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More Than 11,000 International Scientists Declare Climate Emergency

Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard
via U.S. Geological Survey, public domain
Clouds over the Arctic Ocean.

A new paper endorsed by 11,258 scientists and researchers from 153 countries describes climate change as a “climate emergency.” Published in the journal BioScience, it warns of "untold human suffering" if individuals, governments, and businesses don’t make deep and lasting changes.

The diverse group includes ecologists, economists, and biologists, among others. 

The paper, called the “World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency,” marks the first time a large group of scientists has formally come out in favor of labeling climate change an “emergency,” citing a “moral obligation” to “tell it like it is.”

“In this case, these scientists chose to use the word ‘emergency,’ and to me that indicates a stronger level of certainty than scientists are usually willing to admit,” said Amy Bower, a signatory and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The paper, spearheaded by ecologists Bill Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University, attributes climate change to an excess of carbon in the atmosphere from human activities, like burning fossil fuels and degrading natural systems.

According to Bower, the impacts of climate change will pose major consequences to the Cape and Islands.

“We're on a ramp up towards more intense hurricanes and Nor'easters,” she said, adding that with sea level rise, “we're going to see more nuisance flooding that will, with time, become more impactful flooding.”

Still, Bower said, this paper offers hope.  

“'Emergency'—that word means to me that we need to act now,” she said.

In other words, she explained, if nothing could be done to stop climate change, it would be simply a declaration of tragedy. But immediate and lasting action could save the earth from a catastrophic outcome, the scientists say, which classifies it as an emergency.   

With that in mind, the paper offers six "critical and interrelated steps" to lessen the worst effects of climate change. 

Individuals can do their part, the paper says, by protecting wetlands and forests and eating mostly plant-based foods to reduce the amount of methane gas produced by ruminent livestock like cows. That would also free up land for human plant food instead of livestock feed. 

Still, Bower says, some of the greatest changes should be implemented by businesses and governments. 

“We have to transfer our energy supply to renewables,” Bower said. "Wind energy is just something we have to do. We have to get away from carbon-based energy.”

More than anything, Bower says, she signed this paper because she feels a sense of urgency.

“We see the signs happening. We see accelerations of impacts,” she said. “If we wait too long, it'll be even harder to slow down."

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.