of a wide view of people and our living circumstances. That is why we need authors, scholars, scientists, and students to really understand climate change and conflicts and the health consequences. We should all use our talents, knowledge, and networks to give different angles to it. And that is also why I think SIGHT is needed – achieving a global transformation for health.

Peter Friberg, SIGHT Director  

Share this

Sign up for our newsletter

Some more reading