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World Scientists' Warning to Humanity

18 Nov, 1992

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

The Environment

The environment is suffering critical stress.

The Atmosphere

Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultra-violet radiation at the earth's surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to humans, forests and crops.

Water Resources

Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40% of the world's population. Pollution of rivers, lakes and ground water further limits the supply.


Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste -- some of it toxic


Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive Land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% of the earth's vegetated surface has been degraded -- an area larger than India and China combined -- and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.


Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.

Living Species

The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world's biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.

Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain -- with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe -- but the potential risks are very great.

Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life -- coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change -- could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.

Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threat.


The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.


We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

What we must do

Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on.

We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched to third world needs; small scale and relatively easy to implement.

We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

2. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.

We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

3. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.

4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

5. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war -- amounting to over $1 trillion annually -- will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required -- a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convince reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists -- natural, social, economic, political;

We require the help of the world's business and industrial leaders;

We require the help of the worlds religious leaders; and

We require the help of the world's peoples.

We call on all to join us in this task.

Prominent Individuals among more than 1500 Signatories

  • Anatole Abragam, Physicist; Fmr. Member, Pontifical Academy of Sciences; France
  • Carlos Aguirre President, Academy of Sciences, Bolivia
  • Walter Alvarez Geologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Viqar Uddin Ammad, Chemist, Pakistani & Third World Academies, Pakistan
  • Claude Allegre, Geophysicist, Crafoord Prize, France
  • Michael Alpers Epidemiologist, Inst. of Med. Research, Papua New Guinea
  • Anne Anastasi, Psychologist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Philip Anderson, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Christian Anfinsen, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
  • How Ghee Ang, Chemist, Third World Academy, Singapore
  • Werner Arber, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Switzerland
  • Mary Ellen Avery, Pediatrician, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Julius Axelrod, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Michael Atiyah, Mathematician; President, Royal Society; Great Britain
  • Howard Bachrach, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • John Backus, Computer Scientist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Achmad Baiquni, Physicist, Indonesian & Third World Academies, Indonesia
  • David Baltimore, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • H. A. Barker, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Francisco J. Barrantes, Biophysicist, Third World Academy, Argentina
  • David Bates, Physicist, Royal Irish Academy, Ireland
  • Alan Battersby, Chemist, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Great Britain
  • Baruj Benacerraf, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Georg Bednorz, Nobel laureate, Physics; Switzerland
  • Germot Bergold, Inst. Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas, Venezuela
  • Sune Bergstrom, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Sweden
  • Daniel Bes, Physicist, Argentinean & Third World Academies, Argentina
  • Hans Bethe, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Arthur Birch Chemist, Australian Academy of Science, Australia
  • Michael Bishop, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Konrad Bloch, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Nicholaas Bloembergen, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • David Mervyn Blow, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Great Britain
  • Baruch Blumberg, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Bert Bolin, Meteorologist, Tyler Prize, Sweden
  • Norman Borlaug, Agricultural Scientist, Nobel laureate, Peace; USA & Mexico
  • Frederick Bormann, Forest Ecologist; Past President, Ecological Soc. of Amer.; USA
  • Raoul Bott, Mathematician, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Ronald Breslow, Chemist, National Medal of Science
  • Ricardo Bressani, Inst. of Nutrition, Guatemalan & Third World Academies, Guatemala
  • Hermann Bruck, Astronomer, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Great Britain
  • Gerardo Budowski, Natural Resources, Univ. Para La Paz, Costa Rica
  • E. Margaret Burbidge, Astronomer, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Robert Burris, Biochemist, Wolf Prize in Agriculture, USA
  • Glenn Burton, Geneticist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Adolph Butenandt, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Fmr. President, Max Planck Inst.; Germany
  • Sergio Cabrera, Biologist, Univ. de Chile, Chile
  • Paulo C. Campos, Medical scientist, Philippine & Third World Academies, Philippines
  • Ennio Candotti, Physicist; President, Brazilian Soc. Adv. of Science; Brazil
  • Henri Cartan, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, France
  • Carlos Chagas, Biologist; Univ. de Rio de Janeiro; Fmr. President, Pontifical Academy of Sciences; Brazil
  • Sivaramakrishna Chandrasekhar, Center for Liquid Crystal Research, India
  • Georges Charpak, Nobel laureate, Physics; France
  • Joseph Chatt, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Great Britain
  • Shiing-Shen Chern, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, China & USA
  • Christopher Chetsanga, Biochemist, Affican & Third World Academies, Zimbabwe
  • Morris Cohen, Engineering, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Stanley Cohen, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Stanley N. Cohen, Geneticist, Wolf Prize in Medicine, USA
  • Mildred Cohn, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • E. J. Corey, Nobel laureate, Chemistry, USA
  • John Cornforth, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
  • Hector Croxatto, Physiologist, Pontifical & Third World Academies, Chile
  • Paul Crutzen, Chemist, Tyler Prize, Germany
  • Partha Dasgupta, Economist, Royal Society, Great Britain
  • Jean Dausset, Nobel laureate, Medicine; France
  • Ogulande Robert Davidson, Univ. Res. & Dev. Serv., African Acad., Sierra Leone
  • Margaret Davis, Ecologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Luis D'Croz, Limnologist, Univ. de Panama, Panama
  • Gerard Debreu, Nobel laureate, Economics; USA
  • Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Nobel laureate, Physics; France
  • Johann Deisenhofer, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Germany & USA
  • Frederica de Laguna, Anthropologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Paul-Yves Denis, Geographer, Academy of Sciences, Canada
  • Pierre Deligne, Mathematician, Crafoord Prize, France
  • Frank Dixon, Pathologist, Lasker Award, USA
  • Johanna Dobereiner, Biologist, First Sec., Brazilian Academy of Sci.; Pontifical & Third World Academies, Brazil
  • Joseph Doob, Mathematician, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Renato Dulbecco, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, Mathematician, African & Third World Academies, Zimbabwe
  • Manfred Eigen, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Germany
  • Samuel Eilenberg, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, USA
  • Mahdi Elmandjra, Economist; Vice President, African Academy of Sciences; Morocco
  • Paul Ehrlich, Biologist, Crafoord Prize, USA
  • Thomas Eisner, Biologist, Tyler Prize, USA
  • Mohammed T. El-Ashry, Environmental scientist, Third World Academy, Egypt & USA
  • Gertrude Elion, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Aina Elvius, Astronomer, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
  • K. O. Emery, Oceanographer, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Paul Erdos, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, Hungary
  • Richard Ernst, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Switzerland Vittorio Ersparmer, Pharmacologist, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Italy
  • Sandra Faber, Astronomer, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Nina Federoff, Embryologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Herman Feshbach, Physicist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Inga Fischer-Hjalmars, Biologist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
  • Michael Ellis Fisher, Physicist, Wolf Prize in Physics, Great Britain & USA
  • Val Fitch, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Daflinn Follesdal, President, Norwegian Academy of Science; Norway
  • William Fowler, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Otto Frankel, Geneticist, Australian Academy of Sciences, Australia
  • Herbert Friedman, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
  • Jerome Friedman, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Konstantin V. Frolov Engineer; Vice President, Russian Academy of Sciences; Russia
  • Kenichi Fukui, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Japan
  • Madhav Gadgil, Ecologist, National Science Academy, India
  • Mary Gaillard, Physicist, National Academy of Sciences. USA
  • Carleton Gajdusek, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Robert Gallo, Research Scientist, Lasker Award, USA
  • Rodrigo Gamez ,Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Costa Rica
  • Antonio Garcia-Bellido, Biologist, Univ. Auto. Madrid, Royal Society, Spain
  • Leopoldo Garcia-Collin, Physicist, Latin American & Third World Academies, Mexico
  • Percy Garnham, Royal Society & Pontifical Academy, Great Britain
  • Richard Garwin, Physicist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Georgii Georgiev, Biologist, Lenin Prize, Russia
  • Humam Bishara Ghassib, Physicist, Third World Academy, Jordan
  • Ricardo Giacconi, Astronomer, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
  • Eleanor J. Gibson, Psychologist, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Marvin Goldberger, Physicist; Fmr. President, Calif. Inst. of Tech., USA
  • Maurice Goldhaber, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
  • Donald Glaser, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • Sheldon Glashow, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
  • James Gowans, Wolf Prize in Medicine, France
  • Roger Green, Anthropologist, Royal Society, New Zealand
  • Peter Greenwood, Ichthyologist, Royal Society, Great Britain
  • Edward Goldberg, Chemist, Tyler Prize, USA
  • Coluthur Gopolan, Nutrition Foundation of India, Indian & Third World Academies, India
  • Stephen Jay Gould, Paleontologist, Author, Harvard Univ., USA
  • Roger Guillemin, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Herbert Gutowsky, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, USA
  • Erwin Hahn, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
  • Gonzalo Halffter, Ecologist, Inst. Pol. Nac. ,Mexico
  • Kerstin Hall, Endocrinologist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
  • Mohammed Ahmed Hamdan, Mathematician, Third World, Academy, Jordan
  • Adnan Hamoui, Mathematician, Third World, Academy, Kuwait
  • A. M. Harun-ar Rashid, Physicist; Sec., Bangladesh, Academy of Sci., Bangladesh
  • Mohammed H. A. Hassan, Physicist; Exec. Sec., Third World Academy of Sciences; Sudan & Italy
  • Ahmed Hassanli, Chemist, African Academy of Sciences, Tanzania & Kenya
  • Herbert Hauptman, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
  • Stephen Hawking, Mathematician, Wolf Prize in Physics, Great Britain
  • Elizabeth Hay, Biologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Dudley Herschbach, Nobel laureate, Chemistry, USA
  • Gerhard Herzberg, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Canada
  • Antony Hewish, Nobel laureate, Physics; Great Britain
  • George Hitchings, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
  • Roald Hoffman, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
  • Robert Holley, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
  • Nick Holonyak, Electrical Engineer, National Medal of Science, USA
  • Lars Hormander, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, Sweden
  • Dorothy Horstmann, Epidemiologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • John Houghton, Meteorologist; Chairman, Science Working Group, IPCC; Great Britain
  • Sarah Hrdy, Anthropologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Kenneth Hsu, Geologist, Third World Academy, China & Switzerland
  • Kun Huang, Physicist, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  • Hiroshi Inose, Electrical Engineer; Vice President, Engineering Academy; Japan
  • Turner T. Isoun, Pathologist, African Academy of Sciences,
  • Nigeria Francois Jacob, Nobel laureate, Medicine; France
  • Carl-Olof Jacobson Zoologist; Sec-Gen., Royal Academy of Sciences; Sweden
  • ... list was shortened, to fit in one message ...
  • Alexander L. Yanshin, Geologist, Karpinsky Gold Medal, Russia
  • Yongyuth Yuthavong, Biochemist; Director, National Sci. & Tech. Devl. Agency, Thailand
  • Zhao Zhong-xian, Physicist, Chinese & Third World Academies, China
  • Zhou Guang-zhao, Physicist; President, Chinese Academy of Sciences;, China
  • Solly ZuckerInan, Zoologist, Royal Society, Great Britain

Over 1,500 members of national, regional, and international science academies have signed the Warning. Sixtynine nations from all parts of Earth are represented, including each of the twelve most populous nations and the nineteen largest economic powers. The full list includes a majority of the Nobel laureates in the sciences. Awards and institutional affiliations are listed for the purpose of identification only. The Nobel Prize in medicine is for physiology or medicine.

Union of Concerned Scientists
96 Church Street,
Cambridge, Mass 02238-9105, USA

Warning issued on November 18, 1992

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