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About the Author

Alex Dehgan is the CEO and co-founder of Conservation X Labs, and Professor of the Practice and Global Futures Fellow in Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

New Perspective

A More Secure World

https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf7748

The world seems a bit darker than when “Development Science and Science Diplomacy”1 was written a decade ago. Democracy has retreated from its high point, and autocracy’s shadow lengthens menacingly around the world. The United States faces new foreign policy challenges. It is no longer unrivaled in a unipolar world. There are threats to global stability, including new and revitalized cold wars fought in real time through proxies and in cyberspace.

In the intervening decade, humanity has also dealt with the most significant infectious disease outbreak in a century, estimated to have killed 17.2 million people globally2 and over 1 million in the United States.3 Scores of additional infectious diseases continue to threaten human, animal, and plant health, and they are emerging at a faster rate than in the past, driven by our misuse of nature.4

The twin threats of climate change and extinction, if unchecked, will impact all life on our planet, especially that of our own species. The western United States is experiencing a drought unseen in magnitude for 1,200 years. The Sixth Extinction is nearly upon us, and may be already underway for invertebrates. The Amazon is approaching a tipping point, transforming from forest to savanna. Globally, we are experiencing longer and more devasting wildfire seasons caused, in part, by shifts in weather patterns, and we face stronger and more devasting storms than ever before, undermining human security. Unprecedented anomalies are now, ironically, the new normal.

These challenges are blind to national borders, laws, and governments.5 Solutions to these challenges are based in science, and addressing such global challenges necessitates massive global scientific cooperation.6 Science diplomacy has great power to create the foundation for cooperation when relationships are the most fraught or circumstances the direst. Preventing the next pandemic will require more than donations of vaccines and diagnostics; it will require the knowledge and ecosystems to build those tools, to give us the adaptive capacities and reactive ingenuity in situ to get ahead of next coronavirus, Ebola outbreak, or cereal rust.

Yet, in places like Iran and Russia, scientific cooperation has sometimes become politicized, posing threats to participating scientists and their families.7 As countries become more insular and autocratic, it seems harder to make space for the values inherent in science, such as transparency, respect for evidence, and meritocracy—values we cherish as a democracy. This is exactly why we need scientists to be present at the front lines of diplomacy, development, and security, because these issues will define our future.

The United States can use this moment to reinvent our approach to global development8 and foreign policy. We can lead with science domestically and abroad to create new economic pathways of the future, not of the past, and new industries based on regeneration and innovation rather than extraction and degradation. By doing so, we can offer the world a future with both shared knowledge and shared opportunity.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf7748

 

Endnotes

  1. Alex Dehgan and E. William Colglazier, “Development Science and Science Diplomacy,” Science & Diplomacy, December 7, 2012, http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/perspective/2012/development-science-and....
  2. Jeffrey D. Sachs et al., “The Lancet Commission on lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Lancet, September 14, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)01585-9
  3. See Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu, as of July 7, 2022.
  4. Alex Dehgan, “Preventing the Next Pandemics: An Upstream Approach to Novel National Security Threats,” Day One Project Transition Paper, Federation of American Scientists, November 18, 2020, https://www.dayoneproject.org/ideas/preventing-the-next-pandemics-an-ups...
  5. Nick Pyenson and Alex Dehgan, “2020 feels like dark fiction. Here's how science can inspire a better future,” World Economic Forum, November 30, 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/2020-feels-like-dark-fiction-here...
  6. For instance, programs like the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research. See Alex Dehgan, Annica Wayman, and DeAndra Beck, “How does the US take on the omicron variant and other global challenges?,” The Hill, January 9, 2022, https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/588918-how-does-the-us-take-on-th...
  7. Jane Goodall and Hedieyeh Tehrany, “Protect Persian leopards, and their defenders, for World Environment Day (commentary),” Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com/2022/06/protect-persian-leopards-and-their-def...
  8. Alex Dehgan, Ilya Fischhoff, and Chad Gallinat, “Opinion: If the US is serious about climate change, USAID should be too.” Devex, April 22, 2022, https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-if-the-us-is-serious-about-climate-ch...