15,000 scientists from 184 countries launch an appeal for environmental sustainability

15,000 scientists from 184 countries launch an appeal for environmental sustainability

February 09, 2018

15,000 scientists from 184 countries launch an appeal for environmental sustainability

Exactly a quarter of a century ago, 1,700 scientists signed a document to warn humanity of the damage it was causing to the earth and its ecosystem, and to push for practices consistent with environmental sustainability. The problems raised at the time are still with us today, and the food production system is contributing to exacerbating them, according to a second appeal that this time around has received support from thousands of experts worldwide.

It has been 25 years since the Union of Concerned Scientists , an association established during the Vietnam War to promote the engagement of scientists in the political debate, brought together 1,700 scientists, including many Nobel prize winners, to launch a warning on the environmental impact of modern civilization with the publication of a document titled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. To drive home the message, the scientists wrote: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.

The document focused attention on problems which, a quarter of a century later, are still at the heart of the environmental sustainability debate and also form the core of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the United Nations. They are: greenhouse gases and changes in the earth’s atmosphere (which has contributed to global warming); water scarcity; the destruction of marine ecosystems (which are necessary for both biodiversity and food production); 


land use practices in agricultural production that are inconsistent with environmental sustainability; deforestation; loss of living species (animals and plants) and finally overpopulation and its effects on food and energy requirements.

“Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” states the warning issued in the journal BioScience by a group of over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries in a second notice to mark a quarter of a century since  the original appeal and its predictions about the environmental impact, and which suggests strategies for the future in the area of Sustainable Development Goals. “Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production — particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption,” the warning goes on to say. 


According to today’s experts, who note with alarm the lack of past action, food and agricultural production are pivotal to the debate about the environmental sustainability of modern civilizations and are therefore key for both the problem and its solution.

The role of women and food production

The scientists who launched the 1992 appeal, however, as well as illustrating the environmental impact of the problems they saw, also suggested a number of solutions that have not as yet been fully implemented but remain as valid today as they were then. 

We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on,” argued the first and most important recommendation for achieving environmental sustainability, while also urging a more efficient management of the resources crucial to human welfare, the stabilization of the world’s population, the eradication of poverty and the elimination of the gender gap, guaranteeing women’s decision-making control, as also set out by the Sustainable Development Goals.

And while women’s empowerment is still a distant milestone, it could indirectly affect the other goals. 


And while women’s empowerment is still a distant milestone, it could indirectly affect the other goals. The Drawdown Project, a detailed plan listing 100 actions designed to combat climate change compiled by a team of 200 experts from around the world, points to this as one of the most effective areas of action. The Project estimates that its environmental impact on global warming would be more than double that of the transition of total worldwide electricity generation from fossil fuel to solar power. 

Achieving women’s literacy (in over 20 countries worldwide less than half the women’s population is literate, compared to 7 countries where the same percentage applies to men) would enable women to access information that would allow them to have control over their bodies and over economic production, first and foremost food production associated with their family’s livelihood. That would lead to the reduction in unwanted pregnancies and child mortality, with a greater impact on containing the global population than any other area of action.

The food production system plays an equally significant role in the bid to secure the earth’s survival. 


Food production and consumption are a common thread running through most of the Sustainable Development Goals. Through suitable policy actions, by providing technological and scientific support as well as access to economic resources in agriculture, and by enhancing farmers’ production capacity it is possible to overturn current production practices and reduce their impact on the environment. Individuals, too, can do their bit by making consumer choices responsibly and with awareness, for example, by adopting healthy and sustainable diets, and, finally, by reducing food loss and waste.

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