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World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity:


A Second Notice

WILLIAM J. RIPPLE, CHRISTOPHER WOLF, THOMAS M. NEWSOME, MAURO GALETTI, MOHAMMED ALAMGIR, EILEEN CRIST,
MAHMOUD I. MAHMOUD, WILLIAM F. LAURANCE, and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries

T wenty-five years ago, the Union 


of Concerned Scientists and more
than 1700 independent scientists,
deforestation, and reverse the trend of
collapsing biodiversity.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of
the urgent steps needed to safeguard
our imperilled biosphere.
As most political leaders respond to
including the majority of living Nobel their call, we look back at their warn- pressure, scientists, media influencers,
laureates in the sciences, penned the ing and evaluate the human response and lay citizens must insist that their
1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to by exploring available time-series governments take immediate action
Humanity” (see supplemental file S1). data. Since 1992, with the exception as a moral imperative to current and
These concerned professionals called of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone future generations of human and other
on humankind to curtail environmen- layer, humanity has failed to make life. With a groundswell of organized
tal destruction and cautioned that sufficient progress in generally solv- grassroots efforts, dogged opposition
“a great change in our stewardship of ing these foreseen environmental chal- can be overcome and political leaders
the Earth and the life on it is required, lenges, and alarmingly, most of them compelled to do the right thing. It is
if vast human misery is to be avoided.” are getting far worse (figure 1, file S1). also time to re-examine and change
In their manifesto, they showed that Especially troubling is the current our individual behaviors, including
humans were on a collision course trajectory of potentially catastrophic limiting our own reproduction (ideally
with the natural world. They expressed climate change due to rising GHGs to replacement level at most) and
concern about current, impending, from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. drastically diminishing our per capita
or potential damage on planet Earth 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and
involving ozone depletion, freshwa- 2015), and agricultural production— other resources.
ter availability, marine life depletion, particularly from farming ruminants The rapid global decline in ozone-
ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiver- for meat consumption (Ripple et al. depleting substances shows that we
sity destruction, climate change, and 2014). Moreover, we have unleashed can make positive change when we
continued human population growth. a mass extinction event, the sixth in act decisively. We have also made
They proclaimed that fundamental roughly 540 million years, wherein advancements in reducing extreme
changes were urgently needed to avoid many current life forms could be poverty and hunger (www.worldbank.
the consequences our present course annihilated or at least committed to org). Other notable progress (which
would bring. extinction by the end of this century. does not yet show up in the global
The authors of the 1992 declara- Humanity is now being given a data sets in figure 1) include the
tion feared that humanity was pushing second notice, as illustrated by these rapid decline in fertility rates in many
Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capac- alarming trends (figure 1). We are regions attributable to investments in
ities to support the web of life. They jeopardizing our future by not reining girls’ and women’s education (www.
described how we are fast approach- in our intense but geographically and un.org/esa/population), the promising
ing many of the limits of what the demographically uneven material decline in the rate of deforestation in
biosphere can tolerate ­
­ without consumption and by not perceiving some regions, and the rapid growth
substantial and irreversible harm.
­ continued rapid population growth as a in the renewable-energy sector. We
The scientists pleaded that we stabi- primary driver behind many ecological have learned much since 1992, but
lize the human population, describing and even societal threats (Crist et al. the advancement of urgently needed
how our large numbers—swelled by 2017). By failing to adequately limit changes in environmental policy,
another 2 billion people since 1992, population growth, reassess the role human behavior, and global inequities
a 35 percent increase—exert stresses of an economy rooted in growth, is still far from sufficient.
on Earth that can overwhelm other reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize Sustainability transitions come
efforts to realize a sustainable future renewable energy, protect habitat, about in diverse ways, and all require
(Crist et al. 2017). They implored that restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt civil-society pressure and evidence-
we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emis- defaunation, and constrain invasive based advocacy, political leadership,
sions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce alien species, humanity is not taking and a solid understanding of policy

1026 BioScience • December 2017 / Vol. 67 No. 12


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Ozone depletors (Mt CFC− Freshwater resources Reconstructed marine


a. 11−equivalent per year)
b. per capita (1000 m3)
c. catch (Mt per year)
1.5 130

12
1.2 110

10
0.9 90

8
0.6 70

0.3 6 50

Dead zones (number Total forest Vertebrate species


d. of affected regions)
e. (billion ha)
f. abundance (% of 1970)
100
600
4.10
80
400

4.05
60
200

4.00
40
CO2 emissions Temperature change Population
g. (Gt CO2 per year)
h. (°C)
i. (billion individuals)
1.00
7
30 0.75
6

0.50 5 Humans
20
0.25 4

3
0.00 Ruminant livestock
10
1960 1992 2016 1960 1992 2016 1960 1992 2016
Year

Figure 1. Trends over time for environmental issues identified in the 1992 scientists’ warning to humanity. The years
before and after the 1992 scientists’ warning are shown as gray and black lines, respectively. Panel (a) shows emissions
of halogen source gases, which deplete stratospheric ozone, assuming a constant natural emission rate of 0.11 Mt CFC-
11-equivalent per year. In panel (c), marine catch has been going down since the mid-1990s, but at the same time, fishing
effort has been going up (supplemental file S1). The vertebrate abundance index in panel (f) has been adjusted for
taxonomic and geographic bias but incorporates relatively little data from developing countries, where there are the fewest
studies; between 1970 and 2012, vertebrates declined by 58 percent, with freshwater, marine, and terrestrial populations
declining by 81, 36, and 35 percent, respectively (file S1). Five-year means are shown in panel (h). In panel (i), ruminant
livestock consist of domestic cattle, sheep, goats, and buffaloes. Note that y-axes do not start at zero, and it is important to
inspect the data range when interpreting each graph. Percentage change, since 1992, for the variables in each panel are as
follows: (a) –68.1%; (b) –26.1%; (c) –6.4%; (d) +75.3%; (e) –2.8%; (f) –28.9%; (g) +62.1%; (h) +167.6%; and (i) humans:
+35.5%, ruminant livestock: +20.5%. Additional descriptions of the variables and trends, as well as sources for figure 1,
are included in file S1.

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instruments, markets, and other driv- loss, humanity must practice a Peter Stoel, Karen Josephson, Robin
ers. Examples of diverse and effective more environmentally sustainable Comforto, Terralyn Vandetta, Luke
steps humanity can take to transition alternative to business as usual. This Painter, Rodolfo Dirzo, Guy Peer, Peter
to sustainability include the follow- prescription was well articulated by Haswell, and Robert Johnson.
ing (not in order of importance or the world’s leading scientists 25 years
urgency): (a) prioritizing the enact- ago, but in most respects, we have not Supplemental material
ment of connected well-funded and heeded their warning. Soon it will be Supplementary data are available at
well-managed reserves for a significant too late to shift course away from our BIOSCI online including supplemental
proportion of the world’s terrestrial, failing trajectory, and time is running file 1 and supplemental file 2 (full list
marine, freshwater, and aerial habi- out. We must recognize, in our day- of all 15,364 signatories).
tats; (b) maintaining nature’s ecosys- to-day lives and in our governing
tem services by halting the conversion institutions, that Earth with all its life References cited
of forests, grasslands, and other native is our only home. Crist E, Mora C, Engelman R. 2017. The interac-
tion of human population, food production,
habitats; (c) restoring native plant
and biodiversity protection. Science 356:
communities at large scales, particu- Epilogue 260–264.
larly forest landscapes; (d) rewilding We have been overwhelmed with the Hansen J, et al. 2013. Assessing “dangerous
regions with native species, especially support for our article and thank the climate change”: Required reduction of
apex predators, to restore ecological more than 15,000 signatories from all carbon emissions to protect young people,
future generations and nature. PLOS ONE
processes and dynamics; (e) devel- ends of the Earth (see supplemental
8 (art. e81648).
oping and adopting adequate policy file S2 for list of signatories). As far as Keenan, RJ, Reams GA, Achard F, de Freitas JV,
instruments to remedy defaunation, we know, this is the most scientists to Grainger A, Lindquist E. 2015. Dynamics
the poaching crisis, and the exploi- ever co-sign and formally support a of global forest area: Results from the FAO
tation and trade of threatened spe- published journal article. In this paper, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.
Forest Ecology and Management 352: 9–20.
cies; (f) reducing food waste through we have captured the environmental
Ripple WJ, Smith P, Haberl H, Montzka SA,
education and better infrastructure; trends over the last 25 years, showed McAlpine C, Boucher DH. 2014. Ruminants,
(g) promoting dietary shifts towards realistic concern, and suggested a few climate change and climate policy. Nature
mostly plant-based foods; (h) further examples of possible remedies. Now, Climate Change 4: 2–5. doi:10.1038/
reducing fertility rates by ensuring as an Alliance of World Scientists nclimate2081
that women and men have access to (­scientists.forestry.oregonstate.edu) and William J. Ripple (bill.ripple@oregonstate.edu),
education and voluntary family-plan- with the public at large, it is important Christopher Wolf, and Thomas M. Newsome
ning services, especially where such to continue this work to ­document chal- are affiliated with the Global Trophic Cascades
resources are still lacking; (i) increas- lenges, as well as improved s­ituations, Program in the Department of Forest Ecosystems
ing outdoor nature education for and to develop clear, trackable, and and Society at Oregon State University, in
Corvallis. TMN is also affiliated with the Centre
children, as well as the overall engage- practical solutions while communicat- for Integrative Ecology at Deakin University, in
ment of society in the appreciation ing trends and needs to world leaders. Geelong, Australia, and the School of Life and
of nature; (j) divesting of monetary Working together while respecting the Environmental Sciences at The University of
investments and purchases to encour- diversity of people and opinions and Sydney, Australia. Mauro Galetti is affiliated
age positive environmental change; the need for social justice around the with the Instituto de Biociências, Universidade
Estadual Paulista, Departamento de Ecologia,
(k) devising and promoting new green world, we can make great progress for in São Paulo, Brazil. Mohammed Alamgir
technologies and massively adopting the sake of humanity and the planet on is affiliated with the Institute of Forestry and
renewable energy sources while phas- which we depend. Environmental Sciences at the University of
ing out subsidies to energy production Spanish, Portuguese, and French Chittagong, in Bangladesh. Eileen Crist is
through fossil fuels; (l) revising our versions of this article can be found affiliated with the Department of Science and
Technology in Society at Virginia Tech, in
economy to reduce wealth inequality in file S1. Blacksburg. Mahmoud I. Mahmoud is affiliated
and ensure that prices, taxation, and with the ICT/Geographic Information Systems
incentive systems take into account Acknowledgments Unit of the National Oil Spill Detection and
the real costs which consumption pat- Peter Frumhoff and Doug Boucher Response Agency (NOSDRA), in Abuja, Nigeria.
terns impose on our environment; and of the Union of Concerned Scientists, William F. Laurance is affiliated with the Centre
for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability
(m) estimating a scientifically defen- as well as the following individuals, Science and the College of Science and
sible, sustainable human population provided thoughtful discussions, Engineering at James Cook University, in Cairns,
size for the long term while rallying comments, or data for this paper: Stuart Queensland, Australia.
nations and leaders to support that Pimm, David Johns, David Pengelley,
vital goal. Guillaume Chapron, Steve Montzka,
To prevent widespread misery Robert Diaz, Drik Zeller, Gary
and catastrophic biodiversity Gibson, Leslie Green, Nick Houtman, doi:10.1093/biosci/bix125

1028 BioScience • December 2017 / Vol. 67 No. 12


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