Who is Warning Whom?

Over two decades ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCSUSA) issued a “Warning to Humanity” letter that was signed by the vast majority of all the 169 living Nobel prize winners at the time, in addition to some 1,700 of the world’s most renowned engineers and scientists from all over the world [1]. Fast forward two decades later, the Millennium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere ( MAHB) at Stanford University tried to catch up with the times and issued a similar statement [2], signed by a no less impressive panel of very distinguished scientists, some of whom I have known personally and have the great honor of calling friends, having earned reciprocal respect, visited in their homes and with their families, sons and daughters and friends, lunched together numerous times while we spoke about the pressing issues of global warming, assured mutual destruction (MAD), climate change, overconsumption, and what the solutions might be.

Having battled with these issues for several decades with so little positive result from any quarter towards attaining relief, I can no
longer remain silent. The statements in the MAHB declaration are no different from what was said and proclaimed over two decades ago by the UCSUSA, except for some disturbing paragraphs. The initial statements of the MABH warning are outright preposterous, infuriating and outrageous from the outset, in particular “…human quality of
life will suffer substantial degradation by the year 2050….” The facts are that we already have more than substantial degradation everywhere. We have catastrophic, irreversible degradation, not just for the all-important, all-encompassing humanity, but for the entire biosphere and life supporting systems of the planet of which egocentric humanity is but 1% of the entire biomass and depends entirely on the remaining 99% for its own subsistence and survival. An urgent reality check for the benefit of the MAHB is sorely needed

1. 70% of our oceans are over exploited, with many species already extinct, near depletion, or facing imminent extinction without the possibility of a viable recovery in any foreseeable future

2. We have 400-500 ocean dead zones around the planet, the biggest just outside of Galveston due to unsustainable farming practices, use and abuse of chemical fertilizers which end up in the water stream, rivers and lakes as huge swathes of excess nitrogen along the coastal shores give rise to explosive algae blooms. Once the nitrogen is consumed, the algae die, oxidize and consume all the oxygen in the water, literally sucking the life out of anything that lives in the area. The Galveston dead zone area is 8,000 square miles, the size of the State of New Jersey

3. We now have 11 plastic goop twirling floats around the world’s oceans, the biggest twice the size of the State of Texas – going to be 4x soon -1,000 miles off the coast of California in the Pacific ocean, where debris from a plastic addicted society exceed 5:1 per weight as compared to phytoplankton. Let us remind everyone that plastic does not photosynthesize to create simple sugars from CO2 that later are turned into polypeptides and later into proteins as phytoplankton does, forming the basis of the entire life chain and producing some 40% of all oxygen generation on the planet in the process. Oxygen that all self-important humanity takes into the lungs every 3 seconds or so

4. 30% of corals are gone, bleached: the most productive biosystems on the planet pound per pound

5. 200 species disappear forever every day, plants and animals, some estimates put it at 700-800 species going extinct each day

6. Some 30% of fresh water in China is already beyond filtration due to chemical discharges from our progress demands, cities and industrial manufacturing, cell phones, refrigerators, computers, TVs, cameras and everything else, and cannot be made fit for drinking by any means

7. The Amazon forest, the lungs of the planet, will be gone is a few more years at the current cutting rate, and with it, so will the remainder of all tropical forests

8. In the meantime, China already spews most of the CO2 into the atmosphere surpassing the USA while we and the rest of the world keep
buying everything from them

9. We have cut 98% of primeval forests in the USA, and this was done before either of the two statements was issued, much less considered

10. 60 million buffalo that roamed the prairies in a spectacular display of nature’s power and perennial sustainability were exterminated for their pelts, their meat left to rot, their carcasses piled up three stories high, and replaced by pathetic CAFOs, concentrated animal farming operations that are a concentration of pus, fetid stench, disease and deadly bacteria, ground water pollution, pesticide and other toxins that concentrate in meats and dairy, now including super bugs due to continuous antibiotics use in the feed in a futile attempt to reduce sickness in animals subject to living piled up against each other, whaling in their own feces and excrement

11. Of the approximately 1.3 million Americans who die annually, about 600,000- not quite half – die of cancer. A century ago, cancer accounted for one death out of a hundred.

12. All glaciers on the planet are receding, the source of fresh water for billions of people around the world.

13. Ice free conditions in the Arctic during summer will be prevalent in the years ahead due to accelerated global warming. At 400ppm of CO2, we can expect temperatures to be higher on average. Hold on to your hats…

14. California ice pack is 17% of average this winter. California gets about 50% of their fresh water from ice pack melting. New Mexico is under 90% severe drought conditions, 50% extreme/exceptional drought. Similar conditions exist in many other states; the USA is under 60% severe drought

The above is just a brief recollection and forms the justification on how incongruous and out of touch the 2050 MAHB deadline is. The list is nearly endless, much, much longer, at least ten times longer, the damage already damning and extensive everywhere right now, not forty years in the future. The MAHB alarm comes across in a manner as if the participants and signatories all have done all they can do: we warned you, and now we can go home and have a good night’s sleep, their minds at rest, as if they have done everything they possibly can do, their conscience at peace.

Viable solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of the planet, to minimize and drastically reduce consumption especially by “developed” countries are missing altogether. No concrete proposals on how to attain and realize substantial changes in the economy, in education, in the water, air and waste systems, food, soil and agriculture,
industry, buildings and shelter, infrastructure and energy, public policy and political organization, and transportation are made or referenced to. In fact, changes are needed in all aspects of human endeavor and life based not just on what science shows us, but primarily on a profound respect for everything that surrounds us – air, water, soil, light. Engineering and public policy solutions do exist and we need to form the collaborations and social constructs to implement them, and they have already been proposed [3, 4]. Make no mistake. We are made of what surrounds us – air, water, soil and light – all mixed in a process that is nothing less than magical, never the other way around.

[1] The Union of Concerned Scientists. Warning to Humanity (1992).

[2] The Millennium Alliance for Humanity & Biosphere.

[3] Pereira, T. (2009). Sustainability: An integral engineering design
approach. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 13(5), 1133-1137.

[4] Pereira, T. (2012). The Transition to a Sustainable Society: A New
Social Contract. Environ Dev Sustain 14:273–281.