More than 500 researchers and scientists from 44 different countries presented Gov. Jerry Brown with a statement outlining imminent environmental concerns on Thursday.
The scientific consensus, entitled “Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century,” estimates that human quality of life will degrade substantially by the year 2050 if negative environmental trends such as climate change continue on their current trajectory. Geared toward policymakers, the consensus explains environmental threats in simple language that is scientifically accurate but understandable to the public.
“These are very big problems, but they’re solvable,” said Anthony Barnosky, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and lead author of the consensus.
Thirty-nine fellow UC Berkeley scientists have also joined Barnosky in endorsing this statement. The enterprise aims to urge policymakers to take a more active role in creating environmental change.
“We have the technology,” Barnosky said. “What’s lacking is the societal understanding of the seriousness of the issues and the political will and special interest groups.”
The consensus raises five primary environmental concerns: climate disruption, extinction, transformation of ecosystems, pollution and population growth.
Rodolfo Dirzo, a co-author of the statement and a professor of biology at Stanford University, hopes that the presentation of this information will act as an impetus for action and force decision-makers to tackle environmental hazards.
According to Dirzo, while other similar efforts tend to focus mainly on climate change, the consensus is unique because it examines how different factors in environmental change affect one another. For example, the report details the connection between biological extinction and the loss of ecosystems.
The statement also introduces the notion of “tipping points” that can be reached when a complex system such as the Earth’s climate approaches a threshold. After the “tipping point” is passed, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop change.
“A familiar example of a tipping point is how a ship capsizes,” said David Ackerly, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and signatory of the report. “It can recover from a small perturbation, but once it is pushed over too far, it suddenly flips.”
Tipping points, especially as related to climate change, address one of the major concerns of the statement — the fact that it is difficult to say when environmental situations will become irreversible.
Among the recommendations in the statement are decreasing greenhouse emissions by using carbon-neutral energy technologies in place of fossil fuels, slowing high extinction rates by assigning economic valuations to natural waterways and minimizing the transformation of natural ecosystems by increasing efficiency in existing food-production areas.
“The overall message is, we have to start dealing with these environmental problems in a very holistic way, and we need to realize it’s understanding how they interact,” Barnosky said.
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