Twenty-five years ago, hundreds of scientists issued a bold and dire portent, warning humanity its unparalleled, rapid consumption of resources, unhindered population growth, and continued decimation of the natural environment would ultimately lead to wide scale plight — if the planet cannot rein in its excesses and disparities.
A “great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided,” 1,700 scientists admonished, in no uncertain terms.
We didn’t listen.
In fact, the thoughtless plunder of biodiverse environments without regard to conservation or sustainability only accelerated, leading 15,364 scientists from 184 countries to sign an appended version of the original doomsday letter — this time, exhorting humanity to pay attention, right now — because there isn’t much time remaining.
“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out,” William J. Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University, wrote for the scientists’ second warning to humanity.
Of particular concern for the sizable group is the exhaustive strain exponential population growth has placed on the planet’s limited resources — noting the number of people in the world swelled by 35 percent, or an additional two billion people, in the ensuing years since the original cautionary plea in 1992.
Deforestation, vanishing potable water supplies, unacceptable emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, ocean ‘dead zones,’ and mass agriculture — particularly that devoted to the raising of animals for meat — and the pollution, runoff, and destruction of biodiverse areas inextricable from that industry, also gravely concern the signatories of the amended warning.
“Moreover,” the letter continues, “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 the century.”
Indeed, in July, another group of scientists published a study citing decades of “biological annihilation” of wildlife as the sharpest indicator a mass extinction event is underway — characterizing the eradication of the natural world as a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation.”
Concluding the dim picture of impending doom, they lamented,
“The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences. Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.”
Harsh though the language, scientists in both warnings dispense with euphemisms and gentle prods to action — again imploring humanity to stop its slow suicide — as well as the wanton disregard in repeated, detrimental acts. As Gerardo Ceballos, of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and lead author of the extinction study, opined grimly,
“The situation has become so bad it would not be ethical not to use strong language.”
“The time to act is very short,” Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University and paper co-author told the Guardian in July. “It will, sadly, take a long time to humanely begin the population shrinkage required if civilisation is to long survive, but much could be done on the consumption front and with ‘band aids’ — wildlife reserves, diversity protection laws — in the meantime.”
Again, that study was published months ago.
Continuing, the second warning to humanity chides the lack of steps taken to reform consumption-based models into sustainable programs with conservation at the forefront, noting,
“By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”
It might still be possible to slow the rampant pillaging of forests and land, polluting of precious waterways, reliance on outdated and environmentally-costly fuels and chemicals, and other self-destructive habits — but time is a luxury we failed to afford ourselves long ago.
“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss,” the thousands of concerned scientists implore with finality, “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.”
Are we listening, now?