When Dr. Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist (and the icon of the wildly popular TV show “Big Bang Theory”) pronounced earlier in November at a summit in China that the human species had 600 years to survive on planet Earth, his prediction was met with a collective head-scratching. It was said that if Hawking was not the esteemed physicist he is, this pronouncement would be considered, well, a little loco.
But given the latest global warning issued to humanity by over 15,000 scientists around the world, Hawking may not be that far out.
The global warning originated with William Ripple of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, who along with his graduate student, Christopher Wolf, collected global data showing trends over the past 25 years (since the first global warning in 1992.)
The study of the data shows:
- A decline in freshwater availability.
- Unsustainable marine fisheries.
- Ocean dead zones.
- Forest losses.
- Dwindling biodiversity.
- Climate change.
- Population growth.
Since the publication of his study in the journal BioScience, Ripple took to social media with his message, and in a short time collected more than 15,000 signatures (527 are from Canada, ranking eighth among 184 countries). “Since 1992, carbon emissions have increased 62 percent,” 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 percent increase.”
Ripple does note that there has been a decline in fertility rates but underscores that it’s not so much those human numbers that adversely affect our environment, as human activities and behaviour that increase our individual carbon footprints. There has been a rapid growth of the middle class over the last 25 years, and its focus on consumerism is what takes a toll on the environment.
The scientists offer five broad initiatives to turn the Earth’s extinction trajectory around:
- Move away from fossil fuels and focus on green technologies and renewable energy.
- Increase conservation of natural resources such as energy and water.
- Stabilize population growth through promotion and acceptance of family planning.
- Reduce poverty which often leads people to environment-depleting actions (i.e., deforestation, animal poaching, overfishing).
- Ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women’s education and control over their own reproductive decisions. “As women and girls get better educated, they have fewer kids, and the kids they do have more resources so they’re better-taken care of and they are more successful,” says science educator Bill Nye.
There is one positive finding in Ripple’s study. The data shows a rapid decline in ozone depletion. This progress is attributed to decades-long international efforts to ban ozone-depleting chemicals. “The rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the scientists wrote.
Let’s hope that the same decisive collective will surge behind the five Earth-saving solutions offered in this second global warning. As much as we like him, let’s do whatever it takes to prove Dr. Stephen Hawking wrong.