Humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere, the authors write.
Twenty-five years ago this month, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1500 independent scientists, including most of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences, wrote a stark clarion call titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” Fearing that humanity was taxing the planet beyond what it could take to support our species, they wrote that fundamental changes were urgently required to avoid the consequences in which our present path was directed.
This week, they have published a follow-up. And 25 years later, the list of signatories has grown to a whopping 15,372 scientists in total. It is thought to be the largest-ever formal support by scientists for a journal article.
Published November 13 in the journal BioScience, the new take, “World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” is sobering. The authors write:
On the 25th anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. Especially troubling is the current trajectory of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption. Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.
Signed by such prominent voices as Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, and James Hansen – the warning specifically points out that we have failed to adequately limit population growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species. “Humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere,” they write.
The redux spells out 12 examples of steps that we can can take to transition to sustainability – it sounds like a TreeHugger wish list:
1) prioritize the enactment of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a significant proportion of the world’s terrestrial and marine habitats;
2) maintain nature’s ecosystem services by halting the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats;
3) rewild regions with native species, especially apex predators, to repair damaged ecosystems;
4) develop and adopt adequate policy instruments to remedy defaunation, the current poaching crisis, and the exploitation and trade of threatened species;
5) reduce food waste through education and better infrastructure;
6) promote dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods;
7) further reduce fertility rates by ensuring that women have access to education and voluntary family-planning services, especially where such resources are still lacking;
8) increas outdoor nature education for children as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation of nature;
9) develop progressive tax incentives for reducing overconsumption;
10) reduce the consumption rate of raw commodities by banning the planned obsolescence of goods;
11) devise and promote new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing out subsidies to energy production through fossil fuels; and
12) estimate a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.
Citing the rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances as an example that we can make positive change when we act decisively, the authors call for a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts from which “dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing.”
While the current United States administration seems to be actively moving against many of these steps, there are still many states, cities and citizens – and many other, more enlightened, countries – working hard to move in the right direction to save our species and the precious web of life of which we are a part. Hopefully, this second notice will be heard.
Read the whole letter, see the data, and check out the epic list of signatories here. And then pass it on!