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Stanford scientists urge action on global climate change

California Gov. Jerry Brown accepted a consensus statement signed by 520 scientists, including 48 from Stanford, that sounds the alarm on climate change and offers recommendations for solving global environmental challenges.

Rob Jordan Stanford faculty with California Gov. Brown

Among the Stanford faculty who presented the consensus statement to Gov. Jerry Brown (at right) are (from left) Rodolfo Dirzo, Anne Ehrlich, Paul Ehrlich, Stephen Palumbi and Elizabeth Hadly. Next to Brown is visiting professor Anthony Barnosky, lead author of the statement.

Stanford scientists joined colleagues in presenting California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday with a consensus statement  sounding the alarm on climate change and urging action on pollution, population growth, overconsumption and other global environmental challenges.

The document, which was signed by 520 scientists from 44 countries, warns that Earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point, and if nothing changes, "we will suffer substantial degradation."

Forty-eight Stanford scientists endorsed the statement, with eight faculty members among those who helped draft it.

"By the time today's children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth's life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future," the scientists write in a summary of the statement.

Before receiving the statement, Brown said it's important that scientists communicate clearly to the public.

"We're in a war here in the contest of ideas," he said. "You have to reach people who are skeptical, disinterested and maybe even somewhat hostile."

Later, he urged those who support the statement to spread its message.

"You have to become missionaries," the governor said.

The statement, "Maintaining Humanity's Life Support System in the 21st Century," offers broad-brush solutions for challenges including climate change, loss of eco-diversity, extinctions, pollution, population growth and overconsumption of resources.

"It's important to start fixing these problems today – not next week, next year or next decade," the statement's lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a University of California-Berkeley integrative biology professor and Cox Visiting Professor in Stanford's Department of Environmental Earth System Science, said before the event. "We want to deliver this message to every world leader in government, business, religious institutions and people in all walks of life. These are big problems, but they are fixable."

Among the scientists who joined Barnosky on the stage when he presented the statement to Brown were Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellows Rodolfo Dirzo, Paul Ehrlich, Elizabeth Hadly and Stephen Palumbi, as well as Anne Ehrlich, a senior research scientist in Stanford's Biology Department.

"This statement deciphers decades of science describing how humans have radically changed the planet," said Hadly, one of 23 senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment who signed the statement. "I hope it helps policymakers of California and the world practice effective global stewardship."

Among the statement's recommendations:

  • Replace fossil fuels with carbon-neutral energy sources such as solar, wind and biofuels
  • Promote energy-efficient buildings, transportation and manufacturing systems
  • Plan adaptation measures for climatic impacts such as sea-level rise
  • Recognize the long-term economic benefits and intangible gains that accrue from protecting natural ecosystems, and act accordingly in dealing with pressures such as overfishing
  • Improve the efficiency of food production and distribution
  • Slow and eventually stop world population growth by ensuring access to education, economic opportunities and health care, including family planning services, with a special focus on women's rights

The effort grew out of a conversation between Brown and Barnosky, lead author of a 2012 paper 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.

"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 policymakers, industry and the general public can understand and start to address," Barnosky said.

"In 30 years, there are a few things that people will credit us for doing now or bemoan our failure if we don't," said statement co-author Stephen Palumbi, a professor of biology at Stanford and director of the university's Hopkins Marine Station. "Grappling with climate change, and stopping it, is the best gift we can give the future, because unstopped it will crack our society and impoverish our children."

The statement's signers include two Nobel Prize winners and dozens of members of national academies of science around the world.

The eight Stanford faculty members who helped draft the statement are Gretchen Daily, Rodolfo Dirzo, Anne Ehrlich, Paul Ehrlich, Elizabeth Hadly, Harold Mooney, Rosamond Naylor and Stephen Palumbi.

The 40 other Stanford faculty members who signed the statement are Ken Arrow, Khalid Aziz, Sally Benson, Carol Boggs, Meg Caldwell, Page Chamberlain, Craig Criddle, Larry Crowder, Lisa Curran, Giulio De Leo, Rob Dunbar, Marcus Feldman, Scott Fendorf, Tad Fukami, Christopher Gardner, Deborah Gordon, Phil Hanawalt, Craig Heller, Martin Hellman, Jamie Jones, Pat Jones, Donald Kennedy, Julie Kennedy, Jeff Koseff, Eric Lambin, Stephen Luby, Gil Masters, Perry McCarty, Sue McConnell, Michael McGehee, Fiorenza Micheli, Jonathan Payne, Kabir Peay, Dmitri Petrov, Erica Plambeck, Terry Root, Ross Shachter, Robert Street, Peter Vitousek and Charley Yanofsky.

Rob Jordan is the communications writer for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

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