The Earth League - About us
The Earth League is a voluntary international alliance of prominent scientists from world‐class research institutions, who look to work together to respond to some of the most pressing issues faced by humankind, as a consequence of climate change, depletion of natural resources, land degradation and water scarcity.
The alliance focus includes how we can manage anthropogenic global change according to the principles of sustainable development. The Earth League aims to provide decision makers with multiple options for addressing pressing sustainability issues, by delivering robust background information and enhancing transparency of the choices available.
By coming together in a self-organised alliance, the Earth League members form a united voice in the global dialogue on planetary issues.
Challenges: Towards a Global Research & Assessment Alliance
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Humankind has become a quasi-geological force on planet Earth. Our species is the most successful ever; and is still growing in numbers whilst absorbing more and more natural resources for its industrial metabolism, which is largely based on fossil fuels and other dwindling stocks. As a consequence, societies around the world are currently witnessing severe crises that call for a “Great Transformation” toward sustainability.
Climate change is just one manifestation of the emerging entanglement of problems. Many other challenges such as the distortion of ecosystem services, loss of biodiversity, degradation of land, irregular urbanisation process, increasing water scarcity, disturbances in terrestrial and marine food chains or ubiquitous pollution of all environmental media have to be taken into consideration.
At the same time, the gains of the human enterprise are distributed with extreme inequality: abject poverty, lack of education, insufficient access to health services and other social disparities persist worldwide in spite of dramatic economic growth in many countries. Securing a life of dignity for all people while maintaining essential ecosystems for future generations presently looks like a means to square the circle. The UN has recognised this unprecedented challenge and therefore is about to set well-chosen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that complement and transcend the conventional Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Science will have to play an unprecedented part too if that circle is to be squared. Among the many reasons supporting such a statement, two stick out: First, modern civilisation is practically a brainchild generated by the Enlightenment and the consistent application of reasoning through the scientific method. From an evolutionary point of view, it would be foolish not to harness research and innovation for overcoming the problems that those cultural forces keep on creating.
Therefore, the best possible science should be employed to identify pathways and means for perpetually improving the human conditions. Truly transformational strategies may be needed to overcome the climate crisis and global demographic change.
Second, the scientific community as distributed across the planet is arguably spearheading the eventual development of a cosmopolitan paradigm for humankind. This is so, because the generation of genuine knowledge is based on community-wide best practices, which reflect the universalities of reality as epitomized by the laws of physics or genomics. For instance, quantum mechanics governs the development of modern electronics irrespective of politics, culture or religious belief. Thus scientists, wherever they work, have “the truth” as a common reference point.
Such a unique calibration is able to transcend national interests which continue to dominate multilateralism in a world composed of some 200 sovereign states. In summary, the knowledge enterprise has both the capacity and responsibility to find and propose global solutions for global problems; yet, this will require new forms of self-organisation and novel concepts for the dialogue between science and society.
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In view of the challenges and opportunities sketched out above, the Earth League was established: A voluntary alliance of leading scientists and institutions dealing with planetary processes and sustainability issues - the Earth League.
The name is meant to reflect that this initiative is about the whole Earth as a research topic, on the one hand, and the union of world-class scientific entities, on the other hand. The latter are universities, institutions and think tanks, which are strong enough to stand comfortably alone, yet would gain additional weight and impact by standing together.
The Need for Such an Alliance
We will sketch out options for the initial and intermediate design of that alliance below. First, however, we wish to address the critical question of why such a network might have considerable advantages in comparison to existing pertinent structures.
As outlined in the previous section, the world urgently needs transnational scientific and evidence-based capacities: in order to mobilise objective critical masses for investigating global issues and to form unmistakable voices in the dialogue with societies facing enormous pressure for change. Evidently, those capacities and voices do not exist yet, or only in much constrained versions.
Of course, there are institutions like the IPCC and similar international panels that are supposed to summarise the state-of-the-art science regarding certain aspects of global sustainability as well as to express the views of the research community in a way that can easily be digested by the relevant stakeholders.
Of course, there are hundreds of national academies that represent the respective knowledge communities and occasionally weigh in on debates about planetary issues. Of course, there are also several worldwide research programs focusing on global change like IGBP or IHDP that try to coordinate investigative synergies.
In fact, serious steps towards an integrated Earth system science program, finally bridging the gap between the natural and the social sciences, are currently being made. All these entities have done marvelous jobs so far.
And yet these structures are either tenuous and severely underfunded (like the global change programs) or inherently unwieldy by construction and mandate (like the intergovernmental panels) or rather ill-connected across the national boundaries (like the academies). Also, hardly any of the institutions mentioned are able to do original research on emerging issues within an appropriately short time period.
So it is only natural to turn directly to the top “primary producers” of global sustainability knowledge and to unleash their synergistic forces by a carefully designed alliance, i.e. an “Earth League”.
Benefits of Such an Alliance
The members of such an association are able to:
(i) use their autonomous resources for tackling crucial scientific problems together;
(ii) collaborate on setting and advancing research agendas for the respective international communities;
(iii) jointly apply for packaged national as well as explicitly transnational funding (as provided, e.g., by eminent foundations);
(iv) co-produce assessments of intra- and extra-alliance findings; and
(v) communicate to and discuss with decision makers as well as society at large the conclusions to be drawn from those assessments.
In summary, the collaborative activities of the Earth League shall unfold in scientific as well as in societal arenas: based on ground-breaking research in the fields of Earth system analysis; sustainability science and transformation dynamics; credible transnational advice to decision makers; and opinion formers and society at large may be provided if solicited or necessary.
While quite a few institutions already offer individual topical advice to certain stakeholders, the Earth League can a truly global perspective, not least by forming fast-track investigative capacities and by adopting a responsive style of dialogue with societies around the world.
Earth League focuses particularly on the production, dissemination and application of knowledge needed for managing anthropogenic global change according to the principles of sustainable development.
Crucial topics are the complex dynamics of the physical Earth system; functionality and resilience of biosphere diversity; world food production and global public health in the 21st century; planetary commons and planetary boundaries; integrated mitigation-adaptation strategies; climate-compatible energy mixes; novel concepts of urbanity and rurality; equity under global change; and induced innovation and transformation – to name just a few.
Taken together, the cognitive agenda aims at giving answers to some of the most pressing questions humankind is facing today.
The Earth League looks to deliver its insights through a range of products and formats: feasibility studies requiring only seed money from internal or external sources; fast-track studies as solicited by third parties; workshops and conferences for advancing frontier fields; in-depth studies and assessments that transcend the means of the individual partners; co-development of simulation instruments; and model inter-comparisons, among others.
Chairing and management of the Earth League is distributed among the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany (PIK), the Global Futures Laboratory at the Arizona State University (ASU), and the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS).
The Earth League is led by the co-chairs Johan Rockström and Peter Schlosser, while the Earth League's secretariat is jointly run at GERICS and ASU. This sharing of tasks ensures a truly integrated management of the Earth League's concerns, ideas and endeavours.
Co-Chair of the Earth League: Johan Rockström (PIK)
(c) Stockholm Resilience Center
As well as being Co-Chair of the Earth League, Johan Rockström is, jointly with Ottmar Edenhofer, leading the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact research (PIK) since October 2018. Before, he has been Executive Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre for more than 12 years, and Professor in Environmental Science with emphasis on water resources and global sustainability at Stockholm University. He is an internationally recognised scientist on global sustainability issues, where for example, he led the recent development of the new planetary boundaries framework for human development in the current era of rapid global change. He is a leading scientist on global water resources and strategies to build resilience in water scarce regions of the world, with more than 15 years experience from applied water research in tropical regions, and more than 100 research publications in fields ranging from applied land and water management to global sustainability. He serves on several scientific committees and boards, including serving as the chair of the visioning process on global environmental change of the International Council for Science (ICSU). Rockström was awarded the title "Swede of the Year" in 2009 for his work on bridging science on climate change to policy and society. He was ranked the most influential person on environmental issues in Sweden 2011.
Co-Chair of the Earth League: Peter Schlosser (ASU)
Peter Schlosser is Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures at the Arizona State University.
Before that, he was a Vinton Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, New York. He is Deputy Director and Director of Research of the Earth Institute, Columbia University, and serves as Chair of the Earth Institute faculty. He received MS and PhD degrees in physics from the University of Heidelberg. Schlosser's research focuses on water systems, primarily in oceans and groundwater including problems caused by human impact. His ocean research concerns water circulation in the ocean surface, movement into the deep ocean, and circulation patterns within the deep ocean. His groundwater flow studies address shallow and deep aquifers, especially as they relate to past continental climate and environmental risk/impact studies. Current research is also directed toward exploration of mixing and gas exchange in ocean, rivers and estuaries. Schlosser is past Chair of the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), Co-chair of the Science Steering Group for International Study of Arctic Change (ISAC), and member of the board of the International Sustainable Research Society (ISDRS).
He is currently a Senior Sustainability Scientist at Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and Vice President and Vice Provost of the Global Futures programme, both at Arizona State University.
He has served on numerous national and international science steering and advisory committees and was President of the Ocean Sciences Section and Council member of the American Geophysical Union. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Explorers Club.
Scientific coordinator: Clara Burgard (GERICS)
(c) Uwe Kehlenbeck
Clara Burgard supports the Earth League as a scientific coordinator. Before joining GERICS in 2020, Clara conducted her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, where she studied the evolution of Arctic sea ice in climate models and worked on new methods to compare satellite observations and climate models. She has also been involved in several initiatives to communicate scientific results to a broader scientific community and the general public. Clara supports the Earth League members in their scientific and administrative activities, and coordinates the Earth Docs’ work and progress.
Scientific coordinator: Clea Edwards (ASU)
As research scientist, Clea Edwards supports the Networks and Engagement domains of the Global Futures Laboratory. Her role is situated largely within the Earth League Secretariat, where she is responsible for executing the mission and vision of the organization by communicating scientific information produced by distinguished Earth League scientists to diverse and broad audiences. Edwards studied organizations that are active at the "boundary" between knowledge and action for sustainability outcomes. Her master’s research in the School of Sustainability developed a case study of the Arizona Water Institute as a boundary organization. During this time, she worked also with the WaterSim team at the Decision Center for a Desert City to interrogate the water simulation tool’s ability to be an effective "boundary object," providing complex scientific information to stakeholders. Prior to returning to ASU, Edwards earned a doctorate in education while acting as assistant director of a public charter school. In 2014, she launched a virtual school for students in grades 7-12 under the Arizona Online Instruction Program. She will employ the skills and perspective cultivated during her time in K-12 educational administration, combined with her experience in the School of Sustainability, to contribute to the capacities of Global Futures Laboratory and the Earth League as boundary organizations on a global scale.
Assistant: Tanja Blome (GERICS)
(c) Inga Sommer
Tanja Blome, who joined the GERICS team in November 2016, supports the EL secretariat. With a background in meteorology, she conducted a PhD at the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology on permafrost in a regional climate model, moving to the global scale in the following PostDoc. Her interests in the modelling field comprised effects of the physical processes in the models, e.g. on simulated hydrology. Wanting to move from basic research towards application of science and knowledge transfer, she supports networking and outreach as well as the organisation of workshops and conferences, and the writing of reports and different publications around timely issues.
Executive Director: María Máñez Costa (GERICS)
(c) Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht
María Máñez Costa works in the Economics and Policy Department of the Climate Service Centre Germany, an institution of Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, as well as being visiting professor at the University of Barcelona, Spain. Máñez Costa´s research explores the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of social ecological systems to climate change. Her research focuses on the development of capacities for adaptation to climate change and the development of methods for managing and communicating climate impacts. She has coordinated various projects of the European Union, working on the topic of “Global change and ecological change“. Her work repeatedly focused on questions of climate and water economics.