In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from over the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had accelerated Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to crushing the planet. The letter listed environmental brunt like they were theological plagues — stratospheric ozone deficiency, air and water pollution, the collapse of angling and loss of soil productivity, erosion, species loss and catastrophic world climate change caused by the burning of relic fuels.
“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our present practices put at genuine risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be helpless to sustain life in the manner that we know.”
But things were only going to get worse.
To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a refreshing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 nations check the world’s newest responses to different environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting.
“Humanity has failed to make enough progress in broadly solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.
This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”
Earth climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have boosted by 62 %.
But it’s far from the only issue people face. Access to fresh water has removed, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has implemented. The human population grew by a massive 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have dismissed by nearly 30 %.
The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s careful ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that process to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once utilized in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the environment to break down ozone.
“The rapid global deny in ozone-depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act really,” the letter says.
The authors offer 13 ideas for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of utilization.
To this end, Ripple and his friends have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at giving a science-based perspective on problems affecting the well-being of people and the planet.
“Scientists are in the business of resolving data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “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 unsuitable path. We are hoping that our paper will burn a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”