In 1992, I was one of 1,700 scientists, including Nobel laureates, who issued the “Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” because of damage humans were inflicting on the Earth. This March, I joined 20,000 scientists in sounding a second alarm as humanity is on an even faster collision with Earth’s life-giving systems.
This is not Chicken Little or “fake news.” Scientists read the planet’s life signs like the warning lights on a car’s dashboard. We use satellites, global weather stations and polar ice measurements to document how humans are altering the global climate and destroying the planet’s ecosystems in unprecedented ways. In the years since the first warning, Earth’s dashboard lights are signaling a pending system-wide failure that threatens life on Earth on a scale soon to rival the epic demise of the dinosaurs.
Consider these alarming trends:
Half of all species on Earth could be extinguished by mid- to late century, mainly from habitat destruction and global warming as more and more people consume finite natural resources and our ecological footprint reaches dangerous levels. For the Rogue Valley, summer temperatures will heat up by 7 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Coastal towns will experience unprecedented sea-level rise from melting glaciers. Health ailments such as Lyme disease, asthma and heat exhaustion, exacerbated by climate change, will increasingly hurt children, the elderly and the economically disadvantaged. Category 5 hurricanes will become the new norm for east coast residents and Alaska Native villages will be displaced by floods and permafrost melting. It’s hard to put a smiley face on Earth Day celebrations after forecasting such alarming trends. But I am an eternal optimist and a parent, so I have to believe there is still time to act for a better future.
In fact, we see people taking action all around us.
Witness America’s youth standing up to politicians who have failed to act on gun violence. A climate lawsuit, filed by “Our Children’s Trust,” is making a compelling argument that our government is placing their birth right to a safe climate in jeopardy by not acting on climate change. #Metoo is raising awareness of injustices to woman. The Civil Rights movement continues to work toward Dr. King’s vision of true racial equality. Groups like Indivisible are advocating for affordable health care. Environmental and social justice organizations are working toward a clean environment in economically disadvantaged communities. And my own organization, Geos Institute, along with other local groups, is protecting public lands and fighting climate change.
In the meantime, to avoid a third and possibly final warning from scientists, here is my hopeful vision for righting spaceship Earth.
By Earth Day 2021:
u The White House embraces climate science in decision making.
u The U.S. has rejoined the global community in the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement (signed by President Obama, withdrawn by President Trump), restoring diplomacy to international affairs and jump-starting the carbon neutral economy.
u Oregon leads by example in passing a Clean Energy Jobs bill that includes forest protections.
u Congress is upgrading auto fuel efficiency standards, saving Americans money at the pump as we transition completely off fossil fuels.
u Older and unlogged forests from the tropics to our very own public lands are protected while forests damaged by clearcut logging are being repaired, which helps to cool the planet and supplies clean water for salmon, agriculture and rural communities.
u Land-use zoning and “smart” growth measures are containing sprawl into fire-unsafe areas.
u Designing houses for fire safety and clearing vegetation nearest homes is replacing rhetoric about logging in the back country for fire control.
u Local leaders are passing climate change ordinances that quickly reduce global warming pollution.
u All of this change goes viral, as we take responsibility for our part of the ecological crisis.
During my 30-year career spanning the two scientist letters, I have personally witnessed communities around the globe taking actions like these. But to really be the change we want in the world, we need to get involved at our places of worship, community events, social change rallies and through social media. And we must exert our influence through voter registration drives and letter-writing campaigns to lawmakers.
Earth Day reminds me that none of us is truly alone in wanting interconnectedness, ecological restoration and a better way to relate to each other and the planet. So please join millions around the world in celebrating Earth Day by helping young people connect with the elderly and all genders and people of color in healing the planet through local to global actions.
Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph.D, chief scientist at the Geos Institute, is an award-winning conservation scientist with over 200 scientific articles, books and films about global environmental change.