The Science Philanthropy Alliance recently partnered with the Aspen Institute’s Science and Society Program and the publication Leaps.org to publish a special edition exploring the intersection of climate change and infectious disease. You can read more about the genesis of this project in the introduction below by Alliance President France Córdova. We also invite you to join us on June 7 for a symposium unpacking the basic research questions at the nexus of these two pressing issues.
In recent years, headlines about extreme weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic have put climate change and infectious diseases at the forefront of the public discourse. That’s equally true within the philanthropic community. Members of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, which include many of the world’s most prominent science funders, are grappling with where and how their resources and unique position within the research enterprise can have the greatest impact on these dual threats. Through conversations with our members, two important points emerged that sparked the genesis of this special edition of Leaps.org in collaboration with the Aspen Institute and GOOD Worldwide.
The first is that these seemingly disparate issues of climate change and infectious disease are, in fact, interwoven across the fabric of nature. This stands out perhaps most notably in the growing risk of disease spillover from animals to humans as climate and habitat changes drive them together. As highlighted throughout this edition, though, the connections run much deeper and the complex systems at play have little regard for the traditional siloes of academia. Although far from a novel concept–especially for many Indigenous communities–there’s growing recognition that a holistic, interdisciplinary lens is crucial to advancing how we understand, interact with, and respond to our changing planet. The “one health” framework described in this edition takes this into account but is by no means the only approach.
Second, important gaps remain in our fundamental understanding of climate change, infectious disease, and the interplay between the two. It’s this often-overlooked basic research that builds the bedrock of knowledge upon which breakthroughs are made. As you’ll read in these digital pages, though, the relationship between basic research, applied research, and technological breakthroughs isn’t a linear one. Rather, as Simons Foundation President David Spergel has said, it’s a “complex dance” with each fueling the other along the way. This means that pressing basic research questions carry with them the potential to catalyze science, often in unexpected ways.
Thankfully, although small in comparison to government funding for science, philanthropic funding is uniquely positioned to address both points–breaking down silos and filling high-leverage gaps in research. It’s our hope that this edition of Leaps.org will prompt important conversations on the topic and encourage more philanthropists to lend their support to the inspiring researchers expanding our knowledge at the intersection of climate change and infectious disease.
France A. Córdova, Ph.D.
President, Science Philanthropy Alliance