An urgent warning of major threats to the survival of our planet has just been published in BioScience. The paper by Ripple et al. (2017) has been endorsed by 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries (BioScience, bix125, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix125). They are deeply concerned that there has been almost no progress in addressing threats first identified 25 years ago, in the 1992 ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’.
The threats identified included ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. Since that warning was published, the Earth’s population has increased by 35%, by 2 billion people, and the only threat which has been met is the hole in the ozone layer.
Since 1992, humanity has failed to address these environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014), and a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years. While greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 68%, temperatures have risen by 168% and CO2 emissions have risen by 62%.
Urgent changes are needed in environmental policy, human behaviour, and global inequities is still far from sufficient. These include effective nature and biodiversity reserves, halting habitat clearance, restoring native plant communities, re-introducing apex predators to restore ecological balance, control trade in threatened species, reducing food waste, shifting away from meat-based foods, reducing fertility rates, promoting green technologies and managing to achieve a sustainable human population.
The authors state that humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to ‘business as usual’. Time is running out and we all must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.
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