Scientists’ warning to humanity over health of planet

More than 16,000 scientists from 184 countries have published a second warning to humanity advising

In 1992, 1,700 independent scientists signed the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” The letter warned that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course” and if environmental damage was not stopped, our future was at risk.

25 years on many scientists (and some politicians and others) believe that the world still faces major environmental challenges. So environmental scientist William Ripple and his colleagues created a new letter. Since it was published in the journal BioScience on Monday, hundreds more scientists have signed on.

The letter:


Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”

In their manifesto, they showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world. They expressed concern about current, impending, or potential damage on planet Earth involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth.

They proclaimed that fundamental changes were urgently needed to avoid the consequences our present course would bring.

The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approaching many of the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm.

The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future.

They implored that we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.

Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production— particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014).

Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.

Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends.

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%.

We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Crist et al. 2017).

By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.

As most political leaders respond to pressure, scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life. With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and
other resources.

The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively. We have also made advancements in reducing extreme poverty and hunger (www.worldbank.org). Other notable progress (which does not yet show up in the global data sets in figure 1) include the rapid decline in fertility rates in many regions attributable to investments in girls’ and women’s education (www.un.org/esa/population), the promising decline in the rate of deforestation in some regions, and the rapid growth in the renewable-energy sector.

We have learned much since 1992, but the advancement of urgently needed changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities is still far from sufficient. Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence based advocacy, political leadership, and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets, and other drivers.

Examples of diverse and effective steps humanity can take to transition to sustainability include the following (not in order of importance or
urgency):

(a) prioritizing the enactment of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a significant proportion of the world’s terrestrial, marine, freshwater, and aerial habitats;

(b) maintaining nature’s ecosystemservices by halting the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats;

(c) restoring native plant communities at large scales, particularly forest landscapes;

(d) rewilding regions with native species, especially apex predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics;

(e) developing and adopting adequate policy instruments to remedy defaunation, the poaching crisis, and the exploitation and trade of threatened species;

(f) reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure;

(g) promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods;

(h) further reducing fertility rates by ensuring that women and men have access to education and voluntary family-planning services, especially where such resources are still lacking;

(i) increasing outdoor nature education for children, as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation
of nature;

(j) divesting of monetary investments and purchases to encourage positive environmental change;

(k) devising and promoting new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing
out subsidies to energy production through fossil fuels;

(l) revising our economy to reduce wealth inequality and ensure that prices, taxation, and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment; and

(m) estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.

To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning.

Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our dayto-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.

Full letter with supplemental files:

http://scientists.forestry.oregonstate.edu/sites/sw/files/Warning_article_with_supp_11-13-17.pdf

Oils are unhealthy now

Another study in the neverending uncertainty about what is healthy or unhealthy to eat says that vegetable oils used for cooking are unhealthy.

Cooking with vegetable oils releases toxic cancer-causing chemicals, say experts

Cooking with vegetable oils releases toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases, according to leading scientists, who are now recommending food be fried in olive oil, coconut oil, butter or even lard.

The results of a series of experiments threaten to turn on its head official advice that oils rich in polyunsaturated fats – such as corn oil and sunflower oil – are better for the health than the saturated fats in animal products.

Scientists found that heating up vegetable oils led to the release of high concentrations of chemicals called aldehydes, which have been linked to illnesses including cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Martin Grootveld, a professor of bioanalytical chemistry and chemical pathology, said his research showed “a typical meal of fish and chips”, fried in vegetable oil, contained as much as 100 to 200 times more toxic aldehydes than the safe daily limit set by the World Health Organisation.

In contrast, heating up butter, olive oil and lard in tests produced much lower levels of aldehydes. Coconut oil produced the lowest levels of the harmful chemicals.

We have had “butter is unhealthy” rammed down our throats for years.

Coconut oil was rated here as the most healthy. Last year the Herald reported:

Coconut oil seen as health hazard

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat and should not be used as regular cooking oil despite being the “trendy thing”, the New Zealand Heart Foundation says.

The foundation commissioned food industry consultant Dr Laurence Eyres to review existing research on coconut oil and its effect on heart health after what it deemed was “widespread misinformation” about the benefits.

Coconut oil had been heavily marketed over recent years as a “super-food” but Eyres said the health claims did not stack up.

“Traditionally, coconut oil hasn’t been recommended because it is extremely high in saturated fat. This advice remains, despite the large number of marketing claims to the contrary,” he said.

Switching to coconut oil was likely to lead to an increase in cholesterol levels and could potentially increase the risk of coronary heart disease, Eyres said.

If we avoided eating everything found in a study to be unhealthy – fats, oils, salt, sugar, processed foods etc there wouldn’t be much left for us to choose from.

A lack of variety is probably bad for us as well.

The stress and worry about whether what we are eating might kill us might end up killing us.

The best dietary advice seems to be moderation in everything. Bacause as the saying goes, if you don’t eat you don’t shit. And if you donm’t shit you die.