Responding to a challenge by California Gov. Jerry Brown, more than 500 of the world's top global change scientists have outlined the main environmental issues — from climate change to pollution and population growth — that policy makers must address immediately to avoid an approaching global tipping point.
The leaders of the initiative joined Gov. Brown on May 23 and gave him a copy of the 30-page statement, "Maintaining Humanity's Life Support Systems in the 21st Century," at the 2013 Water, Energy and Smart Technology Summit and Showcase, an event designed to mobilize Silicon Valley innovation to tackle planet-wide problems.
Held at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., the joint venture by NASA Ames and the non-profit group Sustainable Silicon Valley is being sponsored, in part, by a who's who list of top Silicon Valley companies.
"Governor Brown asked me last year why, if global change is such a big deal, scientists are just publishing in scientific journals and not translating their findings into terms that policy makers, industry and the general public can understand and start to address," said Anthony Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. Barnosky was lead author of a scientific paper last year warning that Earth is approaching a tipping point beyond which the planet's climate and biodiversity will be radically and unalterably changed beyond anything humanity has known.
"Here are 520 scientists from throughout the world making a very strong statement, with as little waffling as possible, about Earth's environmental problems, and we're putting it in the hands of policy makers so they can understand and start formulating solutions," he said. "And we are starting with the governor of California, the world's ninth largest economy."
The scientists, representing a variety of expertise on the impact of humans on Earth's ecosystems, identify five key threats:
• Climate change, which has already led to increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels and dramatic changes in weather patterns
• High rates of extinction for both animals and plants
• The loss of ecosystems around the planet as they are paved over, plowed or tamed
• Pressure from a steadily increasing human population
"We're in a war here in the contest of ideas. You have to reach people who are skeptical, disinterested and maybe even somewhat hostile," Brown said after listening to the scientists at the meeting. "It will take some critical mass to first communicate the point and then create the conditions by which we can begin to make change."