This seems like a big deal

The folks at Big Science are again putting humanity on blast. Twenty-five years ago, they issued a dire warning, one that hasn’t resulted in sustained, meaningful results:

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1). 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.”

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. 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.

Is it too much to ask our beloved leaders to respond to this in a meaningful way? Let’s say the media actually does this. In this dream scenario, they could really hold their feet to the fire – be tenacious, refuse to accept non-answers, point out conflicts of interest, refute illogic, etc. It seems pretty important:

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.

None of this should be news to readers of this site. But the paper appears to be exceptionally noteworthy:

We have been overwhelmed with the support for our article and thank the more than 15,000 signatories from all ends of the Earth (see supplemental file S2 for list of signatories). As far as we know, this is the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.

Worth pondering is what to do when legal means of halting our death march continue to fail. Sure there are small victories here and there – for example, the article notes the decline in the manufacturing of ozone depleting substances. But the overall narrative of impending doom hasn’t changed. Collectively, we’re not listening. Or, put another way, those who are okay with destroying the biosphere, and those who profit off it directly and indirectly, haven’t listened. There doesn’t seem to be many good reasons to think they’ll start now.


  1. jazzlet says

    The only way I can see convincing them to listen and to act is to demonstrate irrefutably that whatever lifeboat they think they have for them and their offspring will not work. I’m just not sure that is possible when so many of them do not want to accept what the science is showing.

    • says

      Definitely. If one isn’t viscerally confronted with the deleterious effects of the Anthropocene, and is not aware of or not swayed by contemporary science, it’s so easy to dismiss – if the climate is warming, why is it snowing??

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer…

    Not that I disagree in the slightest with the urgency and seriousness of the alarm raised here, but … I haven’t heard much about acid rain in the last decade or so, either.

    Perhaps we can claim to have checked two items off the still-growing eco-crisis list?

    • says

      In Europe and North America, things are improving. India, no. China, a little but not much progress. I have to say I haven’t really thought about acid rain too much lately. I think this article from last year is the best I found that summarizes recent global trends:

      The articles in this special issue of Atmospheric Environment
      demonstrate the breadth and scope of acid rain investigations by
      providing the latest scientific advances regarding how emissions,
      deposition and temporal trends of the pollutants that cause acid
      rain vary across the globe. Considerable progress in reducing the
      emissions of SO2 and NOx is evident across North America and
      Europe. In contrast, SO2 declines began only about 10 years ago in
      China and decreases in NOx emissions just in the last few years.
      In other parts of Asia such as India, these emissions continue to increase.
      Investigations of surface water chemistry, soils, fish, and
      vegetation reported in this issue show that recovery is slow and
      will unfold over many decades provided that emissions and deposition
      continue to decrease. Whether affected ecosystems will return
      to a pre-acid rain condition is currently unclear and will
      Preface / Atmospheric Environment 146 (2016) 1e4 3
      likely depend on many other factors such as human and natural
      landscape disturbance and climate change. Gaining a better understanding
      of how acid rain interacts with the myriad factors that
      affect the trajectories of ecosystems remains a challenge for the scientific
      community to address. The inadvertent acid rain experiment
      continues to provide opportunities to study the long-term effects of
      air pollutants on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

  3. says

    What sucks about these warnings is that they mostly mark “That danger-point we told you not to go beyond? You just blew past it and are accelerating toward a cliff.”

    I’m afraid we’re like the guy who jumped off a building a few seconds ago, and as the floors flicker past, “so far so good.”
    “So far, it’s OK.”
    “It hasn’t gotten bad, yet.”
    It’s not the fall, it’s the fucking landing.

    • says

      I did a news search prior to posting and, while there were articles, it didn’t seem like it was THAT prominent. I just wonder how the masses that are barely aware of the fall will react to the inevitable splat. If the reaction is one of incredulity, they can fuck right off.