The U.S. Congress is presently re-thinking all U.S. environmental laws,
regulations, programs, and ideas. One theme keeps echoing throughout
the debates: current environmental laws and programs are based on "bad
science" and many of the nation's and the world's so-called
environmental problems have been exaggerated. This theme has been
amplified by a handful of news reporters and writers; David Shaw of the
LOS ANGELES TIMES describes a "the sky-is-NOT-falling movement" in U.S.
journalism. Shaw, himself a member of this "movement," identifies
other members: Boyce Rensberger of the WASHINGTON POST, John Stossel of
ABC News, Gregg Easterbrook of NEWSWEEK, Michael Fumento (author of the
book, SCIENCE UNDER SEIGE), and Keith Scheider of the NEW YORK TIMES,
among others. Shaw says these writers are "part of a backlash, a
revisionist contrarian movement among a growing number of journalists
who believe that the media have needlessly alarmed the American
public..." Shaw omitted mention of perhaps the best-known member of the
Congressional leaders, the anti-environment "wise use" movement, and a
handfull of influential writers and publicists are claiming that the
public has become needlessly worried about environmental problems. The
environmental community is saying the opposite. Who should we believe?
Perhaps we might listen to prominent members of the world scientific
community. In mid-1993, with little fanfare, 1680 scientists from 49
countries signed and published a "World Scientists' Warning to
Humanity." Of these 1680 scientists, 104 were Nobel prize winners.
Below, we print the text of their warning verbatim. Publication of the
original statement was organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists
in Cambridge, Massachusetts.]
World Scientists' Warning to Humanity
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human
activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the
environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our
current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human
society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living
world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we
know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision
our present course will bring about.
The environment is suffering critical stress:
The Atmosphere: Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with
enhanced ultraviolet radiation at the earth's surface, which can be
damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level,
and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to
humans, forests, and crops.
Water Resources: Heedless exploitation of depletable groundwater
supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems.
Heavy demands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious
shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40 percent of the world's
population. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water further limits
Oceans: Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in
the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The
total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable
yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers
carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry
industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste--some of it
Soil: Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land
abandonment, is a widespread by-product of our current practices in
agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11 percent of the earth's
vegetated surface has been degraded--an area larger than India and
China combined--and per capita food production in many parts of the
world is decreasing.
Forests: Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry
forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical
forest types will be gone in a few years, and most of the tropical rain
forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will
go large numbers of plant and animal species.
Living Species: The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may
reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious. We
are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other
benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms
gives to the robustness of the world's biological systems and to the
astonishing beauty of the earth itself.
Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries, or
permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats.
Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities,
including carbon dioxide released from fossil-fuel burning and from
deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of
global warming are still uncertain--with projected effects ranging from
tolerable to very severe--but the potential risks are very great.
Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life--
coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation,
species loss, and climate change--could trigger widespread adverse
effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological
systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.
Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency
or delay in facing the threats.
The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive
effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite.
Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we
are fast approaching many of the earth's limits. Current economic
practices which damage the environment, in both developed and
underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital
global systems will be damaged beyond repair.
Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on
the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a
sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our
environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank
estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less
than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual
total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's 5.4 billion.
But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty
without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.
No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the
threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity
We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community,
hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our
stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human
misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be
WHAT WE MUST DO
Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously.
1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to
restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on.
We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign,
inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and the
pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the
development of energy sources matched to Third World needs--small scale
and relatively easy to implement.
We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land,
and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.
2. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.
We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other
materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.
3. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all
nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic
conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.
4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.
5. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over
their own reproductive decisions.
The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today.
They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce
pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed
nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing
nations, because only the developed nations have the financial
resources and the technical skills for these tasks.
Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-
interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat.
No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are
damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce
resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will
cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and
underdeveloped nations alike.
Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the
gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be
overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to
become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and
unrest, leading to social, economic, and environmental collapse.
Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in
violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct
of war--amounting to over $1 trillion annually--will be badly needed in
the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.
A new ethic is required--a new attitude towards discharging our
responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must
recognize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must
recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This
ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and
relucnant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the
The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach
and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.
We require the help of the world community of scientists--natural,
social, economic, political;
We require the help of the world's business and industrial leaders;
We require the help of the world's religious leaders; and we require
the help of the world's peoples. We call on all to join us in this
[Here we omitted the 1680 individual signatures.]
 David Shaw, "Living Scared: Dose of Skepticism Enters Coverage on
Environment Bias: Sympathetic early stories were spurred by an effort
to 'save the Earth.' As the profession matures, reporting is more
contrarian," LOS ANGELES TIMES September 11, 1994. pg. 1.
 Union of Concerned Scientists, 2 Brattle Square, Cambridge,
Massachusetts 02238; phone: (617) 547-5552; fax: (617) 864-9405. Copies
of this statement, in pamphlet form, are available from UCS; single
copies are free; 50 copies cost $3.60. For larger orders, the per-copy
price goes down; contact UCS for details.
Descriptor terms: global environmental problems; journalism; backlash;
union of concerned scientists; atmosphere; ozone depletion; oceans;
water pollution; soil; agriculture; food supply; developing world;
forests; species loss; poverty; women's rights; war; violence;