Maintaining The Earth in the 21st Century

A self-proclaimed “scientists’ consensus” on “Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century” has been released.

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.

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 plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40% 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.

A peculiar grab-bag of 500 signatories are appended. I recognized only a few: Jim Hansen, Karl Wunsch, David Karoly, Peter Gleick, Terry Root. (Wunsch rather surprised me.)

I note that the text of the PDF is largely unpastable; most of the text for soem reason comes out of my copy buffer like this:

“”#$%&'(“&#)*&”” ‘()’+#,)-“.#/0#'(“#,”-‘#-12″0’2$21#20$/&3)’2/0 )4)25),5″+#(%3)0#6%)52’7#/$#52$”#
8255#-%$$”&#-%,-‘)0’2)5#.”*&).)’2/0#,7#'(” 7″)&#9:;:#2$#8″#1/0’20%”#/0#/%&#1%&&”0’#<)'(."

It is something of a wonder how influential people still fail to understand the nature of the internet.

Also I think there's more than a little chutzpah in calling this a "consensus" since there's no sign of a consensus process comparable to IPCC here.

Still, it's worth a look. I for one find most of the points themselves unobjectionable, except for the choice of the year 2050 as some sort of meaningful threshhold of decline, which seems a potentially risky bet.

Also, the suggestion that we plan fifty years out seems to me shortsighted if anything. Our current behaviors will have impacts much further than that into the future.


  1. As you know, I think 2050 is too late. In my opinion, we need a great deal more urgency and the time at risk is at most a couple of decades. I am aware that my position is a mite extreme and unfortunately if I am right we will know all too soon.

    As for cutting and pasting, I have no trouble. Perhaps it's a Mac thing, as that's my current platform. The interface sometimes regresses.

    Among names I recognize, note Jared Diamond, Ken Arrow, Mike Mann, Ben Santer, Andrew Weaver. I did not carefully read the whole list but think I got most of it, and I am not as familiar with names in the field as experts. Still ...

    The recent tornado arguments have got me thinking about how different forces can change in a way that hides the overall effect, that is, the magnitude of change. When the forces appear to cancel each other out, they also conceal a bigger truth - the magnitude of change.

  2. "The pressures of each dangerous trend on its own, combined with the multiplying effect of combining them, makes it highly plausible that disruptive societal changes would occur within decades if business as usual continues. Even taken individually, the current trajectories of climate change, extinctions, ecosystem transformation, pollution, and population growth are faster and greater than the planetary pressures that triggered so-called ‘planetary state-changes’ in the past."

  3. MT: "I note that the text of the PDF is largely unpastable"

    I opened the file with Acrobat Reader and saved it as a text file. It looks like the text of the statement is all there, liberally interspersed with non-text.

  4. Pingback: Another Week of Anthropocene Antics, May 26, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  5. FFx seems to render the text well enough for c&p. Also, using poppler based Linux tools I can extract the plain text without many issues - the odd inserted control code which could easily be extracted. The formatting is as is in the document.

    I've sent a text file to the admin address. I hope it's good enough for use.

  6. Yes you're right about the red text, sorry. I didn't have time to check the whole document and selected a few pages here and there. Those seem to be the main cause of the control codes, that I have to admit I'd assumed were all part of the fancy header. Teaches me to try this stuff when short of time. Sorry for the noise.

    To Mal Adapted - it's at the bottom of the page.

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