On 13 January 2021, a warning from 17 top scientists was published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science, pointing out that the world is on track for a “ghostly future of mass extinction, declining heath, climate-disruption upheavals and resource conflicts this century”.
This article is signed by ecologists, biologists and sustainability experts from the United States, Mexico, and Australia, including Paul Ehrlich, a retired famous professor in Stanford University, who is the author of the controversial 1960s book “The Population Bomb”.
This report is the 3rd and an upgraded warning from scientists. The first notice of scientists’ warning to humanity, signed by more than 1500 independent scientists, was penned in 1992. In the notice, the scientists expressed concern about current, impending or potential damage on Earth involving a range of environmental problems.
The second notice of world scientists’ warning, signed by over 15,000 scientists in 184 countries, was published in BioScience in December 2017, which outlined severe, existential threats to human well-being posed by the current trajectory of catastrophic anthropogenic environmental issues.
While there have been these warnings, according to the current report, the scale of the threats to the biosphere and its life forms – including humanity – is still underestimated. General public, policy makers, and even experts don’t fully understand how tied they are to it yet.
The state of the natural world
In the article, the scientists have comprehensively summarized the state of the natural problems, citing more than 150 scientific papers describing the world’s environmental changes. They also outline possible future trends in biodiversity decline, climate disruption, population growth, and human over-consumption to demonstrate the near certainty that these problems will worsen and their negative impacts. Some major problems and global trends summarized in the article include:
- Over 70% of the Earth’s land surface has been altered by Homo sapiens.
- Population sizes of vertebrate species have declined by an average of 68% over the last five decades, with certain population clusters in extreme decline.
- About 1 million species are threatened with extinction in near future out of an estimated 7–10 million eukaryotic species on Earth.
- Today the global biomass of wild mammals is only <25% of that estimated for the Late Pleistocene.
- More than 75% of rivers no longer flow freely along their entire course; there is only <15% of the original wetland area globally, compared to that presented 300 years ago.
- More than two-thirds of the oceans have been compromised to some extent by human activities; the biomass of large predatory fishes is now <33% of what it was last century; seagrass extent has been decreasing by 10% per decade over the last century.
- The global human population has doubled since 1970, reaching nearly 7.8 billion people today; by 2050, the world population will likely grow to ~9.9 billion.
- It is estimated that 700–800 million people are starving and 1–2 billion are micronutrient-malnourished and unable to function fully.
- Currently, over 70% of all people live in countries that run a biocapacity deficit while also having less than world-average income.
- Humanity’s consumption as a fraction of Earth’s regenerative capacity has grown from around 73% in 1960 to 170% in 2016.
- It is expected that global warming would reach 2.6–3.1°C by 2100; the projected rise of Earth’s temperature will be catastrophic for biodiversity and humanity.
- Climate change and other environmental pressures will trigger 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants expected by 2050.
With these facts and statistics, the scientists point out that accelerating biodiversity loss, climate change and over-consumption are swiftly pushing human societies toward a ghastly future, and that “humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term”.
Ineffectiveness of current and planned actions
In the article, the scientists also address the failed international goals and prospects for the future. They mention that political leaders and systems are not prepared well for the disasters associated with biodiversity loss, or capable of addressing the crisis.
The scientists point out that “stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere close to the top of any country’s priorities”, “none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 set at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2010 conference was met”, and “most of the nature-related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on track for failure”, and the progress in proposing “post-2020 climate action” “have been utterly inadequate”.
Call for ambitious actions
The scientists warn that world leaders must act to avoid a grim future while planning for impending changes the earth is set to face. They point out that fundamental changes to global capitalism, education and equality are required to address the environmental problems or crises.
A range of strategies are also recommended in the article, including the abolition of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing externalities, a rapid exit from fossil-fuel use, strict regulation of markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying, and the empowerment of women.
I the article, the authors also address the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With all of the disruption caused, “it is actually practice for the future”. Although it is most imperative to get the COVID-19 pandemic ended, it is also the right time now to make plan for post-pandemic world to address environmental sustainability and global warming issues.