A global warning
15,000 scientists from 184 countries signed an article published by the journal BioScience, warning that people around the world are under threat of “irreversible harm” if nothing is done to reverse the current destruction of the environment.
The report, titled: ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice‘, presents a much more dire picture than a similar warning in 1992, when over 1,700 scientists signed a letter warning us of global trends in ecological shifts, such as ocean dead zones, marine life depletion, biodiversity destruction, and climate change.
“Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014),” the paper reads. “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.”
“Scientists are in the business of analysing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” said William Ripple, a professor at Oregon State University and one of the paper’s authors. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”
The article, which is based on data from government agencies, non-profit organisations and individual researchers, warns that humanity is risking its own future by causing substantial and irreversible harm to the earth’s environment.
The scientists document a number of alarming trends including:
- Global biodiversity is disappearing at an accelerated rate, and vertebrate species are going rapidly extinct (World Wildlife Fund 2016). Around the world, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.
- Per capita fresh water availability is less than half than what it was in the 1960s. Climate change will likely reduce fresh water availability.
- Global fossil-fuel CO2 emissions have increased sharply since 1960. The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 1998. This will alter ecosystems that will likely pose a serious threat to humanity.
- Between 1990 and 2015, total forest area decreased from 4,128 to 3,999 million hectares, a net loss of 129 million hectares (around the size of South Africa).
- Coastal dead zones are increasing due to fossil-fuel consumption and fertiliser runoff, in turn killing a disproportionate amount of marine life. Dead zones with hypoxic, oxygen-depleted waters have dramatically increased since the 1960s, with more than 600 systems affected by 2010.
- In 1992, the total marine catch was at or above the maximum sustainable yield, and fisheries were on the verge of collapse. Global catch rates have decreased, though fishing efforts are increasing.
- Since 1992, the human population has increased by around 2 billion people. The global human population will continue to grow and there is a high likelihood that it will grow from 7.2 billon people now to between 9.6 and 12.3 billon by 2100.
The paper also puts forward measures that could be taken to undo some of these catastrophic shifts, such as eliminating poverty, speeding up the use of green and renewable energy, eliminating dependence on meat and promoting a plant-based diet, creating more protected areas on land and at sea, enforcing stricter anti-poaching laws, and developing more educational programmes for women. Whether these would be successful if implemented tomorrow is difficult to know, but it would certainly improve our situation.
The researchers also noted that these changes could only be made if people put the necessary pressure on their political leaders around the world, who in turn would have to bring new laws into force that limit governmental and corporate destruction of the environment.
“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognise, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home. We can make great progress for the sake of humanity.”