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Erice, August 19-24 1997


Planetary Emergencies - A Need for New Solutions

Antonino Zichichi, Tsung-Dao Lee & Kai Siegbahn

Presented by Antonino Zichichi

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We welcome you to this 22nd Session of the Planetary Emergencies Seminar which I now declare to be open.

This year’s programme, which was handed to you on arrival, will deal with some of the most critical of our planetary emergencies. The main topics are as follows:

  • Nuclear Submarines’ Decontamination & Plutonium Disposal
  • Chemical Stockpiled & Non-Stockpiled Weapons’ Disposal.
  • Mad Cow and Creutzfeldt-Jacob Diseases.
  • Cloning: Animals & Humans.
  • Global Planetary Changes: Ozone Hole, Water & Desertification.
  • New Military Threats.
  • Problem-free Nuclear Power & Mass Extinction of Species

We would like to concentrate our talk on the present crisis in the handling of Planetary Emergencies, and the search for new solutions.

A. The World Federation of Scientists and the Planetary Emergencies

For very many years, we have been aware of the need to ensure an independent follow-up, by scientists, of Planetary Emergencies. The World Federation of Scientists identified and singled out 15 Planetary Emergencies, and started its programme back in 1979 with a series of seminars on Nuclear War. The seminars were attended by scientists and decision-makers from the two superpowers, China and many developing countries.

The fifteen Planetary Emergencies are:

  • Water
  • Soil
  • Food
  • Energy
  • Pollution
  • Limits of Development
  • Climatic Changes
  • Global Monitoring of the Planet
  • Missile Proliferation and Defence
  • Science and Technology for Developing Countries
  • Organ Substitution
  • Aids and Infectious Diseases
  • Cultural Pollution
  • Defense Against Cosmic Objects
  • Conversion of Military Resources

Back in 1982, the Erice Statement was issued by Kapitza, Dirac and Zichichi, and was endorsed by more than 15,000 scientists the world over. The Erice Statement drew the attention of many heads of state, such as Den Xiao Ping (China), Mikhail Gorbatchev (Russia), Olaf Palme (Sweden), Sandro Pertini (Italy), Ronald Reagan (USA) and Pierre Trudeau (Canada) and stimulated various actions on their part for a Science without Secrecy or Frontiers. His Holiness John Paul II, who visited Erice in 1993, provided his support to the actions undertaken by the World Federation of Scientists, thus starting a new era of understanding between Science and Faith. The Nuclear War Seminars and the Erice Statement both had a direct effect on the signature of Arms-reduction Treaties and the end of the Cold War.

In view of the very positive results obtained through its seminars on East-West relations, and of the success achieved by the Erice Statement which called for the commitment of scientists for both East-West and North-South problems, the World Federation of Scientists helped create the International Centre for Scientific Culture (ICSC) - World Laboratory, in 1986 in Switzerland. International scientists eagerly accepted to join the World Laboratory and collaborate, on a voluntary basis, in its projects. Ten years later, 50 projects have been implemented for the benefit of 50 developing countries, in practically all fields of science. The World Laboratory action is very much appreciated by the beneficiary countries, for its independence from political pressures, the high degree of motivation of its volunteer scientists, its pragmatic but very strict professional approach and its sound management of project funds. The leverage effect provided by the voluntary commitment of scientists, the free availability of well-equipped laboratories, the contributions made by the governments of developing countries, its low level bureaucracy and the freedom of its equipment-buying policy, has increased the productivity of the World Laboratory projects three-fold, when compared to other similar international projects.

On November 8th, 1988, following approval by the General Assembly of the Sicilian Region, a law was passed for the establishment of the "Ettore Majorana Prize - Erice - Science for Peace".

The Prize - one thousand million Italian lire - managed by the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture, is awarded every year as a tribute to outstanding personalities, who have contributed to the worldwide promotion of the ideals of the Erice Statement for a Science without Secrecy and without Frontiers, by distinguishing themselves in Science, Technology and the Humanities.

The Erice Prize is strongly linked to the Erice Statement. It is in fact the Statement which led to the creation of the Prize.

Candidates may be nominated and voted for by Charter Signatories of the Erice Statement and other eminent individuals in the fields of Science, Technology and the Humanities.

Now, I have mentioned all this to prove to you that, when motivated scientists decide to pursue a certain line of action, however difficult it may be and even without having mega-funds at their disposal, they succeed in achieving their aims.

B. The Planetary Emergencies as handled outside the World Federation of Scientists.

We all know what the situation is like. A few countries, not more than a dozen, have both the best trained scientists and the best equipped scientific research facilities. Their scientists, if allowed to, are certainly capable of investigating Planetary Emergencies and proposing solutions for their mitigation. But the vast majority of these scientists and their facilities are government-owned or -funded, and their freedom of choice of research topics is therefore limited. Most important, their freedom to pursue certain lines of research or public information policies, which would not be in line with governmental policies, is practically non-existent.

Still, because of the pressures exercised by an ever-increasing part of their populations, these countries decided - or were forced - to deal with some Planetary Emergencies at an international level. And this means Rio back in 1992, the most incredible show on Earth ever put together, and with very few results. Recently, Rio + 5 in New York, has achieved even fewer results, and leaves us with very little to hope for in the near future.

We have to face the facts. Some of the measures needed to address Planetary Emergencies do not motivate governments facing many pressing political issues requiring short-term solutions, in order to ensure their re-election. Other measures will remain unpopular with certain industrial groups, whose lobbying will always keep governments from coming up with efficient policies to curb Planetary Emergencies.

I ask you now: what is the conclusion? Is dealing with Planetary Emergencies an impossible task? Are we so helpless, that we must stand still and watch the great confusion taking place over the handling of emergencies, when we know that these are not yet scientifically fully defined nor means developed to reduce their impact? Should epidemics continue to decimate the developing countries’ populations, extreme weather events and floods destroy their infrastructure, and the whole civilisation of Man run the risk of being doomed by wars, rising ocean levels and cosmic objects?

There has been of late a big campaign against scientists, accusing them of being instruments of war and the cause of environmental disasters. I have fought vigorously against these notions, to re-establish the fact that scientists are those who create science for the improvement of life, and not the technology which produces the applications of war and unrestrained consumerism decided by others. This campaign will soon be forgotten but we may have to face, in the future, the responsibility for not having even tried to contribute, in a more determined fashion, to the management of the Planetary Emergencies issues.

C. The World Federation of Scientists’ Proposal - The Lausanne Declaration

There is still a glimmer of hope. More and more pressure is being exercised by the people on their government officials, to cater to the emergencies. Governments of some Developing Countries have now joined them, in asking for determined measures. A survey conducted recently on behalf of the European Union has shown that the European Union population does not trust its governments and government agencies to regulate matters relating to Biotechnologies, but most of them would place their confidence in independent professional bodies. Government backing of any scheme is of course indispensable but, in the short-term, solutions will not be found at the level of Rio-type meetings. If it is a non-governmental organisation which would be trusted to start the ball rolling in the right direction, how do we go about it?

Certainly, we would need to ensure that the scientific community speaks with one voice, after settling its dissensions, if any. What is also evident is that we should not dream of creating a huge, multinational, multidisciplinary, independently financed research institution, to undertake all the necessary research in house. There are already many existing research institutions which have produced, and are capable of producing, excellent, reliable scientific results in all domains of science. What is needed therefore, is to give them the opportunity to communicate their findings and their recommendations to a credible organisation representing a large enough segment of the international scientific community, and to receive the endorsement of this body. The organisation would then become the vehicle for the recommendations, spreading the scientific findings to the scientific community at large, and exerting international pressures, whereas the institute which originated the findings would not have the means or the permission to do the same.

Such an organisation should have a high degree of independence and credibility. We believe that the prerequisites for this organisation should be the following:

  • an existing well-established international tribune, recognised for its high-level multi-disciplinary scientific culture;
  • a meeting place geographically situated on neutral ground, outside the territory of the so-called superpowers, in a long-established democracy, free of monolithic political currents;
  • good existing infrastructures for meetings and access to international publications;
  • ability to provide support for meetings and symposia taking place on its premises;
  • world-wide recognition for its scientific cooperation East-West and North-South.
  • branches, offices and research centres throughout the world;
  • ability to finance preliminary or complementary research on a variety of topics;
  • proven ability to bring together scientists to discuss and solve major international issues, together with a long-standing tradition in investigating planetary emergencies;
  • adherents, participants and members numbering upwards of 50,000 scientists from 70 countries;
  • last but not least, a non-profit-making humanitarian approach, and the voluntary participation of its members.

We suspect that very few organisations exist which correspond to this profile. We know however that the synergetic link between the World Federation of Scientists and the International Centres for Scientific Culture of Erice and the World Laboratory has these capabilities and more. The "tool" already exists, and we only need the cooperation of eminent scientists such as yourselves to put it to work.

Our first conclusion then, would be that we have the capability to set up a Monitoring Scheme for the Planetary Emergencies, whereby Permanent Monitoring Panels would be constituted to follow up on each emergency.

This afternoon, at 18.00 hours we shall present to you just how we intend to go about this.

Our second conclusion is that we need an instrument through which we can rally support and publicise our quest. We have come up with the corollary to the Erice Statement, which is the Lausanne Declaration, already endorsed by many scientists. We ask you to endorse it and help give it the widest possible distribution.

Thank you for you attention.