It’s been just over 25 years since 1,700 leading scientists from around the globe put their names to a document warning of a ‘collision course’ between humanity and the rest of the natural world.
Last year, a follow-up report was signed by more than 15,000 researchers from 184 nations. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly glowing. So much so, several months later it’s still one of the most talked-about research papers in the world.
In 1992, a group of Nobel Laureates teamed up with other researchers to form the Union of Concerned Scientists. Their tagline was “science for a healthy planet and a safer world.”
This union outlined the biggest environmental threats faced by our population in a report titled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, ending it with a powerfully written call to action.
What’s happened in the quarter of a century since? Not a whole lot, it seems.
The 1992 report was followed up in November last year with a paper in the journal Bioscience called “World scientists’ warning to humanity: A second notice”.
In what amounts to a report card you wouldn’t proudly stick on the fridge, we earned one gold star for taking care of that thin patch of ozone over Antarctica … and not much else.
So it’s time for another wake-up call.
“Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends,” the report states.
Before you think it was just a few alarmists waving their hands wildly, the article has been trending in scientist circles ever since, seeing it co-signed by a record-breaking 15,364 names from 184 countries.
If that’s not impressive enough, it currently ranks 6th out of 9 million papers on the Altmetric scale, and has even inspired some high-level speeches before Israel’s national assembly and Canada’s BC Legislature.
“Our scientists’ warning to humanity has clearly struck a chord with both the global scientific community and the public,” says the paper’s lead author, William Ripple from Oregon State University.
Responses to the document are also coming in thick and fast.
One paper by the University of Sydney recently published in Bioscience emphasises the need to take economics into account when guiding action.
“There are critical environmental limits to resource-dependent economic growth,” the authors write.
The researchers propose two key actions that are necessary for us to turn things around.
Firstly, in awarding prizes for influential work in economics, we must acknowledge the limits of the biosphere and other environmental factors.
Secondly, carbon pricing must be expanded from its current application in some 42 countries and 25 states into a globalised system.
Economics is clearly a critical factor in our impact on the environment, and any action we take must take into account such driving factors behind our ‘collision course’.
The Second Notice ends with an equally powerful call for change. “We must recognise, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home,” the authors write.
Whether we’ll see a third notice in 2042 or not is anybody’s guess.
If we do more than just talk about the first two, we might have something we’ll proudly stick on the fridge.