Some 1,700 of the world's leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel
laureates in the sciences, issued this appeal on November 18, 1992. The Warning
was written and spearheaded by UCS Chair Henry Kendall.
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities
inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical
resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk
the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms,
and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life
in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid
the collision our present course will bring about. The environment is suffering
Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultraviolet radiation
at the earth's surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms.
Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing
widespread injury to humans, forests and crops.
Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food
production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world's
surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries,
containing 40% of the world's population. Pollution of rivers, lakes and
ground water further limits the supply.
Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal
regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The total marine catch
is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries
have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded
soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock
waste -- some of it toxic.
Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive Land abandonment, is
a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry.
Since 1945, 11% of the earth's vegetated surface has been degraded -- an
area larger than India and China combined -- and per capita food production
in many parts of the world is decreasing.
Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are
being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will
be gone in a few years and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone
before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant
and animal species.
The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all
species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they
hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that
genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world's biological
systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself. Much of this damage
is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent. Other processes appear
to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere
from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel
burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions
of global warming are still uncertain -- with projected effects ranging from
tolerable to very severe -- but the potential risks are very great. Our massive
tampering with the world's interdependent web of life -- coupled with the
environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate
change -- could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable
collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics
we only imperfectly understand. Uncertainty over the extent of these effects
cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threat.
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent
is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability
to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching
many of the earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the
environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued
without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.
Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the
natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future.
If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits
to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will
not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes
that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's
5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute
poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.
No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats
we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably
We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby
warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of
the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be
avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated
What We Must Do -- Five inextricably linked
areas must be addressed simultaneously:
1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore
and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on. We must, for
example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy
sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and
water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched
to third world needs -- small scale and relatively easy to implement. We
must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the
loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.
2. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively. We
must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials,
including expansion of conservation and recycling.
3. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations
recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the
adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.
4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.
5. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their
own reproductive decisions.
The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They
must greatly reduce their over-consumption, if we are to reduce pressures
on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the
obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only
the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills
for these tasks.
Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest:
whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can
escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation
can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition,
environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with
incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike. Developing
nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats
they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations
go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental
decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic and environmental
Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence
and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war -- amounting
to over $1 trillion annually -- will be badly needed in the new tasks and
should be diverted to the new challenges.
A new ethic is required -- a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility
for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth's
limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must
no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement,
convince reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples
themselves to effect the needed changes.
The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and
affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.
We require the help of the world community of scientists -- natural, social,
We require the help of the world's business and industrial leaders;
We require the help of the worlds religious leaders; and
We require the help of the world's peoples.
We call on all to join us in this task.
[List of signatories available at World
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