At our current climate trajectory, humanity will likely face “untold suffering,” as reported in a new study signed by more than 11,000 scientists around the globe. Moral obligation has prompted this Alliance of World Scientists to “tell it like it is,” by issuing a warning that human activity is accelerating the climate emergency “faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”

The First World Climate Conference, which took place in 1979 at Geneva, recognized disturbing trends in climate change, sounding the first alarm. Several other warnings were made again during the 1992 Rio Summit, 1997 Kyoto Protocol and 2015 Paris Agreement. However, the climate crisis has continued to worsen. The study laments, “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.”

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“Business as usual” and human consumption threaten our world biosphere, the study continues. “Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature’s reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic ‘hothouse Earth,’ well beyond the control of humans. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.”

To mitigate the climate crisis, the study recommends changing economic and energy policies. Thus, energy conservation practices can be enhanced by fossil fuel divestments and shifts toward cleaner renewable energy sources. Wealthier nations likewise need to assist less affluent countries in transitioning away from fossil fuels. Doing so can help reduce short-lived pollutants like black carbon (soot), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane, thereby slowing climate feedback loops and minimizing any warming trends.

The scientists also urge for more effective protection and restoration of our planet’s ecosystems on both land and sea. Habitat and biodiversity losses must be avoided by curtailing forest overharvesting and mismanagement. Besides, forests rapidly sequester and capture carbon, so increasing reforestation measures is advantageous to the environment and climate.

Similarly, socioeconomic shifts regarding food and population can be natural climate solutions. For instance, shifting to plant-based diets reduces carbon footprints. Slowing the human population boom via improved family-planning and better access to education can help reverse the climate crisis, too, by not overwhelming our ecosystems. Essentially, the study states that a more sustainable future for all living things on our planet can be secured by altering “how we live.”

+ BioScience

Image via NASA