“At the moment, the agendas of the growing population of people and the environment are too separate – people are thinking about one or the other,” said Sir John Sulston, Nobel laureate and chair of the Royal Society
’s People and the Planet
working group, in an interview with ECSP. “People argue about, ‘Should we consume less or should we have fewer people?’ The point is it’s both. We need to draw it together. It’s people and their activities.”
Sulston won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on mapping the human genome. He said that experience helped him appreciate the importance of utilizing science to the benefit of the wider public as he advocated for keeping the human genome in the public domain rather than allowing the knowledge to be privatized.
Sulston spoke at the Wilson Center on Febraury 22 on carrying capacity and the Royal Society’s People and the Planet study. He said “what we want to do is to see the issue of population in the open, dispassionately discussed on the environmental agenda, and then we’ll see where it goes.” The study will “draw together the strands, to summarize, and to put it down as a statement of the state of the art of our knowledge and where it’s going.” The study will be released in early 2012 with an eye to informing the UN “Rio+20” conference on sustainable development.
“We have one planet,” Sulston said, and “we have a lot of people, an increasing number of people. Now it’s not straightforward…but I think if you look at the facts dispassionately, you find that actually, because of our sheer numbers and because of our activities, the combination of those two things mean that we are putting an increasing burden on the planet and I think it is something we have to start thinking about.”