To achieve a more socially equitable society in which science benefits everybody, we need structural changes in the way that our economy works to remove the quest for constant growth of gross domestic product (see www.positivemoney.org). Spending billions of dollars on better versions of existing facilities risks entrenching unsustainable and destructive industries, which will not address the global challenges we face (see go.nature.com/kyamxu).
Consider, for example, the eviction of indigenous communities in parts of the world where increasingly large areas of land are being sacrificed to mining activity — a situation currently facing populations in southeastern Ecuador (see go.nature.com/1mlkki). Furthermore, poverty and ill health are on the rise in affluent countries such as the United Kingdom, despite resource-intensive technologies (see go.nature.com/xznlni).
If science is to serve the public good, we have to shift to more ecosystem-centred systems that also take human rights and well-being into account. Good examples include the farmer field schools set up by the United Nations, engaging farmers in agro-ecological research (see T. MacMillan and T. Benton Nature 509, 25–27; 2014).