Earth System Alert
In response to growing public demand, policymakers and business leaders are increasingly uniting around shared commitments to reduce planet-warming greenhouse-gas emissions. But while phasing out fossil fuels is necessary, ensuring humanity's long-term survival will also require far-reaching protections for the Earth's natural systems.
POTSDAM – More than 600 cities have announced measures to tackle climate change, and more than 680 of the world’s largest corporations have committed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement. These policymakers and business leaders are responding to growing public demands for climate action, which have been vividly exemplified by school strikes and other mass demonstrations over the past year. But global warming is just one of multiple urgent, interlocking crises that are now imperiling the very foundations of human wellbeing.
While few dispute the need to combat climate change, the Earth’s biodiversity, soil, air, oceans, and freshwater systems are also increasingly threatened. Together, these natural systems interact with the climate and determine the environmental conditions for the entire planet. Should those conditions continue deteriorating, the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, especially in the Global South, will be at risk.
This is why, for the first time in history, policymakers and the science community must consider the extent to which man-made forces are threatening the benign conditions that have allowed societies to flourish over the last 10,000 years. We are on the cusp of a dangerous planetary shift, whereby the Earth’s natural systems will move from absorbing the deleterious effects of human activities to intensifying them.