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Issue #1597      June 12, 2013

Maintaining humanity’s life support systems in the 21st Century

“Scientists’ Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support” is the name of a statement launched on May 23, by participating scientists from around the world.

As of May 21, the statement had been signed by more than 520 prominent scientists from 44 countries that cover most of the world, including dozens of members of the US National Academy of Sciences and equivalent scientific bodies from other countries. The next goals are to deliver the statement to President Obama, all members of the US House of Representatives, the Senate, and all state governors, and ultimately to leaders throughout the world in both government and business.

The following are key points from the statement which offers information and policy advice for policy makers:

Earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Human impacts are causing alarming levels of harm to our planet. As scientists who study the interaction of people with the rest of the biosphere using a wide range of approaches, we agree that the evidence that humans are damaging their ecological life-support systems is overwhelming.

We further agree that, based on the best scientific information available, human quality of life will suffer substantial degradation by the year 2050 if we continue on our current path.

Science unequivocally demonstrates the human impacts of key concern:

Climate disruption – more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species.

Extinctions – not since the dinosaurs went extinct have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.

Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems – we have ploughed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40 percent of Earth’s ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of our direct or indirect influences.

Pollution – environmental contaminants in the air, water and land are at record levels and increasing, seriously harming people and wildlife in unforeseen ways.

Human population growth and consumption patterns – seven billion people alive today will likely grow to 9.5 billion by 2050, and the pressures of heavy material consumption among the middle class and wealthy may well intensify.

By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.

As members of the scientific community actively involved in assessing the biological and societal impacts of global change, we are sounding this alarm to the world. For humanity’s continued health and prosperity, we all – individuals, businesses, political leaders, religious leaders, scientists, and people in every walk of life – must work hard to solve these five global problems, starting today:

1. Climate Disruption

Reduce effects of climate disruption by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and by implementing adaptation strategies to deal with the consequences of climate change already underway.

Viable approaches include accelerating development and deployment of carbon-neutral energy technologies to replace fossil fuels; making buildings, transportation, manufacturing systems, and settlement patterns more energy-efficient; and conserving forests and regulating land conversion to maximise carbon sequestration.

Adapting to the inevitable effects of climate change will be crucial for coastal areas threatened by sea-level rise; ensuring adequate water supplies to many major population centres; maintaining agricultural productivity; and for managing biodiversity and ecosystem reserves.

2. Extinctions

Slow the very high extinction rates that are leading to a global loss of biodiversity.

Viable approaches include assigning economic valuation to the ways natural ecosystems contribute to human well-being; and managing all ecosystems, both in human-dominated regions and in regions far from direct human influence, to sustain and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services. It will be critical to develop cross-jurisdictional cooperation to recognise and mitigate the interactions of global pressures (for example, climate change, ocean acidification) and local pressures (land transformation, overfishing, poaching endangered species, etc.).

3. Pollution

Curb the manufacture and release of toxic substances into the environment.

Viable approaches include using current science about the molecular mechanisms of toxicity and applying the precautionary principle (verification of no harmful effects) to guide regulation of existing chemicals and design of new ones. We have the knowledge and ability to develop a new generation of materials that are inherently far safer than what is available today.

4. Ecosystem Transformation

Minimise transformation of Earth’s remaining natural ecosystems into farms, suburbs, and other human constructs.

Viable agricultural approaches include increasing efficiency in existing food-producing areas; improving food-distribution systems; and decreasing waste.

Viable development approaches include enhancing urban landscapes to accommodate growth rather than encouraging suburban sprawl; siting infrastructure to minimise impacts on natural ecosystems; and investing in vital “green infrastructure”, such as through restoring wetlands, oyster reefs, and forests to secure water quality, flood control, and boost access to recreational benefits.

5. Population Growth and Consumption

Bring world population growth to an end as early as possible and begin a gradual decline.

An achievable target is no more than 8.5 billion people by 2050 and a peak population size of no more than 9 billion, which through natural demographic processes can decrease to less than 7 billion by 2100.

Viable approaches include ensuring that everyone has access to education, economic opportunities, and health care, including family planning services, with a special focus on women’s rights.

Decrease per-capita resource use, particularly in developed countries

Viable approaches include improving efficiency in production, acquisition, trade, and use of goods and promoting environmentally-friendly changes in consumer behaviour.

You can read the full report and add your name as an endorser of the report at mahb.stanford.edu  

Next article – The choice for the working class – Statement of CC of CP of Turkey

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