At CleanTechnica, we try to be optimistic about climate change. We share the good news about renewable energy, carbon reduction schemes, reducing tailpipe emissions, and reducing plastics in the ocean. We celebrate Elon Musk and his zany mania for disrupting conventional thinking. In short, we like to think we are making a difference, but we may be just blowing sunshine up the skirts of our readers if the latest message from 15,000 scientists is to be believed.
In 1992, 1700 scientists, including many Nobel Laureates, penned an open letter entitled “The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” It was written by the late Henry Kendall, one of the early founders of the Union of Concerned Scientists and a longtime member of its board of directors. The first paragraph of that letter read as follows:
“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious 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 unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”
It went on to list the impact that climate change would have on the atmosphere, the oceans, access to clean water, the land, the forests, and the millions of species of plants and animals that share the earth with humanity. It ended with this ominous warning: “We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” (emphasis added)
25 Years Later
That was 25 years ago. To mark the anniversary of its signing, 15,000 scientists have issued what they call the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” The 15,000 scientists come from 184 countries. Penned by ecologist William Ripple of Oregon State University, it states, “Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”
Think about what that means for minute. We learned in elementary school that the sun will likely implode, explode, or do some other weird thing in a billion years or so, condemning the earth to wander aimless in a dark and forbidding universe until the end of time. And we are OK with that because, hey, a billion years is a really, really long time. Nothing to lose sleep over today, is it?
But this message, published November 13 in the journal BioScience, shreds the illusion that we have all of eternity to think of something to save the world. Instead, it puts us on notice that people closely related to us — our children, grandchildren, and grandchildren of our grandchildren — will suffer the water and food shortages, the global conflict, and the rising sea levels that will threaten humanity with extinction.
Does that change your attitude about things? Probably not. As human beings, we seem incapable of comprehending such grand calamities. We can only manage to focus our limited attention span on new and creative ways of hating each other and exterminating those who differ from us in any material way. Working together for the common good is a virtual impossibility. Perhaps the extermination of the human race will result — a few million years from now — in a new species that is better able to care for its earthly home and cherish it rather than pillage it, but there is little evidence of that based on a close examination of human history.
Things Have Gotten Much Worse
Since that first warning in 1992, global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent. Access to freshwater is lower, the forests have been decimated, and fisheries have dwindled. There are 2 billion more people inhabiting the earth now than there were just 25 years ago, but there are almost a third fewer mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. There is one bright spot. “The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the new letter notes.
Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, whose mission, according to the Washington Post, is to provide a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet. “Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple says in a press release about the new letter. “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 unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”
The authors offer 13 suggestions 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 consumption. Now the question is, does anyone care enough to act on those suggestions?
When All Else Fails, Laugh
This subject reminds me of a satirical poem penned by YIP Harburg 50 years ago (Harburg wrote the lyrics to “Over The Rainbow”). It is one of many found in a collection entitled Rhymes For The Irreverent and it goes like this:
God made the World in six days flat.
On the seventh, He said, “I’ll rest.”
So He let the thing into orbit swing,
To give it a dry run test.
A billion years went by,
Then He took a look at the whirling blob.
His spirits fell as He shrugged,
“Oh well, it was only a six day job.”
Logic, appeals to reason, name calling — none of them have made any impression on those who believe there is some magic cure waiting in the wings to save humanity from itself. Since climate disaster seems impervious to rational thinking, perhaps a little humor will help break the log jam? Certainly nothing else has.
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