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11th Einstein Lecture Dahlem: Klaus Töpfer

Scientific Insight – Tolerance – Responsibility

Jun 21, 2011

Klaus Töpfer
Klaus Töpfer Image Credit: Bernd Wannenmacher

When Professor Klaus Töpfer presented on June 21, 2011, the 11th Einstein Lecture Dahlem he spoke for enhancing the integration of scientific insights into policies. Töpfer is the director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam and former executive director of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Hence, he is a specialist for environmental research and policies. In his lecture he questioned transfer processes between politics and science and encouraged thinking about mankind and nature.

This year’s honorary guest has longtime experience in various fields: He is the former executive director of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), German Federal Environment Minister off-duty, and chairman of the ethics commission for safe energy supply launched by the Federal German Government in March 2011. The Ethics Commission submitted its final report in the end of May. In conformity with Einstein, he questioned the importance of science – in particular regarding environmental policies: “How are scientific insights integrated into society?”

The interaction of scientific research, politics and society need to be improved significantly and mechanisms for the processing of research results should be developed. Negative impacts of major decisions referred to in scientific research results are far too often imposed on future generations. Politics under the pressure of short-term results is reluctant to take necessary long-term decisions that might create short-term disadvantages.

Töpfer pointed out that every decision implies responsibility and mistakes resulting from human action need to be corrected. So-called Geo-Engineering – i.e. interventions in natural life cycles – should at least be discussed nowadays given the fact that societies have to respond to potential failures of neighboring countries e.g. with regard to nuclear policies.