More than 11,000 scientists worldwide declare climate emergency, predict ‘untold human suffering’ if we do not act now

Scientists worldwide — 11,258 of them, to be exact, from 153 countries — have endorsed a declaration of “climate emergency,” predicting “untold human suffering” if more is not done to stop human contribution to climate change.

Citing scientists’ “moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat,” the researchers endorsed an urgent call to action, pleading with humankind to stop being our own worst enemy.

“We declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” the scientists said in a statement, adding that despite decades of warnings, “greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rapidly rising, with increasingly damaging effects on the Earth’s climate. An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.”

Ecology professor William Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University led the peer-reviewed research, which was published Tuesday in the journal BioScience. Ripple founded the environmental advocacy group Alliance of World Scientists.

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the Oregon State College of Forestry, in a statement. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

While scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, this is the first time they have stepped into the political arena by recommending policy, The Washington Post noted. That and the lack of uncertainty in the language makes this document a “stark departure” from previous assessments, the Post said.

It is the first time this many scientists have spoken directly to the public that there’s a crisis, “rather than letting their data speak for itself,” reported Grist, the environmental news site.

“Phrases like ‘climate change’ sound a little bit mild, in terms of how severe the problem is,” Ripple told Grist. “So, we wanted to publish language that is consistent with the data and the trends that we’re seeing.”

The warning comes a day after President Trump’s administration submitted formal notice that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, as the Associated Press and The New Republic reported. And, as reported, the European Union confirmed that last month was the warmest October ever registered.

Researchers at The University of Sydney and the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, as well as Tufts University, also authored the study.

The scope of the problem goes far beyond temperature, the researchers said. Describing climate change solely in terms of global surface temperature does not “capture the breadth of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet,” the scientists said. “Policymakers and the public now urgently need access to a set of indicators that convey the effects of human activities on GHG emissions and the consequent impacts on climate, our environment, and society.”

To illustrate the true scope of the issue, the declaration included graphic “vital signs” illustrating changes since 1979 that indicate environmental degradation: Lines delineating global tree cover loss, in millions of hectares per year, shoot straight up; Brazilian Amazon forest loss in millions of hectares per year shoots straight down; lines for energy consumption — oil, coal and natural gas — flow in an inexorable upward slope, while solar remains virtually flat. Likewise air traffic, GHG emissions covered by carbon pricing, carbon dioxide emissions, human population and per capita meat production also jet vertically skyward.

“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” the declaration said. “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity. Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature’s reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic ‘hothouse Earth,’ well beyond the control of humans. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.”

On the upside, the scientists suggested measures that could mitigate or even reverse some of the worst effects. Replacing fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy and increasing energy efficiency are necessary first steps, the scientists said. Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, soot and hydrofluorocarbons is also doable.

Equally important is preserving, protecting and restoring the planet’s rapidly decaying ecosystems, especially forests, grasslands, peatlands, wetlands and mangroves, the researchers said. When it comes to food, eating more plants and consuming fewer animal products is key, they said.

“The dietary shift would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural lands for growing human food rather than livestock feed,” they said in their statement, also alluding to the need to reduce food waste, given that a third of all food produced gets thrown out.

Economically speaking, we must operate carbon-free, shifting goals away from GDP growth and “the pursuit of affluence,” they said. It’s also essential to “curb exploitation of ecosystems” to a sustainable level, they said.

Lastly, they tackle the issue of population, which must be stabilized with an approach that ensures social and economic justice, they said.

The breadth of specialties of the signatories speaks to the depth and scope of the crisis, Ripple told The Washington Post. They are biologists, ecologists and experts in other fields, the Post noted.

“We’re asking for a transformative change for humanity,” Ripple told The Washington Post. “The situation we’re in today with climate change shows that this is an issue that needs to move beyond climate scientists only.”