Twenty-five years ago over 1,700 scientists gave their first big warning to humankind. They warned about biodiversity loss, climate change, deforestation, ocean “dead-zones” and the continual growth of the human population. They warned that we were pushing Earth’s ecosystems to their limits. That we were pushing them beyond their capacities to support life. That urgent action was needed to avoid substantial and irreversible harm. That if ignored, our current actions would bring about ‘vast human misery.’
So, did we listen?
Turns out… no.
On the 25th anniversary of this call, more than 15,000 scientists co-signed a second, dire warning; the most scientists to ever formally support a published journal article. The article evaluates the human response to the 1992 warning and, unfortunately, the results were far from encouraging.
Instead of boosting Earth’s biodiversity, we have unleashed a mass extinction event – the sixth in roughly 540 million years. Collectively, the number of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish in the world has fallen by 29%.
Instead of reforesting the Earth, we have lost close to 300 million acres of forest. Most of which was cleared to make way for agricultural land.
Instead of stabilizing the human population, our numbers have swelled by another 2 billion people – a 35% increase.
Instead of maintaining and improving marine habitats, the number of ocean “dead zones” – where pollution and oxygen starvation mean there is little chance of life – has increased by 75%.
And instead of curbing climate change trajectories, global carbon emissions and average temperatures have shown continued significant increases.
The scientists state that, ultimately, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in enacting the changes needed, with most of the foreseen environmental challenges getting far worse.
And when reviewing the current environmental situation in Malawi, the picture is no less bleak.
Malawi’s ever-expanding population combined with unsustainable land use practices are having devastating impacts on not only the country’s environment, but on the economy and the health and wellbeing of its people.
The country’s population now stands at around 18.9 million, but is expected to reach a huge 45 million by 2050. Originally covered in forest, between just 2000 and 2005 almost 35% of Malawi’s primary forest cover was lost through deforestation fuelled by the charcoal industry and illegal logging. Once the trees are removed, the topsoil beneath is exposed to the rain and washed away into rivers and eventually into Lake Malawi. This leaves the hills and fields infertile, resulting in crop failures, loss of livelihoods and hunger. Meanwhile, the soil in the lake, combined with overfishing to feed the growing population, is reducing fish stocks. The average annual consumption of fish per person was 14kg in the 1970s, but it has now fallen to just 4kg. Malawi was also recently confirmed as Southern Africa’s principle transit hub for illegal wildlife products – helping maintain a chain of poaching, trafficking and demand that threatens many of Africa’s iconic species with extinction. Wildlife crime and huge losses of habitat are threatening Malawi’s biodiversity, much of which is already endangered, and if reduced further would greatly impact Malawi’s potential to generate foreign revenue through ecotourism.
The challenges that Malawi must face to ensure a more sustainable future for its people and environment are daunting to say the least.
…but not impossible.
Together, we are more than capable of making positive change.
In the 1992 warning, the scientists also expressed concern for the ozone layer. However, global regulations on the production and consumption of CFSs have since stabilized the Antarctic ozone hole so it is now no longer growing – there are even signs it may recover.
This is one example of how decisive action can make a huge difference.
It is now more important than ever that we recognize that earth is our only home. Time is running out and soon it will be too late to break away from our current, destructive trajectory. It is essential that we enact more environmentally sustainable practices in our individual day to day lives, in our towns and cities, in our countries and at a global level.
Let’s not ignore their warning a second time.
Read the full article here.