Monday, November 13, 2017

It's 15,000 Voices This Time. The Message is the Same. Change or Die.

In 1992, 1500 scientists warned the world to change or die. 25-years later it's the same message only this time it carries the signatures of 15,000 scientists.

This new cautioning — which gained popularity on Twitter with #ScientistsWarningToHumanity — garnered more than 15,000 signatures.

William Ripple of Oregon State University's College of Forestry, who started the campaign, said that he came across the 1992 warning last February, and noticed that this year happened to mark the 25th anniversary.

Together with his graduate student, Christopher Wolf, he decided to revisit the concerns raised then, and collect global data for different variables to show trends over the past 25 years.

Ripple found:
A decline in freshwater availability.
Unsustainable marine fisheries.
Ocean dead zones.
Forest losses.
Dwindling biodiversity.
Climate change.
Population growth.

There was one positive outcome, however: a rapid decline in ozone depletion.

"The trends are alarming, and they speak for themselves," Ripple said, though he notes the improvement in the ozone hole illustrates that humanity can make change when needed.
"The scientists around the world are very concerned about the state of the world, the environmental situation and climate change," Ripple said. "So this allows them to have a collective voice."
Growing middle class and its carbon footprint

"Since 1992, carbon emissions have increased 62 per cent," Ripple said. "And the global average temperature change has paralleled that. Also since 1992, we have two billion more people on Earth, which is a 35 per cent increase."

However, he notes that there has been a rapid decline in fertility rates, but said that likely won't show up in the data until later.

One of the chief concerns is population growth, but not in terms of numbers. Instead, the focus is on our ecological footprint with an increase in consumerism that puts a toll on the environment.

The Rampaging Middle Class

"What is happening is that the global middle class is growing, and it's growing extremely rapidly," said co-author Eileen Crist, a professor at Virginia Tech's Department of Science and Technology in Society.

That comes from the very positive outcome of getting people out of poverty. But there's a catch.

"But what sometimes people miss … they miss what's happening in the middle," Crist said. "Which from an ecological perspective of the planet is the most significant event: the rapid rise of the global middle class, which is now more than three billion people in the world and it's expected, by 2050 or so, to rise to five billion people."

And it's the middle class where people begin to increase their carbon footprint: they buy appliances and cars, eat more meat and travel.

In August I wrote a post in which I tried to estimate just how much our per capita ecological footprint, measured in GDP, had increased since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The only reliable stats I found were for England. It worked out to roughly a 30 to 40 times increase per person.

One of the most elusive statistics to hunt down is per capita GDP growth. It is a measure of output but it also reflects energy and resources consumed, production of goods, services and waste. Record keeping in Britain has allowed per capita GDP to be charted from today back to 1270. The results are impressive. Per capita GDP first reached 2,000 pounds (adjusted to 2013 sterling) in 1832. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had swelled that to 4,800 pounds per capita. The 12,000 pound mark fell in 1970. That doubled again to 24,000 pounds per capita GDP in the year 2000, increasing to 28,000 just before the crash of 2008. To make sense of this, the average Briton's production increased from 4,800 pounds in 1900 to close out that century at 24,000 pounds per capital GDP. In the course of one century, the 20th, that's a five fold increase in per capita GDP. In 1900 the global population stood at 1.6 billion. We closed out that century at just over 6 billion and now stand at 7.5 billion. Taking total per capita GDP in 1900 and total population in 1900 we have now grown humanity's ecological footprint by something in the order of 30 to 40 times. And we're still trapped in perpetual, exponential growth.

Reading this again I realize my calculations omitted one critical factor, the decline in rates of mortality/the increase in longevity over that same period. Not only has our production/consumption (GDP) gone up and our overall population soared but we're also living longer by an order of two, even three decades since 1900. If nothing else that makes the 30-40X estimate pretty safe.

And yet our political leadership, across the world, still clings to neoclassical economics and the slavish pursuit of perpetual, exponential GDP growth. That is their orthodoxy and, even though it has now reached a level of toxicity, they have no interest whatsoever in changing course no matter how many scientists urge just that.


Toby said...

Population growth seems to be encouraged as a function of voodoo economics, the perpetual growth syndrome. Here in Canada we have a lot of unemployment in some areas but the government wants more immigrants and temporary workers. Even small towns encourage more housing for more more customers; isn't growth wonderful. Unfortunately there's a hitch.

Where I live we have a semi arid climate. Agriculture is dependent upon irrigation. Our water supply ultimately comes from mountain runoff. We are very much dependent on heavy snowfall in the mountains. We are already seeing changes. If we lose the water runoff we are in trouble. The last thing we will need is more thirsty mouths.

Wherever you live you can easily forecast threats from climate change and you can see how it magnifies with more people.

The Mound of Sound said...

The two problems of overpopulation and the emerging consumer class are greatest in China, India and more recently Africa. Metropolitan Tokyo has a greater population than all of Canada, Toby, so it's important to keep some perspective. Los Angeles has almost half our population. The largest eleven cities in the world each have a populace two-thirds of Canada's population.

Lorne said...

I know trolls make a practice of being obnoxious, Mound, but I can't help but feel disheartened over reader comments following the CBC report on this story. If idiocy and ignorance and rabid ideology were truly profitable, few, it sometimes seems, would be living in poverty.

The Mound of Sound said...

Recent polls, Lorne, suggest that this cadre of trolls is falling ever further behind public opinion in Canada. Their comments are so trite, so banal as to render them meaningless, utterly irrelevant. Ignore them.

Anonymous said...

Anyong...twiddle dee, twiddle dumb.