"Untold Human Suffering" Unavoidable As World Scientists Declare Climate Emergency

Aerial view from space of the fires that burned in the Amazon earlier this year. OSORIOartist/Shutterstock

Unless the world mitigates its actions associated with climate change, “untold human suffering” will be unavoidable, according to a new study signed by a coalition of more than 11,000 scientists in 153 countries.

Data published in the journal BioScience suggests that current measures are not enough to prevent the looming “climate emergency”, prompting a moral obligation of signatories to "clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat.”

"Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis," said research co-lead William Ripple, from OSU College of Forestry, in a statement. "Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected."

To combat this, the report calls for “major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” highlighting six “vital signs” that should be utilized by policymakers, the public, and the private sector in order to realign priorities and track progress. In order to reduce the harm associated with climate change, the authors focus on changes in the production of energy, cutting short-lived pollution emissions, protecting important natural systems, changing food-related practices, shifting economic values, and stabilizing the global population.

"Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” wrote the authors, adding that current global movements are encouraging action from world leaders. “As an Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision-makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future."

Flooding level shown against a speed limit sign in Finchfield, IA. Don Becker, USGS

The researchers note that massive, global conservation practices must take place to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and ensure that fossil fuel stocks remain in the ground. This may be done by eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel companies and by imposing carbon fees, they argue. Additionally, emissions of short-lived pollutants like methane and soot must be scaled back. Doing so could reduce global warming by more than 50 percent in the next few decades.

The way in which people interact with the world around them could have a profound impact as well. For example, restoring and protecting ecosystems that have the potential to sequester atmospheric carbon – such as peatlands, forests, and grasslands – could help to combat carbon emissions, while preserving mangroves and wetlands could mitigate the effects of rising sea levels and flooding.

Behaviors also need to change, the signatories argue. Reducing reliance on animal products and shifting towards plant-based diets could reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions that are a byproduct of massive agricultural practices. Additionally, reducing meat consumption would free up land previously used for growing livestock feed to grow food for people. Economic priorities must shift from a goal of growing gross domestic product to one that maintains long-term sustainability. Lastly, the authors argue that stabilizing the growing global population to no more than 200,000 births per day will help cut back on the use of resources. By comparison, a 2011 estimate projected that 360,000 people are born every day around the world.

There is much improvement in the fight against climate change. The authors say that decreases in global birth rates and increases in wind and solar power, among others, have helped to spur new movements, but there is still much work to be done.

"Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising," Ripple said. "Globally, ice is rapidly disappearing as demonstrated by decreases in minimum summer Arctic sea ice, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and glacier thickness. All of these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action."

Grassroots movements that are “demanding change” of their political leaders are major progress, yet it is just the beginning, the scientists conclude.

USDA Forest Service Tallac Hotshots capture the sun glowing in the distance as the Carr fire burns in California in July 2018. Forest Service photo by Gaule/Jones

 

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