By Kat Kerlin
Five UC Davis faculty members joined more than 500 top global change scientists in signing a statement that outlines the key environmental issues – from climate change to pollution and population growth — policymakers must address to avoid an approaching global tipping point.
The statement, released today, is a response to a challenge by California Gov. Jerry Brown for scientists to translate their findings into terms policymakers, industry and the general public can understand and begin to address.
The five UC Davis signatories include: parasitology professor Patricia Conrad, environmental science and policy professor Alan Hastings, oceanography professor John Largier, geology professor Geerat Vermeij, and evolution and ecology professor Susan Williams.
The leaders of the initiative, spearheaded by UC Berkeley and Stanford University, plan to join Gov. Brown today to release the 30-page statement, “Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century,” during the 2013 Water, Energy and Smart Technology Summit and Showcase, held at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
UC Berkeley professor Anthony Barnosky was the statement’s lead writer. Hastings and Vermeij, co-authored a study led by Barnosky about Earth’s tipping point, published June 7, 2012 in Nature. That study called for global cooperation to reduce world population growth and per-capita resource use, replace fossil fuels with sustainable sources, develop more efficient food production and distribution systems, and better protect land and ocean areas not already dominated by humans. Such themes were echoed in today’s consensus statement.
“Meeting the challenges of climate change will require real action based on scientifically sound principles, both right now and for the foreseeable future,” said Hastings. “This call to action by leading scientists should help to serve as a wake-up call and should spur both action by policymakers and further efforts by scientists to develop plans for action.”
The scientists identify five key threats:
- Climate change.
- High rates of extinction for both animals and plants.
- The loss of ecosystems around the planet as they are paved over, plowed or tamed.
- Human population growth.
The full text of the statement and a list of the 520 signatories — they hail from 44 countries and include two Nobel laureates, 33 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and members of other nation’s scientific academies — will be on the website of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, where it will be available for signing by other scientists and the general public.
The statement does not recommend specific strategies but pinpoints the major issues that need to be addressed. Among the recommendations are:
- Decrease greenhouse gas emissions and plan now to adapt to the consequences of climate change already underway. To achieve this, replace fossil fuels with carbon-neutral energy sources, such as solar, wind and biofuels; promote energy-efficient buildings, transportation and manufacturing systems; conserve forests and regulate land conversion to maximize carbon sequestration; and develop plans to deal with climatic impacts such as rising sea levels and shifting patterns of agricultural productivity.
- Slow the global loss of biodiversity by recognizing the long-term economic benefits and intangible gains that come from protecting natural ecosystems from ocean acidification, overfishing, forest conversion and other pressures.
- Curb the manufacture and release of toxic substances into the environment with regulations on existing and new chemicals. Bolster research to develop safer alternatives.
- Slow land conversion by improving the efficiency of food production in existing agricultural areas and better food distribution while decreasing waste. Encourage urban growth rather than suburban sprawl.
- Slow and eventually stop world population growth, with a peak of no more than 9 billion, decreasing to less than 7 billion by 2100. Do this by ensuring access to education, economic opportunities and health care, including family planning services, with a special focus on women’s rights. Promote environmentally friendly changes in consumer behavior.
“As members of the scientific community actively involved in assessing the biological and societal impacts of global change, we are sounding this alarm to the world,” the scientists write in the summary. “for humanity’s continued health and prosperity, we all – individuals, businesses, political leaders, religious leaders, scientists and people in every walk of life – must work hard to solve these five global problems, starting today.”