The Union of Concerned Scientists released this document last November. It was virtually ignored by the media, although the organization includes more than 100 Nobel Prize winners
Earth's peoples have only a decade (or a few decades) left to avert global collapse. The following is the text of a warning issued by 1,575 scientists, including 101 Nobel Prize winners.
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.
Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultra-violet radiation at the earth's surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level and acid precipitation are already causingwidespread injury to humans, forest, and crops.
Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems.
Heavy demands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 50 countries, containing 40% of the world's population. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water further limits the supply.
Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste-some of it toxic.
Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% of the earth's vegetated surface has been degraded-an area larger than India and China combined-and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.
Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years, and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.
The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world's biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.
Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or is permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain-with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe-but the potential risks are very great.
Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change-could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only impertectly understand. Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threats.
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair..
Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's 5.4 billion. But even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition. No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.
We, the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change is required in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.
Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:
The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide support to developing nations because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.
Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest; whether industrialzed or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.
Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be over-whelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic, and environmental collapse.
Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war-amounting to over $1 trillion annually-will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.
Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington DC.
Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1993, page 23. Some rights reserved.
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