Dire warn­ing

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - EDITORIAL -

Aquar­ter of a cen­tury ago, more than 1,700 sci­en­tists wrote a joint letter about the dan­gers fac­ing this planet. Sun­day, 15,000 re­vis­ited the topic in a new letter. This is an edited ver­sion.

“Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists and more than 1,700 in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tists, in­clud­ing the ma­jor­ity of liv­ing No­bel lau­re­ates in the sci­ences, penned the 1992 ‘World Sci­en­tists’ Warn­ing to Hu­man­ity.’ These con­cerned pro­fes­sion­als called on hu­mankind to cur­tail en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion and cau­tioned 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.’ …

“The au­thors of the 1992 dec­la­ra­tion feared that hu­man­ity was push­ing Earth’s ecosys­tems be­yond their ca­pac­i­ties to sup­port the web of life. … The sci­en­tists pleaded that we sta­bi­lize the hu­man pop­u­la­tion, de­scrib­ing how our large num­bers — swelled by an­other 2 bil­lion peo­ple since 1992, a 35 per cent in­crease — ex­ert stresses on Earth that can over­whelm other ef­forts to re­al­ize a sus­tain­able fu­ture. They im­plored that we cut green­house gas emis­sions and phase out fos­sil fu­els, re­duce de­for­esta­tion and re­verse the trend of col­laps­ing bio­di­ver­sity.

“On the 25th an­niver­sary of their call, we look back at their warn­ing and eval­u­ate the hu­man re­sponse… 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. … 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. …

“As most po­lit­i­cal lead­ers re­spond to pres­sure, sci­en­tists, me­dia in­flu­encers and lay cit­i­zens must in­sist that their gov­ern­ments take im­me­di­ate ac­tion. … With a groundswell of or­ga­nized grass­roots ef­forts, dogged op­po­si­tion can be over­come and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers com­pelled to do the right thing. It is also time to re-ex­am­ine and change our in­di­vid­ual be­hav­iors, in­clud­ing lim­it­ing our own re­pro­duc­tion (ideally to re­place­ment level at most) and dras­ti­cally di­min­ish­ing our per capita con­sump­tion of fos­sil fu­els, meat and other re­sources…

“Sus­tain­abil­ity tran­si­tions come about in di­verse ways, and all re­quire civil-so­ci­ety pres­sure and ev­i­dence-based ad­vo­cacy, po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and a solid un­der­stand­ing of pol­icy in­stru­ments, mar­kets and other driv­ers.

“To pre­vent wide­spread mis­ery and cat­a­strophic bio­di­ver­sity loss, hu­man­ity must prac­tice a more en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive to busi­ness as usual. This pre­scrip­tion was well ar­tic­u­lated by the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tists 25 years ago, but in most re­spects, we have not heeded their warn­ing. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our fail­ing tra­jec­tory, and time is run­ning out. We must rec­og­nize, in our day-to-day lives and in our gov­ern­ing in­sti­tu­tions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”

How many warn­ings can we af­ford to ig­nore?

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