World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice
Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts. Melting sea ice.
Dr. Bill Ripple simply could not ignore these worldwide catastrophic weather trends any longer. A distinguished ecology professor at Oregon State University in the College of Forestry, Ripple turned his concerns into research, and then, a letter.
The result: “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” written by Ripple and co-authored by seven other scientists from five continents, and published last November in the journal BioScience.
“I normally don’t write letters to humanity,” said Ripple in a video of a talk he gave to City Club of Corvallis soon after the paper was published.
But he did, and the world responded.
Before the letter was published, Ripple and his co-authors sent it to 40 scientists to read and sign. One tweet was also sent. Within 48 hours there were 2,400 signatures. By the time it was published one month later the paper had 15,364 scientists’ endorsements from 184 countries, with a further 5,000 signatures added since December. The paper has been retweeted 8,000 times, reaching more than 14 million Twitter followers.
Well then, what is IN this paper?
“Second Notice” is actually a follow-up to a warning letter Ripple came across last year. Written 26 years ago, the original “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” was sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists and was signed by more than 1,700 independent scientists. The three-page letter describes a grim forecast of Earth’s “environmental degradation” with a plea to global leaders for urgent change.
Also only three pages, the “Second Notice” is a second call to action to political leaders, scientists, media influencers and lay citizens all over the world to once again “re-examine and change our individual behaviors” in order to stop and even reverse further destruction of our only home.
The authors describe a set of environmental health trends, illustrating the changes for better or worse between 1992 and 2016.
The good news first. There have been a few improvements since 1992, with possibly the greatest accomplishment being a noticeable decline globally in ozone-destroying substances. Other positives are the lower fertility rates in regions investing in women’s and girls’ education, and the rate of deforestation in some regions is slowing down. There is also promising growth in the renewable energy sector.
The rest of the news is not great. “Second Notice” data trends reveal a bleak picture of the world’s current situation with a dramatic decline in freshwater availability, forest cover loss, marine life and vertebrate wildlife depletion, ocean dead zones and carbon dioxide emissions on the rise, and a steep climate change.
Both documents point to human population growth as a primary driver behind our ecological and even societal problems. “Second Notice” shows global population has grown by 36 percent in just the last 26 years, which amounts to around 2 billion people.
“Second Notice” doesn’t end with doom, however.
Ripple’s group wraps up the letter with a number of suggestions for how to take better care of ourselves and the Earth. These include creating nature reserves, restoring native plant communities, shifting to plant-based diets, reducing food waste, providing more outdoor education for children, phasing out subsidies to fossil fuels, and revising our economy to account for the real cost of overconsumption, to name a few.
Linn-Benton Community College biology professor Warren Coffeen liked how the authors ended the letter this way, directing people to effective steps that lead to lasting changes.
“They present some actionable items, attainable items, things that we can do now as a society,” said Coffeen, who signed the letter recently, and forwarded it to other LBCC biology and physical science faculty members.
OSU has shown huge support for the paper and its findings, according to Ripple. Two of the authors of “Second Notice” are faculty members of OSU, and at last count 187 OSU scientists had signed the letter. In May the OSU Faculty Senate passed a resolution to officially support the letter.
And the momentum continues. It’s been six months since the letter was published, and Ripple said he still gets “scores of emails” about it. He now puts a lot of energy into the Alliance of World Scientists, an organization formed as a result of the paper, created to do follow-up work on global and climate change issues.
He doesn’t mind taking time to stop for moment, though, to think about how this ball got rolling.
“When I first got the idea, I felt like I was just one person and wouldn’t have much impact,” said Ripple. “But now, going through this process, I realize one person can have a major effect.
At A Glance
Co-authors on the paper are Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir,Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, and William F. Laurance
Scientists are invited to sign at http://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu