It’s been 25 years since more than 1,700 scientists, including a majority of the world’s living Nobel laureates in the sciences, co-signed the Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. This startling document published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed concern about ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine fishery collapses, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. The authors called on humankind to curtail environmental damage and advised that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”
Since 1992, evidence has accumulated in each of these areas to show whether or not humanity has heeded the warning. Such data reported by scientific organizations and governments provide the basis for a “Second Notice.” This article published by BioScience shows that humanity has made some progress to protect the global environment, but many things have gotten much worse over the last 25 years, especially climate change and human population growth.
The highlights of the authors findings include:
- A 26% reduction in the amount of fresh water available per capita
- A drop in the harvest of wild-caught fish, despite an increase in fishing effort
- A 75% increase in the number of ocean dead zones
- A loss of nearly 300 million acres of forestland, much of it converted for agricultural uses
- Continuing significant increases in global carbon emissions and average temperatures
- A 35% rise in human population
- A collective 29% reduction in the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish
After the paper was accepted by BioScience editors, the authors offered other scientists the opportunity to review the draft and, if they agreed with it, to express their support as co-signers. Surprisingly, it has been signed by more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries.
Fortunately, individuals, governments and other organizations can take steps to address these trends. Such actions could include establishing more terrestrial and marine reserves and strengthening enforcement of anti-poaching laws and restraints on wildlife trade. We could expand family planning and educational programs for women, promote a dietary shift toward plant-based foods, and massively adopt renewable energy and other “green” technologies. The authors acknowleged that it might take a groundswell of public pressure to convince political leaders to take such steps.
Some people might be tempted to dismiss this evidence as alarmist. However. scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at long-term consequences. Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that humanity is heading down an unsustainable path with dire consequences for future generations.
The lead authors have formed a new independent organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, to be a collective voice on environmental sustainability and human well-being. Scientists who did not sign the warning prior to publication can endorse the published warning by visiting that website.
The hope is that the paper and long list of signatories will help ignite widespread public concern, debate, and action to address these global environment and climate issues. By reversing these negative trends, we can make great progress for the sake of humanity and the planet on which we depend.
Featured Image Credit: “Grazing deer herd” by Johan Mouchet. CC0 via Unsplash.