Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 35: 9 megatrend graphs show little base for optimism

Over 15,000 scientists have endorsed a newly published paper titled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’ that’s set to quickly become a landmark publication. Essentially it’s an overview update (and very digestible, just a thousand words) on the State of our Planet, based on the progression of 9 classical sustainability indicators, and a sequel to a similar publication from exactly 25 years ago.

Since that year, 1992, the year of the famous Rio Conference where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was founded, one of these indicators has improved, one seems to have plateaued [but not for a good reason] – and the 7 others are dramatically deteriorating, including the steady rise of CO2 and global temperature, and a seemingly unstoppable decline of Earth’s biodiversity. The below 9 megatrend graphs are central to the updated publication:

9 megatrends of Earth, 1 graph
A debate between an optimist and a pessimist often seems intrinsically unsettled. A matter of style, a matter of choice. Be who you want to be. Well that really is a silly model. Whether you should be optimistic or pessimistic should be situation-dependent, it should depend on facts. Or rather: figures – trends. If an issue becomes better over time: optimism is justified and also good. If an issue gets worse: don’t be an irresponsible fool. (And especially: don’t call yourself an ‘ecomodernist’. That’s a political ideology that shows very poor understanding of the above megatrends, and promotes dangerous escalation on all fronts.)

25 years ago the International Union of Concerned Scientist sounded an historical alarm bell in a publication called ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’. It had the backing of 1,700 independent scientists, including many Nobel laureates and warned of 9 quickly deteriorating global sustainability trends.

Yesterday an update was published in the journal Bioscience by eight authors led by William Ripple of the Global Trophic Cascades Program in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, with the backing of 15,364 colleague-scientists.

The ozone crisis. A near miss – and a showcase for science, politics, humanity – and the importance of UN climate treaties

First the good news: one of these issues has since greatly improved, a positive showcase for human attempts to work towards a sustainable planet. That issue is ozone depletion.

The ozone crisis can be compared with a near miss by an asteroid – it could have destroyed human civilisation [and nearly did] without us even knowing it before it was too late [long atmospheric halftime is a killer, much like thermal climate inertia].

But thanks to crucially important, but scarily accidental scientific discoveries by people like the Nobel Prize-awarded atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen [coincidentally also credited as coiner of the word Anthropocene – the word this series is centred around] and zealous, weather-proof and very much undercredited members of the British Antarctic Survey including Jonathan Shanklin we knew of that impending danger just about in time to still be able to do something about it – and, perhaps more surprisingly, we actually did, through international cooperation under the UN Montreal Protocol and effective global CFC mitigation policy.

[So, let’s keep that in mind. Modern sustainability crises can be solved – and the route is actually through international cooperation. Long live the United Nations, as a general concept that is. And please also realise the ozone crisis is not over yet.]

Now if we look at the other graphs we see one that seems to plateau – and that’s for a bad reason. The y-axis shows the amount of fish that’s fished from the oceans. As overfishing progresses it can’t continue to rise and fish stocks across the oceans are depleted – placing overfishing very much at the forefront of escalating sustainability crises.

Human population growth, climate change and the extinction crisis

All other trends, no surprise to regulars of, are all deteriorating, including the steady rise by the billions of Earth’s human population growth – amounting to a 35.5 percent increase since 1992. Ruminant livestock meanwhile has increased by 20.5 percent, increasing related environmental pressures.

Over this same timeframe global CO2 emissions have increased by 62.1 percent and (as a main consequence) the global temperature rise by 167.6 percent.

Meanwhile freshwater resources per capita went down by 26.1 percent between 1992 and 2017. The world’s forest cover decreased by 2.8 percent in total (equating to over 100 million hectares of deforestated land). The number of ecological ‘dead zones’ increased by 75.3 percent and biodiversity, here expressed as vertebrate species abundance declined between 1992 and 2017 by an in our eyes absolutely staggering 28.9 percent (compared to a 1970 baseline). And remember: this is in just one quarter of a century – and we are talking about trends that show no sign of slowing down.

Rethinking human development

So, if we look at the whole of modern sustainability issues the facts tell you these are quickly escalating – and therefore it seems very unlikely that we could breach those trends and solve those issues if we continue on our current trajectories of human development.

If you are a scientist yourself, and you want to endorse this publication, then please follow this link to the special Oregon State University page.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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