In 1992, not long after the Rio Summit, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a warning to all of humanity. Unfortunately, little, if any, of their recommendations have been heeded. Instead, we continue along the unsustainable growth trajectory that they so deplored. Almost 1700 scientists signed the declaration, including 104 Nobel Prize winners. Here is some of what they had to say:
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… 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.
Warning. We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated…
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 Earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and developing nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair…
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 aid and 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 industrialized 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 overwhelmed 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 endeavour 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.
A new ethic is required – a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the Earth. We must recognize the Earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.
The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.
We require the help of the world community of scientists – natural, social, economic, political;
We require the help of the world’s business and industrial leaders;
We require the help of the world’s religious leaders; and
We require the help of the world’s peoples.
We call on all to join us in this task.
They followed this warning up with a Call to Action, in the lead up to the creation of the Kyoto Protocol. Despite its flaws, the Kyoto Protocol was the first serious global response to the threat of anthropogenic global warming. I wonder if it will require another such call to action to spur our reluctant politicians to create its successor in Copenhagen.