Our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.
Editor's note: This piece was originally published at Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere (MAHB) and is republished here with permission.
For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky.
Then it was gone.
In November, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world's resources, they declared, we are facing "widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss." They warned that time is running out: "Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory."
This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the Earth's fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that "we all have but one lifeboat."
This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world's leaders ignored what they were told 25 years earlier. Whether it's CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday.
The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tons and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it's been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.
Along with their warning, the scientists list a dozen or so examples of the kind of actions that could turn humanity's trajectory around. These include indisputably necessary strategies such as halting the conversion of native habitats into farmland; restoring and re-wilding ecologies; phasing out fossil fuel subsidies; and promoting dietary shifts toward plant-based foods.
With the future of humanity at stake, why aren't we already doing these things? What will it really take for our civilization to change course and save itself from destruction?