Scientists issue their own global warning

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They call it America’s Pledge. A growing group of states, cities, businesses and organizations both public and private, worried and angry at the president’s refusal to allow the U.S. to join international climate change agreements, are committed to reducing the damage we humans do to Mother Earth.

It’s increasingly obvious that we are about to hit the point of no return. Meaning literally now or never, according to more than 15,000 scientists from 184 nations, including ours, who jointly issued a warning that Earth’s environment is much farther along the road to irreversible destruction than we acknowledge.

I am no doomsayer, nor the sort to use fear as a motivator; that tends to be as counterproductive as it is depressing. But no philosophy changes facts, and facts are that we are past the point of debate.

We are not past the point of action — action which, if not taken, will lead to “widespread misery” according to the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: Second Notice” — a call for action to avert irreversible damage to the planet.

The first notice was 25 years ago, when 1,500 of the world’s leading scientists issued a similar warning. Except for slightly slowing (not eliminating, just slowing) ozone depletion, that warning has been effectively unheeded.

The 15,000-signatory (and counting) letter published Monday in the journal Bioscience, 10 times those issuing the first warning, may represent the largest number of scientists joining any published scientific paper.

If that doesn’t say “get serious,” nothing will.

This isn’t only about the climate and record-breaking storms. Yes, these scientists are especially troubled by the “current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change.”

But they also say we are doing irreversible, life-altering damage in the following areas:

Forest loss: More than 4 billion hectares lost since 1992. Forests aren’t just about aesthetics and wildlife habitat; they make air breatheable, provide watershed protection, prevent soil erosion, and mitigate climate change.

CO2 emissions: Global fossil fuel emissions are increasing by gigatons per year; these emissions increase air particulates (related to asthma, cancers, and other illness), and change sea levels which affect climate (e.g., storms).

Dwindling biodiversity: That harms humans as well as critters, as ecosystems rely on diversity to function, reducing food sources. It also reduces available sources of medicine and medicinal research to treat disease.

Ocean dead zones, fish supply: These are hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas in oceans and large lakes where marine life suffocates, caused by various forms of pollution (in water and air). Fisheries and fish supplies annually decline by metric tons. Dead zones, nonexistent around 1960, now number over 600.

Population growth: Simply put, more people means more waste and environmental damage, and more demands on dwindling resources, taxing the environmental system more. We aren’t going to stop having babies, but we should get a sense of urgency from this.

What can we do? Get serious about going green. Beyond recycling bottles and using biodegradable containers and materials (paper not only biodegrades safely, it keeps trees growing and forests planted), we must all get proactive, contacting federal and state representatives to pressure government to act now, whatever it takes. Yes, it will mean some business constrictions, but we’ve survived such changes before; adapting is better than losing a livable home. (If you need help getting contact information, just email me.)

If not done as an entire earth population, it simply won’t work. Mother Earth recognizes no political boundaries and takes no prisoners. Not playing well with others is simply not optional.

To read the letter, see Scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu.

•••

Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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