Sound the alarm! We must take immediate action before it’s too late. More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries around the world have issued a doomsday “warning to humanity.” Climate change, species extinction, deforestation and exponential human population growth are all threatening our very existence.
In 1992, more than 1,700 independent scientists penned the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. The second warning which was issued by the Alliance of World Scientists and published in the journal of Bioscience on the 13th November 2017, comes on the 25th anniversary. The paper outlines some of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Though progress has been made in some areas, such as cutting ozone-depleting chemicals, and increasing energy generated from renewable sources, the damaging trends far outweigh our efforts. The scientists highlight that almost all of the problems identified in the original warning have been exacerbated.
“On the 25th anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data,” the paper reads. “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). 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.”
The paper is led by top ecologist Professor William Ripple who said: “Humanity is now being given a second notice … We are jeopardising our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats”
Summary of environmental concerns, via Big Think:
A decline in freshwater availability – Per capita freshwater availability is less than half of the level of the 1960s. It is likely that climate change will have an overwhelming impact on the freshwater availability through alteration of the hydrologic cycle and water availability.
Unsustainable marine fisheries – 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.
Ocean dead zones – Coastal dead zones which are mainly caused by fertilizer runoff and fossil-fuel use, are killing large swaths of marine life. Dead zones with hypoxic, oxygen-depleted waters, are a significant stressor on marine systems and identified locations have dramatically increased since the 1960s, with more than 600 systems affected by 2010.
Forest losses – The world’s forests are crucial for conserving carbon, biodiversity, and freshwater. Between 1990 and 2015, total forest area decreased from 4,128 to 3,999 million ha, a net loss of 129 million ha which is approximately the size of South Africa.
Dwindling biodiversity – The world’s biodiversity is vanishing at an alarming rate and populations of vertebrate species are rapidly collapsing (World Wildlife Fund 2016). Collectively, global fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.
Climate change – Global fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions have increased sharply since 1960. Relative to the 1951-1980 average, global average annual surface temperature, in parallel to CO2 emissions, has also rapidly risen as shown by 5-year mean temperature anomaly. The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 1998.
Population growth – Since 1992, the human population has increased by approximately 2 billion individuals, a 35% change. The world human population is unlikely to stop growing this century and there is a high likelihood that the world population will grow from 7.2 billion people now to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion by 2100.
“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out,” the letter warns. “We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”
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