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More Than 11,000 Scientists Declare ‘Climate Emergency’

“Many of us feel like time is running out for us to act.”

by Becky Ferreira
Nov 5 2019, 3:00pm

Rescues from flooding after Hurricane Harvey. Image: Texas Military Department

More than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries have declared a climate emergency in a new report that calls for six urgent actions to confront the climate crisis. Warning the public about the effects of climate change is a “moral obligation” of the scientific community, according to the paper, which was published on Tuesday in the journal BioScience.

“We have joined together to declare a climate emergency because the climate change is more severe and accelerating faster than was expected by scientists,” said co-lead author William Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecologist at Oregon State University, in an email.

“It is threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity,” he added. “Many of us feel like time is running out for us to act.”

The paper, which is signed by 11,333 scientists (and counting), was put together by the Alliance of World Scientists. It draws on a half-century of climate science research and outlines policy efforts that date back to the first World Climate Conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979.

Ripple led a similar report in 2017, signed by more than 15,000 scientists, that also warned of the devastating consequences of climate change, but focused on identifying different climate-related trends over 25 years.

In the new report, Ripple and co-authors from Oregon State University, University of Sydney, University of Cape Town, and Tufts University point to a few long-term positive improvements, such as the rise in renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

But progress has been too slow and rare to prevent “untold suffering,” the team argues in the paper. Indeed, some of the most promising improvements—the slowing rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, for instance—are beginning to backslide once more.

In order to adequately grapple with this emergency, Ripple’s team suggests focusing on six major global projects: clean energy use, a reduction of short-lived pollutants, natural conservation, promotion of plant-based diets, a rejection of exploitative economic systems, and a sustainable global human population.

“Rather than piecemeal solutions, we suggest six interrelated steps that could provide transformative change in the way society functions and interacts with nature,” Ripple said. “The social, environmental, and climate problems are systemic and so interdependent that we need a holistic solution.”

Given that fossil fuel emissions are the leading driver of climate change, it will be necessary to rapidly switch from energy sources that emit greenhouse gas to low-carbon energy technologies, the team said.

A focused effort to stop the release of short-lived pollutants, which are compounds that remain in the atmosphere for a few decades at most, could also have an outsized effect on climate change. Stemming emissions of methane, soot, and hydrofluorocarbons, for example, could essentially buy time by cutting the rate of short-term warming in half over the next few decades, according to the paper.

Preserving the natural environment and its incredible biodiversity will be essential going forward because healthy wild ecosystems can help stabilize the climate. Both marine and terrestrial habitats cycle nutrients and sequester atmospheric carbon, and the team suggests redoubling efforts to preserve existing habitats while allowing endangered ecosystems to rebound.

The livestock industry is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, so Ripple and his colleagues also emphasize the need for humans to switch to more plant-dominant diets and to reduce global food waste.

The goal of restructuring our economic systems to account for ecological and environmental damage undergirds all the other suggestions. “We need economics that account for the actual impacts of development and resource extraction on the wellbeing of humans and the preservation of the environment,” Ripple said.

A similar emphasis on human well-being is expressed in the last suggestion, which recommends stabilizing the growing global human population. Overpopulation is an incredibly charged topic that has been used to justify inhumane ideologies—in both real life and in fiction—so the team makes it clear that it’s suggesting expanding reproductive freedom and education for girls and women.

Of course, all of these solutions will require big lifestyle changes. But the alternative of doing nothing to significantly address the climate emergency will result in much more dire sacrifices, such as a devastating extinction event that could wipe out many species, including humanity.

“The good news is that such transformative change, with social and economic justice for all, promises far greater human well-being than does business as usual,” the team concluded in the paper. “We believe that the prospects will be greatest if decision-makers and all of humanity promptly respond to this warning and declaration of a climate emergency and act to sustain life on planet Earth, our only home.”

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