Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future

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We report three major and confronting environmental issues that have received little attention and require urgent action. First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action. Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.


Corey J. A. Bradshaw1,2*, Paul R. Ehrlich3*, Andrew Beattie4, Gerardo Ceballos5, Eileen Crist6, Joan Diamond7, Rodolfo Dirzo3, Anne H. Ehrlich3, John Harte8,9, Mary Ellen Harte9, Graham Pyke4, Peter H. Raven10, William J. Ripple11, Frédérik Saltré1,2, Christine Turnbull4, Mathis Wackernagel12 and Daniel T. Blumstein13,14*
  • 1Global Ecology, College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia
  • 2Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, EpicAustralia.org, Adelaide, SA, Australia
  • 3Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
  • 4Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  • 5Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad de México, Mexico
  • 6Department of Science, Technology, and Society, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, United States
  • 7Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
  • 8Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States
  • 9The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte, CO, United States
  • 10Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, MO, United States
  • 11Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States
  • 12Global Footprint Network, Oakland, CA, United States
  • 13Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 14La Kretz Hall, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States