Nearly 14,000 scientists have signed a new climate emergency paper, warning that "untold suffering" awaits the human race if we don't start tackling global warming head-on, effective immediately.
The new paper, published July 28 in the journal BioScience and led by researchers from Oregon State University, is an update of a 2019 paper that declared a global "climate emergency" and evaluated Earth's vital signs based on 31 variables — including greenhouse gas emissions, surface temperature changes, glacial ice mass loss, Amazon rainforest loss, plus various social factors like global gross domestic product (GDP) and fossil fuel subsidies.
Unsurprisingly, the authors of the new paper find that Earth's vitals have only deteriorated over the last two years, with 18 of the report's 31 categories showing new all-time record highs or lows, the authors wrote. Greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high, while glacial ice thickness is at its lowest point in 71 years of record keeping, the report found. The world is richer than it's ever been (measured by global GDP), while the sky is more polluted than ever (measured by carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide concentrations in the atmosphere).
"The updated planetary vital signs we present reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual," the authors wrote in the study. "A major lesson from COVID-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required, and they must rise above politics."
While the report includes some positive trends — like record increases in the use of solar and wind energy, and institutions divesting money from the fossil fuel industry — it paints a generally bleak picture of the future, accentuated by ongoing surges in climate-related disasters like floods, hurricanes, wildfires and heat waves, the authors wrote. The planet may also be about to pass (or has already passed) critical natural tipping points — such as the Amazon rainforest becoming a carbon source rather than a carbon sink — from which it will be hard to recover, the team added.
This all boils down to one conclusion: The future habitability of our planet depends on immediate, large-scale action, the authors wrote.
To accomplish this task, the team suggests a three-pronged near-term policy approach: 1) Implement a "significant" global carbon price to reduce emissions; 2) phase out and eventually ban fossil fuels; and 3) restore and protect key carbon-rich ecosystems, like forests and wetlands, to preserve the planet's largest carbon sinks and protect biodiversity.
"Implementing these three policies soon will help ensure the long-term sustainability of human civilization and give future generations the opportunity to thrive," the authors wrote. "The speed of change is essential, and new climate policies should be part of COVID-19 recovery plans."
The researchers plan to release another planetary "check-in" in the coming years. Hopefully, that future report will show more signs of positive change as more nations take the severity of climate change seriously. Or, perhaps it will reflect the collapse of society. Time — and political action — will tell.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.