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Cartoon: We are Destroying Earth
Photo Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists/Justin Bilicki


On November 5, 2019 more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries signed a declaration, published in the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, that states “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” Though scientists began alerting world leaders forty years ago about global warming, greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar.

In an effort to expand our understanding of the climate emergency, the scientists have prepared several graphics of the vital signs of climate change over the last forty years.

The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.

The 15 charts in Figure 1 depict the changes in global human activities from 1979 to the present:

01. Human population
02. Total fertility rate
03. Ruminant livestock (cattle)
04. Per capita meat production
05. World GDP (Gross Domestic Product)
06. Global tree cover loss
07. Brazilian Amazon Forest loss
08. Energy consumption (oil, coal, gas, solar/wind)
09. Air transport (by number of passengers)
10. Total institutional fossil fuel assets divested
11. CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions
12. Per capita CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions
13. Greenhouse gas emissions covered by carbon pricing
14. Carbon price
15. Fossil fuel subsidies

The 14 charts in Figure 2 depict the climatic response time series for the same period, 1979 to the present:

01. Carbon dioxide in atmosphere
02. Methane in atmosphere
03. Nitrous oxide in atmosphere
04. Surface temperature change
05. Minimum Arctic sea ice
06. Greenland ice mass change
07. Antarctica ice mass change
08. Glacial thickness change
09. Ocean heat content change
10. Ocean acidity
11. Sea level change
12. Area burned in the United States
13. Extreme weather/climate/hydro events
14. Annual losses due to weather/climate/hydro events

The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.

The scientists stress the need for bold and drastic transformations to our economy and population growth. Among the actions needed, they highlight six critical and interrelated steps that world governments, businesses, and the rest of humanity can take to reduce the worst effects of climate change.


    • Replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources;
    • Leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground;
    • Eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels;
    • Wealthier countries to support poorer nations to transition away from fossil fuels.

Short-lived Pollutants

    • Reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants: methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons.


    • Protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems;
    • Restoration of nature’s atmospheric carbon absorbers: phytoplankton, coral reefs, forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, soils, mangroves, and sea grasses;
    • Nature’s partners in the carbon and nutrient cycle and storage: marine and terrestrial plants, animals, and microorganisms;
    • Curtail loss of habitats and biodiversity.


    • Reduce global consumption of animal products, especially livestock that release methane;
    • Eat mostly plant-based foods;
    • Reduce the enormous amount of global food waste.


    • Curtail excessive extraction of materials and over-exploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth;
    • Shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence towards sustaining ecosystems;
    • Prioritize improving basic human needs and reducing inequality.


    • Stabilize global human population growth to ensure social integrity;
    • Make family-planning services available to all people; remove barriers to their access;
    • Achieve full gender equality through primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women.

The Alliance of World Scientists are ready to work with decision-makers for a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future. They believe that, armed with the charts of the vital signs of climate change, we—policymakers, private sector, and the public—can better understand the magnitude of our climate crisis. With their widespread use, we can track our progress and realign our priorities for alleviating climate change.

You can read the full five-page declaration with charts at Journal BioScience.