UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS
Source: Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature
and Culture. Eds. Lorraine Anderson, et. al. New York: Longman,
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) was founded in 1969 with the mission of “advancing responsible public policies in areas where technologyplays a critical role.” It represents the effort of some scientists to takegreater responsibility for how the products of their research are applied, an issue brought into troubling focus by the unleashing of atomic weapons—the product of intensive scientific research in Los Alamos, New Mexico—on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The organization in its early years concerned itself with cautioning against the spread of nuclear weapons and power; more recently, it has expanded its concern to the impacts of technology on the global environment. In the words of executivedirector Howard Ris, ‘We believe that scientists bear a special responsibilityfor educating themselves, the public, the media, and policymakers’ aboutthese impacts.
Accordingly, in 1992 UCS prepared the warning you’re about to read,“outlining the damage already inflicted on the world’s life-support systems and the dangers that lie ahead, along with recommendations for action toavert a global catastrophe.” More than 1,600 scientists from around the world, including most of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences, signedthe warning, which UCS presented at a Press conference in Washington,D.C, in November 1992 and sent to more than 160 heads of state around
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.
Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water 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% of the world’s population. Pollution of rivers, lakes and ground water further limits the supply.
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 toxic.
Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% 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.
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 immeasurably diminished.
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 irretrievably mutilated.
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 recognizethat it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption ofeffective, 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 undeveloped 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 reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.
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.
call on all to join us in this task.
More people seem ready to recognize that the industrialized world’s overconsumption has contributed the largest share to the degradation of the global environment. Also encouraging is the growing conviction that development is more qualitative than quantitative, that it consists more in improving the quality of life than in increasing consumption. What is now needed is the will to make the changes in public policy, as well as in lifestyle, that “ill be needed to arrest, reverse and prevent environmental decay and to pursue the goal of sustainable, equitable development for all. The overarching moral issue is to achieve during the 21st century a just and sustainable world. From a scientific point of view this seems possible. But the new order can only be achieved through the persevering exercise of moral responsibility on the part of individuals, voluntary organizations, governments and transnational agencies.
In the Catholic community, as we have pointed out, there are many signs of increased discussion, awareness and action on environment. We have offered these reflections in the hope that they will contribute to a broader dialogue in our church and society about the moral dimensions of ecology and about the links between social justice and ecology, between environment and development. We offer these reflections not to endorse a particular policy agenda, nor to step onto some current bandwagon, but to meet our responsibilities as pastors and teachers who see the terrible consequences of environmental neglect and who believe our faith calls us to help shape a creative and effective response.
—We ask environmental advocates to join us in building bridges between the quest for justice and the pursuit of peace and concern for the earth. We ask that the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad be accorded a special and urgent priority in all efforts to care for our environment.
—We urge policy-makers and public officials to focus more directly on the ethical dimensions of environmental policy and on its relation to development, to seek the common good and to resist short-term pressures in order to meet our long-term responsibility to future generations. At the very minimum we need food and energy policies that are socially just, environmentally benign and economically efficient.
—As citizens, each of us needs to participate in this debate over how our nation best protects our ecological heritage, limits pollution, allocates environmental costs and plans for the future. We need to use our voices and votes to shape a nation more committed to the universal common good and an ethic of environmental solidarity.
All of us need both a spiritual and a practical vision of stewardship and co-creation that guides our choices as consumers, citizens and workers. We need, in the now familiar phrase, to “think globally and act locally,” finding the ways in our own situation to express a broader ethic of genuine solidarity.
C.Call to Conversion
The environmental crisis of our own day constitutes an exceptional call to conversion. As individuals, as institutions, as a people we need a change of heart to save the planet for our children and generations yet unborn. So vast are the problems, so intertwined with our economy and way of life, that nothing but a wholehearted and ever more profound turning to God the maker of heaven and earth win allow us to carry out our responsibilities as faithful stewards of God’s creation.
Only when believers look to values of the Scriptures, honestly admit our limitations and failings, and commit ourselves to common action on behalf of the land and the wretched of the earth will we be ready to participate fully in resolving this crisis.
Is bare now, nor can foot feel,
And for all this, nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest
freshness deep down things...
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast
and with ah!
Saving the planet will demand long and sometimes sacrificial commitment. It will require continual revision Of Our Political habits, restructuring economic institutions, reshaping society and nurturing global community. But we can proceed with hope because, as at the dawn of creation, so today the Holy Spirit breathes new life into all earth’s creatures. Today we pray with new conviction and concern for all God’s creation:
“Send forth they Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”
“Send forth thy Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.” -iggi