Major shifts in global society will be needed to avoid “untold suffering due to the climate crisis,” according to a statement endorsed by more than 11,000 scientists from 153 nations and published this week in the journal BioScience.
The statement is built around a set of “vital signs” indicators—from carbon dioxide and methane emissions, to temperature and extreme weather, to population growth and meat production—that get at the “causes and effects of climate breakdown, rather than only carbon emissions and surface temperature rise,” The Guardian reports.
“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” states the group led by Prof. William Ripple of Oregon State University. “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.”
The statement stresses that “to secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live,” a transformation that “entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”
Timed to mark the 40th anniversary of the world’s first global climate change conference, convened in 1979 in Geneva, the statement calls for measures to end population growth, leave fossil fuels in the ground, put an end to forest destruction, and substantially reduce meat consumption. “We urge widespread use of the vital signs [to] allow policy-makers and the public to understand the magnitude of the crisis, realign priorities, and track progress,” the scientists write.
Co-author Thomas Newsome of the University of Sydney added that “a broader set of indicators should be monitored, including human population growth, meat consumption, tree-cover loss, energy consumption, fossil fuel subsidies, and annual economic losses to extreme weather events.”
While “you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to look at the graphs and know things are going wrong,” Newsome said, “it is not too late.” The scientists set out a list of urgent action items that includes major increases in energy efficiency, strong carbon taxes, stabilizing the global population using “ethical approaches”, ending the destruction of nature, restoring forests and mangroves to absorb carbon dioxide, switching to mostly plant-based diets, reducing food waste, and shifting economic strategies away from continuing GDP growth.
“The good news is that such transformative change, with social and economic justice for all, promises far greater human well-being than does business as usual,” the statement stresses.