Fix Earth's climate crisis instead of dreaming of other planets, urges Nobel prize-winning astronomer

'We're not built to survive on any other planet than this one. We'd better spend our time and energy trying to fix it,' says scientist

Olivia Campbell
Sunday 08 December 2019 00:44 GMT
Didier Queloz: 'The stars are so far away, I think we should not really have any serious hope to escape Earth'
Didier Queloz: 'The stars are so far away, I think we should not really have any serious hope to escape Earth' (AFP/Getty)

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Humanity should focus its attention on solving the climate crisis instead of farfetched and unrealistic notions of escaping Earth for unspoiled planets, a scientist who won this year’s Nobel Prize winners has said.

Swiss astronomer Didier Queloz, who shared the prestigious 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics for his role in discovering planets orbiting distant suns, denounced those who argue against fighting climate change because of the distant possibility that humanity “might leave the Earth at some point”.

“I think this viewpoint is irresponsible,” Mr Queloz said at a news conference in Stockholm. “The stars are so far away, I think we should not really have any serious hope to escape Earth.”

He also told the conference, which he was attending to collect his share of the £641,000 prize fund, that it is “better to spend our time and energy trying to fix it rather than trying to imagine we will destroy it and leave it”.

Mr Queloz appeared to be referencing the theory held by some scientists, including late cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, that threats such a nuclear war and climate change could become so serious that humans will eventually have to depart the planet in order for the species to survive.

In 2017, Mr Hawking issued an apocalyptic warning as part of BBC documentary Expedition New Earth saying humanity has as little as a single lifetime to leave and find a new planet to colonise.

Other prize winners also emphasised the need to urgently take action.

Michael Stanley Whittingham, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Chemistry alongside scientists John B Goodenough and Akira Yoshino for developing the lithium-ion battery, urged that a realistic approach to the crisis should take place.

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“We’ve got to do things step-wise and have some solutions in mind,” Mr Whittingham said. “The time is right now, but we have to be pragmatic… we can’t just turn off all the CO2.”

Esther Duflo, one of the Nobel economics laureates, said tackling climate change “will require a change in behaviour, particularly in rich countries” who consume a lot of the world’s resources.

The comments come with politicians and diplomats in the second week of climate change talks in Madrid, where they are attempting to finalise details of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The fight against climate change has reached a new level of urgency after a UN report revealed that humanity has little over 12 years to avert a global environment catastrophe, while the UN secretary general recently warned that global warming was “close to the point of no return”.

Millions of people across the planet have taken to the streets to demonstrate against this looming disaster, but still change remains slow.

The Nobel prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace will be formally awarded at a ceremony on 10 December.

Additional agencies contributed to this report

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