More than 16,000 scientists from 184 countries have published a second warning to humanity advising that we need to change our wicked ways to help the planet.
In 1992, 1,700 independent scientists signed the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” The letter warned that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course” and if environmental damage was not stopped, our future was at risk.
That letter made headlines 25 years ago, but the world still faces daunting environmental challenges. So environmental scientist William Ripple and his colleagues decided to create a new letter that has also struck a nerve. Since it was published in the journal BioScience on Monday, hundreds more scientists have signed on to the letter.
The letter essentially says that if there is not a groundswell of public pressure to change human behavior, the planet will sustain “substantial and irreversible” harm.
“This is not about some natural phenomenon that is removed from humans,” said Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University. “If we don’t have a healthy biosphere, as it is called, if we continue to have major environmental problems and climate change problems, then this goes directly to the welfare of humans. People need to understand that we are trying to save ourselves from catastrophic huge misery.”
Though there have been a handful of positive changes, current data show that many environmental problems have gotten “alarmingly” worse since the last letter was penned.
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Since 1970, carbon dioxide emissions have increased sharply, by about 90%. About 78% of that comes from fossil fuel combustion, such as through the use of coal to heat our homes and driving cars that use gas, and through basic industrial processes and human activity which accounts for the majority of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase from 1970 to 2011, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
That human activity has helped raise the global average temperature. 2016 was the warmest year on record, according to NASA. In fact, the 10 warmest years on the 136-year record have occurred since 1998, according to the most recent data available.
Though the Trump administration has said climate change programs are a “waste of your money” and that climate change itself is an “expensive hoax,” the data suggest that temperature increases will probably cause a shortage in the world’s food crops. The weather will become more damaging, with more intense storms. Sea levels will rise and threaten coastal cities like Miami and New Orleans.
The new letter lists data showing a 75% increase in the number of ocean dead zones since the publication of the first letter. Dead zones are the areas in oceans, large lakes and rivers where marine life either dies or is driven away because the zone lacks sufficient oxygen.
Although dead zones can occur naturally, they are created largely by excessive nutrient pollution from human activities like farming and industrial pollution, according to the National Ocean Service. There are many along the US East Coast and in the Great Lakes, and the second largest in the world is in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists believe there are at least 405 dead zones worldwide, including near South America, Japan, China and southeast Australia.
That’s not merely bad news for the fish that live there; it is bad news for the humans who eat the fish and other seafood that need the fish to survive. The dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay, for instance — which measures 1.89 cubic miles, or nearly the volume of 3.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools — results in the loss of tens of millions of fish, which both humans and crabs eat. It threatens the oysters there, too.
Despite the challenges there, the proposed Trump budget would cut cleanup funds for the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and other bodies of water with dead zones.