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Union of Concerned Scientists


World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity

 

Union of Concerned Scientists

 



This 1992 document was signed by 1,575 of the world’s most prominent scientists (including 99 of the 196 living Nobel laureates) and was sent to governmental leaders all over the world. The document asks people to take immediate action to stop the ever-increasing environmental degradation that threatens global life support systems on this planet. The appeal was coordinated by Dr. Henry Kendall, Nobel laureate (1990, Physics), and former Chairperson of the Union of Concerned Scientists.


“World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”

Introduction
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

The Environment
The environment is suffering critical stress:

The Atmosphere
Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultra-violet radiation at the earth’s surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to humans, forests, and crops.

Water Resources
Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world’s surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40% of the world’s population. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water further limits the supply.

Oceans
Destructive presure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world’s food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste—some of it toxic.

Soil
Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% of the earth’s vegetated surface has been degraded—an area larger than India and China combined—and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.

Forests
Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years, and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.

Living Species
The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world’s biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.

Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain—with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe—but potential risks are very great.

Our massive tampering with the world’s interdependent web of life—coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change—could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.

Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threats.

Population
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today’s 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.

Warning
We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

What We Must Do
Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

  1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth’s systems we depend on.
  2. We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be give to the development of energy sources matched to third world needs—small scale and relatively easy to implement.

    We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

  3. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.
  4. We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

  5. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.

  6. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

  7. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic, and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war—amounting to over $1 trillion annually—will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required—a new attitude toward discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists—natural, social, economic, political;

We require the help of the world’s business and industrial leaders;
We require the help of the world’s religious leaders; and
We require the help of the world’s peoples.
We call on all to join us in this task.

 

Selected List of Signatories

Anatole Abragam
France

Carlos Aguirre
Bolivia

Bruce Alberts
United States of America

Walter Alvarez
United States of America

Claude Allegre
France

Michael Alpers
Papua New Guinea

Viqar Uddin Ammad
Pakistan

Anne Anastasi
United States of America

Philip Anderson*
United States of America

Christian Anfinsen*
United States of America

How Ghee Ang
Singapore

Werner Arber*
Switzerland

Michael Atiyah
Great Britain

Mary Ellen Avery
United States of America

Julius Axelrod*
United States of America

Howard Bachrach
United States of America

John Backus
United States of America

Achmad Baiquni
Indonesia

David Baltimore*
United States of America

H. A. Barker
United States of America

Francisco J. Barrantes
Argentina

David Bates
Ireland

Alan Battersby
Great Britain

Georg Bednorz*
Switzerland

Baruj Benacerraf*
United States of America

Germot Bergold
Venezuela

Sune Bergstrom*
Sweden

Daniel Bes
Argentina

Hans Bethe*
United States of America

Arthur Birch
Australia

Michael Bishop*
United States of America

Konrad Bloch*
United States of America

Nicholaas Bloembergen*
United States of America

David Mervyn Blow
Great Britain

Baruch Blumberg*
United States of America

Bert Bolin
Sweden

Norman Borlaug*
United States of America

Frederick Bormann
United States of America

Raoul Bott
United States of America

Ronald Breslow
United States of America

Ricardo Bressani
Guatemala

Hermann Brück
Great Britain

Gerardo Budowski
Costa Rica

E. Margaret Burbidge
United States of America

Robert Burris
United States of America

Glenn Burton
United States of America

Adolf Butenandt*
Germany

Sergio Cabrera
Chile

Paulo C. Campos
Philippines

Ennio Candotti
Brazil

Henri Cartan
France

Carlos Chagas
Brazil

Sivaramakrishna Chandrasekhar
India

Georges Charpak*
France

Joseph Chatt
Great Britain

Shiing-Shen Chern
China

Christopher Chetsanga
Zimbabwe

Morris Cohen
United States of America

Stanley Cohen*
United States of America

Stanley N. Cohen
United States of America

Mildred Cohn
United States of America

E. J. Corey*
United States of America

John Cornforth *
Great Britain

Hector Croxatto
Chile

Paul Crutzen
Germany

Partha Dasgupta
Great Britain

Jean Dausset*
France

Ogulande Robert Davidson
Sierra Leone

Margaret Davis
United States of America

Luis D’Croz
Panama

Hans Debmelt*
United States of America

Gerard Debreu*
United States of America

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes*
France

Johann Deisenhofer*
Germany

Frederica de Laguna
United States of America

Pierre Deligne
France

Paul-Yves Denis
Canada

Frank Dixon
United States of America

Johanna Döbereiner
Brazil

Joseph Doob
United States of America

Renato Dulbecco*
United States of America

Heneri Dzinotyiweyi
Zimbabwe

Paul Ehrlich
United States of America

Manfred Eigen*
Germany

Samuel Eilenberg
United States of America

Thomas Eisner
United States of America

Mohammed T. El-Ashry
Egypt

Gertrude Elion*
United States of America

Mahdi Elmandjra
Morocco

Aina Elvius
Sweden

K. O. Emery
United States of America

Paul Erdos
Hungary

Richard Ernst*
Switzerland

Vittorio Ersparmer
Italy

Sandra Faber
United States of America

Nina Federoff
United States of America

Herman Feshbach
United States of America

Ernst Otto Fischer*
Germany

Inga Fischer-Hjalmars
Sweden

Michael Ellis Fisher
Great Britain

Val Fitch*
United States of America

Daflinn Follesdal
Norway

William Fowler*
United States of America

Otto Frankel
Australia

Herbert Friedman
United States of America

Jerome Friedman*
United States of America

Konstantin V. Frolov
Russia

Kenichi Fukui*
Japan

Madhav Gadgil
India

Mary Gaillard
United States of America

D. Carleton Gajdusek*
United States of America

Robert Gallo
United States of America

Rodrigo Gamez
Costa Rica

Antonio Garcia-Bellido
Spain

Leopoldo Garcia-Collin
Mexico

Percy Garnham
Great Britain

Richard Garwin
United States of America

Murray Gell-Mann*
United States of America

Georgii Georgiev
Russia

Humam Bishara Ghassib
Jordan

Ricardo Giacconi
United States of America

Eleanor J. Gibson
United States of America

Donald Glaser*
United States of America

Sheldon Glashow*
United States of America

Edward Goldberg
United States of America

Marvin Goldberger
United States of America

Maurice Goldhaber
United States of America

Coluthur Gopolan
India

Stephen Jay Gould
United States of America

James Gowans
France

Roger Green
New Zealand

Peter Greenwood
Great Britain

Roger Guillemin*
United States of America

Herbert Gutowsky
United States of America

Erwin Hahn
United States of America

Gonzalo Halffter
Mexico

Kerstin Hall
Sweden

Mohammed Ahmed Hamdan
Jordan

Adnan Hamoui
Kuwait

A. M. Harun-ar Rashid
Bangladesh

Mohammed H. A. Hassan
Sudan

Ahmed Hassanli
Tanzania

Herbert Hauptman*
United States of America

Stephen Hawking
Great Britain

Elizabeth Hay
United States of America

Dudley Herschbach*
United States of America

Gerhard Herzberg*
Canada

Antony Hewish*
Great Britain

George Hitchings*
United States of America

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin*
Great Britain

Roald Hoffman*
United States of America

Robert Holley*
United States of America

Nick Holonyak
United States of America

Lars Hormander
Sweden

Dorothy Horstmann
United States of America

John Houghton
Great Britain

Sarah Hrdy
United States of America

Kenneth Hsu
China

Kun Huang
China

Hiroshi Inose
Japan

Turner T. Isoun
Nigeria

François Jacob*
France

Carl-Olof Jacobson
Sweden

Dorothea Jameson
United States of America

Daniel Janzen
United States of America

Cecilia Jarlskog
Sweden

Louise Johnson
Great Britain

Harold Johnston
United States of America

Victor A. Kabanov
Russia

Jerome Karle*
United States of America

Robert Kates
United States of America

Frederick I. B. Kayanja
Uganda

Joseph Keller
United States of America

Henry Kendall*
United States of America

John Kendrew*
Great Britain

Elisabeth Kessler
Sweden

Maung-U Khin
Myamnar

Gurdev Khush
India

Susan Kieffer
United States of America

Klaus von Klitzing*
Germany

Aaron Klug*
Great Britain

E. F. Knipling
United States of America

Walter Kohn
United States of America

Janos Kornai
Hungary

Aderemi Kuku
Nigeria

Ikuo Kushiro
Japan

Devendra Lal
India

Gerald Cecil Lalor
Jamaica

Gerardo Lamas-Muller
Peru

Torvard Laurent
Sweden

Leon Lederman*
United States of America

Sang Soo Lee
Republic of Korea

Yuan T. Lee*
United States of America

Susan Leeman
United States of America

Jean-Marie Lehn*
France

Wassily Leontief*
United States of America

Luna Leopold
United States of America

Louis Leprince-Ringuet
France

Vladilen Letokhov
Russia

Rita Levi-Montalcini*
United States of America

Shan Tao Liao
China

Li Chang-lin
China

William Lipscomb*
United States of America

Jane Lubchenco
United States of America

Christopher Magazda
Zimbabwe

Lydia Phindile Makhubu
Swaziland

Khursheed Ahmad Malik
Pakistan

Lynn Margulis
United States of America

Paul Marks
United States of America

George Martine
Brazil

Frederico Mayor
Spain

Ernst Mayr
United States of America

Maclyn McCarty
United States of America

James McConnell
Ireland

Digby McLaren
Canada

James Meade*
Great Britain

Jerrold Meinwald
United States of America

M. G. K. Menon
India

Gennady Mesiatz
Russia

Jan Michalski
Poland

Hartmut Michel*
Germany

Brenda Milner
Canada

César Milstein*
Argentina

Franco Modigliani*
United States of America

Andrei Monin
Russia

Marcos Moshinsky
Mexico

Nevill Mott*
Great Britain

Teruaki Mukaiyama
Japan

Walter Munk
United States of America

Anne Murray
Sweden

Joseph Murray*
United States of America

Noreen Murray
Great Britain

Lawrence Mysak
Canada

Jayant Vishnu Narlikar
India

Anwar Nasim
Saudi Arabia

Kim Nasmyth
Great Britain

James Neel
United States of America

Louis Néel*
France

Yuval Ne’eman
Israel

Oleg M. Nefedov
Russia

Erwin Neher*
Germany

Marshall Nirenberg*
United States of America

Yasutomi Nishizuka
Japan

John S. Nkoma
Botswana

Paul Nchoji Nkvvi
Cameroon

Howard Odum
United States of America

Bede Nwoye Okigbo
Nigeria

Ayub Khan Ommaya
Pakistan

Cyril Agodi Onwumechili
Nigeria

Mary Jane Osborn
United States of America

Yuri Ossipyan
Russia

Autzr Singh Paintal
India

George Pake
United States of America

George Palade*
United States of America

Mary Lou Pardue
United States of America

Linus Pauling*
United States of America

Barbara Pearse
Great Britain

Muhammed Abed Peerally
Mauritius

Manuel Peimbert
Mexico

Roger Penrose
Great Britain

John Philip
Australia

Lilian Pickford
Great Britain

John R. Pierce
United States of America

John Polanyi*
Canada

George Porter*
Great Britain

Ilya Prigogine*
Belgium

Giampietro Puppi
Italy

Edward Purcell*
United States of America

Atta ur-Rahman
Pakistan

G. N. Ramachandran
India

Tiruppattur Ramakrishnan
India

Chintamani Rao
India

Eduardo Rapoport
Argentina

Marianne Rasmuson
Sweden

Peter Raven
United States of America

Martin Rees
Great Britain

Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff
Columbia

Tadeus Reichstein*
Switzerland

Frederick Reines
United States of America

Alexander Rich
United States of America

Burton Richter*
United States of America

Ralph Riley
Great Britain

Claude Rimington
Norway

Gustavo Rivas Mijares
Venezuela

Frederick Robbins*
United States of America

Wendell Roelofs
United States of America

Heinrich Rohrer*
Switzerland

Betty Roots
Canada

Miriam Rothschild
Great Britain

Sherwood Rowland
United States of America

Janet Rowley
United States of America

Carlo Rubbia*
Italy

Vera Rubin
United States of America

Yuri Rudenko
Russia

Elizabeth Russell
United States of America

Albert Sabin
United States of America

Carl Sagan
United States of America

Roald Sagdeev
Russia

Ruth Sager
United States of America

Farrokh Saidi
Iran

Abdus Salam*
Pakistan

Frederick Sanger*
Great Britian

José Sarukhan
Mexico

Berta Scharrer
United States of America

Richard Schultes
United States of America

Melvin Schwartz*
United States of America

Julian Schwinger*
United States of America

Glenn Seaborg*
United States of America

Michael Sela
Israel

Arne Semb-Johansson
Norway

Salimuzzaman Siddiqui
Pakistan

Kai Siegbahn*
Sweden

Thomas Silou
Congo

Herbert Simon*
United States of America

Alexej Sitenko
Ukraine

Jens Skou
Denmark

Charles Slack
New Zealand

George Snell*
United States of America

Boris S. Sokolov
Russia

Roger Sperry*
United States of America

Alexander Spirin
Russia

Earl Stadtman
United States of America

Thressa Stadtman
United States of America

Ledyard Stebbins
United States of America

Jack Steinberger*
United States of America

Janos Szentgothai
Hungary

Tan Jia-zhen
China

Andrezej Tarkowski
Poland

Valentine Telegdi
Switzerland

Kirthi Tennakone
Sri Lanka

Walter Thirring
Austria

E. Donnall Thomas*
United States of America

Jan Tinbergen*
The Netherlands

Samuel C. C. Ting*
United States of America

James Tobin*
United States of America

Alexander Todd*
Great Britain

Susumu Tonegawa*
Japan

Cheng Kui Tseng
China

Hans Tuppy
Austria

James Van Allen
United States of America

Simon van der Meer*
The Netherlands

John Vane*
Great Britain

Martha Vanghan
United States of America

Harold Varmus*
United States of America

George Wald*
United States of America

Henrik Wallgren
Finland

E. T. S. Walton*
Ireland

Prawase Wasi
Thailand

Gerald Wasserburg
United States of America

James Watson*
United States of America

Victor Weisskopf
United States of America

Thomas Weller*
United States of America

Diter von Wettstein
Denmark

Fred Whipple
United States of America

Gilbert White
United States of America

Torsten Wiesel*
United States of America

Jerome Wiesner
United States of America

Maurice Wilkins*
Great Britain

Geoffrey Wilkinson*
Great Britain

Richard Willems
Estonia

Edward O. Wilson
United States of America

Lawrence A. Wilson
Trinidad

Evelyn Witkin
United States of America

Yang Fujia
China

Alexander L. Yanshin
Russia

Yongyuth Yuthavong
Thailand

Zhao Zhong-xian
China

Zhou Guang-zhao
China

Solly Zuckerman
Great Britain

*Nobel Prize Winner

Reprinted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.