US: Call to action by scientists

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation's peak scientific body, has called on its members to work against climate change and to advance human rights around the world. At its annual meeting in Chicago, the association's out-going President James J McCarthy warned that the Earth and its life might be entering a "new era where natural forces are being overwhelmed" by human influences on climate and habitat.

McCarthy, who is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University, said political leaders at all levels, had recognised that "we are now at the moment where we must act on this".

He said US President Barack Obama's science team was without equal. "But these people will need all of our support as this new administration moves aggressively to solve the economic and energy security problems our nation faces and, at the same time, assume a new role as an international leader in global efforts to curb anthropogenic climate change."

Former US vice-president Al Gore also called on scientists to communicate the urgency of climate change to political leaders and the public. Gore said humanity had little time to change course before risking disastrous global consequences.

Scientists must use their knowledge and their respected status in the community to press for broad, swift changes in energy and environmental policies, he said.

"I believe in my heart that we do have the capacity to make this generation one of those generations that changes the course of humankind. The stakes have never been higher," Gore told the meeting. "Become a part of the struggle. We need you."

Scientists were also urged to act on human rights issues, with the association launching the Science and Human Rights Coalition to foster communication and partnerships on human rights among scientific associations and between the scientific and human rights communities. The coalition would be a formal network of scientific societies that would work together to combine their efforts on human rights concerns.

AAAS Science and Human Rights Programme director Mona Younis said scientists and human rights practitioners were natural partners, and their connection worked to each of their benefits.

While human rights interventions by scientific organisations typically involved letter-writing and other action taken on behalf of persecuted scientists, the coalition would do that and more by expanding scientific associations' understanding of human rights to enable them to contribute both their voices and their skills to human rights efforts.

At the end of the meeting, 2003 Nobel Prize laureate, Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Peter C Agre, assumed the role of AAAS president.