“Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and ‘tell it like it is.'” So begins a new article in the scientific journal BioScience, signed by 11,258 scientists from 153 countries, that lays out the urgency of the climate crisis in straightforward terms: Earth is facing a climate emergency.
The first global climate conference was in 1979, and scientists have sounded the alarm repeatedly since then. But using this particular phrase is new. “Up until this point, there has been no large group of scientists declaring a climate emergency,” says lead author William Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University.
Several governments have made the same declaration, from New York City to the national government in the U.K. The scientists wanted to add further weight to those declarations and underscore the need for immediate action. The article shares a set of simple charts illustrating trends in society impacting the problem—from the growth in meat consumption and fossil fuel use to increases in solar and wind power—and then shares another set of charts outlining the impacts, from ocean acidity to the amount of ice lost in the Arctic to the growth in forest fires in the U.S.
“We’re calling these vital signs of climate change, and we’re hoping that people will examine the simple figures and make their own conclusions and engage in the discussion and the debate on what to do next,” says Ripple.
The scientists suggest that six steps are key for action, for businesses, governments, and the rest of society:
- Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, and implementing energy-saving practices on a massive scale
- Reducing powerful pollutants like methane and black carbon that have a strong short-term effect on the climate
- Restoring nature, from mangrove forests to grasslands, that can sequester CO2
- Reducing meat consumption, and dramatically cutting food waste
- Transitioning to a carbon-free economy that prioritizes human well-being, not GDP growth
- Stabilizing population growth through policies like better education for young girls around the world, and giving women the access they need for family planning
“Individually, none of these are new, but we put them together as a short list of six, trying to bring together a holistic approach to thinking about climate change that is very broad and much broader than most climate reports will write about,” says Ripple. It’s not enough, he says, to make incremental progress in cutting emissions. “What we are calling for is transformative change.”