This text is from a particular report on the Athens Democracy Forum, which gathered specialists final week within the Greek capital to debate international points.
The summer season of 2023 was a devastating one for Greece.
The biggest wildfire on file within the European Union ravaged its northeastern areas in August, killing greater than 20 folks. Weeks later, floods ripping by way of central Greece left 16 folks lifeless.
These episodes “show greater than ever that the local weather disaster is the best safety problem of our century,” mentioned President Katerina Sakellaropoulou of Greece in her opening handle final week to the Athens Democracy Discussion board, a convention established in 2013 and held yearly in affiliation with The New York Instances.
Democracies world wide are “below extreme stress” on account of the disaster, she mentioned, due to the impression on meals safety, migration, water availability, biodiversity and pure disasters.
“If no drastic response is offered,” she warned, “our democracy might be weakened, and the way forward for the subsequent generations might be severely undermined.”
The worldwide local weather emergency and its threats to democracy dominated the conversations at this 12 months’s discussion board, a three-day gathering of policymakers, enterprise leaders, lawmakers, activists, teachers and college students.
The opposite potential risk that was singled out: synthetic intelligence, with remarks by executives from expertise giants, together with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of world affairs.
Whereas the discussions have been largely thematic, talks have been additionally devoted to particular continents (Africa, South America) and nations (China, Ukraine), though no discussions targeted on pro-democracy protests in Iran led by girls, which broke out a 12 months in the past and are ongoing.
Greece’s catastrophic summer season got here up in a video handle by John Kerry, the previous United States secretary of state and now President Biden’s particular envoy for local weather (Mr. Kerry was unable to attend in individual). He famous that Greece had been “decimated by floods and historic wildfires,” and that one explicit blaze was “so highly effective, it grew 4 occasions the dimensions of New York Metropolis.”
“These disasters and the local weather disaster aren’t simply more and more threatening the environment. They’re a check of the very manner during which we govern, and in some instances don’t,” he mentioned. “The stakes have actually by no means been greater.”
He famous that yearly, air air pollution alone killed greater than 7 million folks, or one individual each 5 seconds. And since 2000, local weather disasters inflicting $1 billion in harm occurred someplace on the planet each 18 days.
On the identical time, “dangerous actors” have been jeopardizing democracy by focusing on environmental defenders and Indigenous communities, and fascinating in local weather misinformation and disinformation, particularly when it got here to scientific info, he mentioned. “This science must be on the entrance web page, my associates, not censored.”
Main teachers additional hammered residence the magnitude of the local weather disaster.
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor and director of the Heart for Coverage Analysis on Vitality and the Surroundings at Princeton, mentioned that the interval between excessive occasions — comparable to extreme warmth waves, hurricanes or coastal flooding — was shrinking.
“It means we now have much less and fewer time to adapt,” he added, warning that by 2050, “plenty of locations on this planet are going to see what was a 100-year flood yearly.”
Ann Florini, a professor at Arizona State College, mentioned folks needed to “cease trying on the central governments on a regular basis” for options, as a result of “there is no such thing as a manner for any central authority to have the ability to cope.”
Native communities ought to handle their very own assets with out central authorities management, she mentioned, noting that when the U.S. authorities handed the Inflation Discount Act — the most important local weather funding within the nation’s historical past — 40 p.c of the advantages have been required to go to frontline communities that have been hardest hit by the local weather disaster.
Finally, she suggested, human beings needed to resist their powerlessness within the face of local weather occasions. “Mom Nature doesn’t truly negotiate,” she mentioned. “She at all times has the final phrase.”
In a separate panel on the ultimate day of the discussion board, contributors illustrated the impression of local weather change on people.
Fatou Jeng, the founding father of Clear Earth Gambia, a nonprofit devoted to elevating environmental consciousness, mentioned in a video trade that Gambia’s 2.6 million folks survived on farming and agriculture. And yearly since 2020, the wet season has had a “large” impression on them: “With the flooding, plenty of households truly have been displaced, resulting in them shedding their homes and their predominant supply of revenue.”
In nations like Niger and Nigeria, she mentioned, clashes had damaged out between farmers and herders, and conflicts have been flaring up in different methods, as a result of “the principle sources of revenue of individuals are being misplaced.”
The convention additionally examined issues round A.I., together with the concern that superintelligent machines might at some point not solely get rid of human jobs, however human beings themselves.
Mr. Clegg of Meta, Britain’s former deputy premier, tried to allay fears by noting that governments had the ability to control A.I. and cease it from getting used for manipulation, disinformation and the endangerment of the human race. He suggested the general public to “proceed to order judgment till we see how issues play out.”
He mentioned that expertise may very well be used “for good and for dangerous functions,” and that innovations starting from the bicycle and the automotive to radio and the web had all, at one level, triggered the “pure human intuition to concern the worst.” The current launch of ChatGPT, the free A.I. instrument, had led collective issues to run “fairly far forward of the expertise.”
“This concept of A.I.s growing an autonomy and an company of their very own, a demonic want to destroy humanity and switch us all into paper clips,” he mentioned, was “not but the case,” as a result of “these are techniques that don’t know something. They don’t have any actual significant company or autonomy.”
He mentioned cross-industry requirements on watermarking, transparency and stress testing might maintain A.I. in examine.
One other panel examined A.I.’s impression on training.
Royal Hansen, Google’s vice chairman of privateness, security and safety engineering, mentioned his 13-year-old son, a long-Covid sufferer, hadn’t been to high school in three years, and “stays at grade stage in no small half due to the assets he has on-line, A.I. being one ingredient.”
“If he have been going to high school day-after-day and enjoying baseball like regular children, I might say let’s work on the limiting” of time spent on-line, Mr. Hansen mentioned. “Because it stands, that’s his window to the world. He lives in his bed room.”
He mentioned that though A.I. as a expertise was “comparatively new,” it rested on a few a long time of studying and expertise, notably associated to cybersecurity, privateness controls and time administration, and that Google had launched one thing known as the Safe A.I. Framework as a method to discuss these points.
“Step one is, let’s not throw out the teachings of the final couple of a long time as we chase one thing brand-new,” he mentioned. “It’s this stability between embracing one thing new however making the most of the controls or duty we’ve realized up to now.”
Additionally on the panel was Irina Bokova, the previous director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations physique that focuses on training and tradition. She mentioned college was “the place values are being instilled,” and training was “an act of social interplay.” She expressed worries that human interplay could be misplaced if education was led by synthetic intelligence and by computer systems alone.
In the case of A.I., she mentioned, “assume with your personal minds,” and “be forward of it,” reasonably than “run after it.”
Because the delegates have been debating the hazards of synthetic intelligence and the longer term impression of local weather change, Ukraine confronted the on a regular basis actuality of conflict. According to U.S. officials, near 500,000 Ukrainian and Russian troops have been killed or wounded since Ukraine was invaded 18 months in the past.
Showing on the discussion board, Sergii Shutenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Greece, made an impassioned plea for his nation to be supported by the West.
“It isn’t the time now to desert Ukraine,” he mentioned, including that the battle is at a “decisive second” that will decide whether or not Ukraine would “proceed, or be destroyed and eradicated.”
His plea was supported by one of many many younger contributors within the convention: Victoria Portnaya, a 20-year-old Ukrainian democracy and human rights advocate. “If we enable Ukraine to lose,” she warned, “we’ll lose democracy, peace and safety.”
Serge Schmemann, a member of The New York Instances editorial board who was additionally on the panel, mentioned “we actually don’t know what comes subsequent” in Ukraine, and the “wholesale destruction” occurring wanted to finish.
“The one potential resolution is a few sort of frozen battle,” he mentioned. Ready for an all-out victory by Ukraine was unfeasible, as was anticipating the toppling of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, as a result of, “I might concern that in the event that they did overthrow him, it will be within the identify of any individual worse.”
Talking after the panel, he mentioned the best choice for the West within the conflict was to “proceed to assist Ukraine to the hilt” by sending shells and artillery techniques and to “be sure that it ends in situations favorable to Ukraine.”
“We’ve to ensure they’ve a powerful hand on the desk” when the phrases of a cease-fire are negotiated, he mentioned. “We can not abandon Ukraine.”