Life on Earth Is in Danger – New Report Reveals That Earth’s Vital Signs Have Deteriorated to Levels Unprecedented in Human History

Earth Burning Global Warming Climate Change

A team of international climate scientists has published a recent report warning of unprecedented environmental threats due to worsening Earth’s vital signs. The report shows alarming climate change indicators and calls for urgent policy changes. It emphasizes the need for an equitable approach to climate action, focusing on reducing overconsumption and emissions, particularly by wealthier nations. Credit:

An international team of climate scientists has recently published a paper warning that the Earth’s vital signs have deteriorated to levels unprecedented in human history, to the point that life on the planet is imperiled.

William Ripple, a distinguished professor in the Oregon State University College of Forestry, and former OSU postdoctoral researcher Christopher Wolf are the lead authors of the report, and 10 other U.S. and global scientists are co-authors.

“Without actions that address the root problem of humanity taking more from the Earth than it can safely give, we’re on our way to the potential collapse of natural and socioeconomic systems and a world with unbearable heat and shortages of food and fresh water,” Wolf said.

Published in BioScience, the report notes that 20 of 35 planetary vital signs the authors use to track climate change are at record extremes.

The authors share new data illustrating that many climate-related records were broken by “enormous margins” in 2023, particularly those relating to ocean temperatures and sea ice. They also note an extraordinary Canadian wildfire season that produced unprecedented carbon dioxide emissions.

A Follow-Up to a Previous Warning

The report follows by four years the “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published by Ripple and collaborators in BioScience and co-signed by more than 15,000 scientists in 161 countries.

“Life on our planet is clearly under siege,” Ripple said. “The statistical trends show deeply alarming patterns of climate-related variables and disasters. We also found little progress to report as far as humanity combating climate change.”

Among the key numbers in the report:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies – actions by governments that artificially lower the cost of energy production, raise the price received by producers, or lower the price paid by consumers – roughly doubled between 2021 and 2022, from $531 billion to just over $1 trillion.
  • Already this year wildfires in Canada have pumped more than 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, greater than Canada’s total 2021 greenhouse gas emissions of 0.67 gigatons.
  • In 2023, there have already been 38 days with global average temperatures more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Until this year, such days were a rarity, the authors note.
  • The highest average Earth surface temperature ever recorded came this past July, and there’s reason to believe it was the highest surface temperature the planet has seen in the last 100,000 years.

Urgent Call for Action

“As scientists, we are hugely troubled by the sudden increases in the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters,” said Wolf, now a scientist with Corvallis-based Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Associates. “The frequency and severity of those disasters might be outpacing rising temperatures. By the end of the 21st century, as many as 3 to 6 billion people may find themselves outside the Earth’s livable regions, meaning they will be encountering severe heat, limited food availability, and elevated mortality rates.”

The authors say policies are needed that take aim at the underlying issue of “ecological overshoot.” When human demand on the Earth’s resources is too large, the result is an array of environmental crises, including biodiversity decline. As long as humanity continues to put extreme pressure on the planet, any strategy that focuses only on carbon or climate will simply redistribute the pressure, they note.

Policy Recommendations and Equity

“Our goal is to communicate climate facts and make policy recommendations,” Ripple said. “It is a moral duty of scientists and our institutions to alert humanity of any potential existential threat and to show leadership in taking action.”

The authors urge transitioning to a global economy that prioritizes human well-being and curtails overconsumption and excessive emissions by the rich. Specific recommendations include phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, transitioning toward plant-based diets, scaling up forest protection efforts, and adopting international coal elimination and fossil fuel non-proliferation treaties.

They stress that all climate-related actions must be grounded in equity and social justice, noting that extreme weather and other climate impacts are being disproportionately felt by the poorest people, who have contributed the least to climate change.

Reference: “The 2023 state of the climate report: Entering uncharted territory” by William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Jillian W Gregg, Johan Rockström, Thomas M Newsome, Beverly E Law, Luiz Marques, Timothy M Lenton, Chi Xu, Saleemul Huq, Leon Simons and Sir David Anthony King, 24 October 2023, BioScience.
DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biad080

Co-authors of the paper include Bev Law of the OSU College of Forestry, Jillian Gregg of Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Associates, Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Thomas Newsome of the University of Sydney, Luiz Marques of Brazil’s State University of Campinas – Unicamp, Timothy Lenton of the University of Exeter, Chi Xu of Nanjing University, Saleemul Huq of Independent University Bangladesh, Leon Simons of the Club of Rome Netherlands, and Sir David Anthony King of the University of Cambridge.

The CO2 Foundation and Roger Worthington, an attorney and the owner of Worthy Brewing in Bend, provided partial funding for this research.

3 Comments on "Life on Earth Is in Danger – New Report Reveals That Earth’s Vital Signs Have Deteriorated to Levels Unprecedented in Human History"

  1. “The authors say policies are needed that take aim at the underlying issue of ‘ecological overshoot.’”

    They dance around the issue, but don’t spell it out. Ecological Overshoot means that, at least regionally, the population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land and sea. There is no easy, and probably no moral solution to that issue. However, pretending that giving up eating meat and giving up fossil fuels will lead to an improved situation is myopic. It will lead to an impoverished standard of living, which is the opposite of what those in First World countries have come to expect. One of the first things to go will have to be designer beers, such as produced by Worthy Beers, which helped fund the ‘research.’ This is evidence that these well-educated people with their awards are not deep thinkers. Some domesticated sources of meat can use land unsuitable for agriculture and bring themselves to water. The real problem is feeding grain to cattle to fatten them because consumers prefer marbled steaks.

    The chances are that the poor in the world will suffer even more because money equates to how much energy is available to do work. The people who wrote this are out of touch with reality and will probably be the first to go when they can no longer drive their Teslas to the supermarket to buy affordable food grown all over the world, often out of season for the hemisphere they live in. The claim that a warming climate, whatever the reason, leads to more extreme climate events, is poorly supported. In an equitable and just world, they would be consigned to working for the post office, rather than corrupting young minds.

  2. Only solution is another mass extinction.

    Fortunately the human race is all too good at creating the perfect storm for one.

  3. “An international team of climate scientists has recently published a paper warning….”

    I’ll paraphrase it for yas: “Aieee! Panic! We’re all gonna dieee!”

    Actually the last claim remains true, as it has throughout human existence. Science still can’t fix that yet.

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