Climate emergency declaration draws eight UO signatures

Shrinking glacier with markers

Eight University of Oregon researchers are among the more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries who signed on to a paper in the journal BioScience that declared a climate emergency.

A coalition of scientists, led by William J. Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University, concluded in the paper that “untold human suffering” is unavoidable without deep alterations in human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions and other factors related to climate change.

“As scientists, it’s easy to keep our noses down in the data and hope that one day someone will pay attention, but that’s not typically how change is made and we’re simply running out of time,” said Krista McGuire, as associate professor in the UO’s Department of Biology. “I’m grateful to the authors who took the lead on initiating this campaign, which is timely and well-poised to have an international impact on climate-related policies in conjunction with the youth climate movement.”

While there has been general worldwide agreement on the need for action, the authors noted a continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions, sustained increases in per-capita meat production, tree cover loss and the number of airline passengers.

“While the urgency to mitigate climate change is not new to science, I think movements are incredibly important and effective for inspiring political and social change,” said McGuire, who joined the UO in 2017 and is a member of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution.

McGuire became an activist as a seventh-grader, when she started Kids Against Pollution in her hometown of Branchville, New Jersey, after being inspired by a teacher’s lessons on environmental degradation. Today, she focuses on how human activity such as agriculture, urbanization and logging affect plant-soil-microbial feedbacks.

Thomas Desvignes, a researcher in UO biologist John Postlethwait’s lab since 2012, said he signed on because of the evidence of climate change that he’s seen up close.

“Since 2013, I have been regularly going to Palmer Station on the West Antarctic Peninsula,” he said. “Within a short window of time, I have seen rain replacing snow and I have seen Marr Ice Piedmont — the glacier in the station’s backyard — recede so much that within a few years new islands have appeared.”

Desvignes, who also is helping establish the first baseline of Antarctica’s marine ecosystem as part of the Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean, also said he was driven to sign on by the current disconnect between scientists and many policymakers.

“I found it crucial to try and do my share to recreate this link,” he said. “This new document, as well as one from two years ago, provided an opportunity to make my voice heard, but most importantly by signing this new document I hope to strengthen the voice of the people leading this effort.”

In 2017, OSU’s Ripple led an international team in producing an article, also in BioScience, titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” that was signed by more than 15,000 scientists in 184 countries.

The new document provides clear evidence of the climate crisis, said Morgan Janes, who graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. She’s now a lab technician at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston.

It truly is an emergency, and I think it's crucial that people understand the urgency of the situation,” Janes said. “The climate crisis isn't something we can just slowly chip away at over the coming decades. We have to tackle this problem immediately and strategically.”

Susan Bassham of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution said she signed on because of the ongoing loss of natural diversity and healthy ecosystems.

“I’m surprised to discover that I live in a time when palpable and accelerating detrimental change somehow coincides with the reign of leaders who express no regard even for the immediate future,” she said. “The intentional reversal of environmental regulation at the national level, the deliberate hollowing out of watchdog agencies like the EPA created to protect the public from the ravages of private industry, the stepping away from our closest allies in the Paris Climate Agreement are all signs we are racing backwards. If this is not a crisis, I’m not sure what counts as one.”

Alan Dickman, professor emeritus of biology and former director of the Environmental Studies Program, echoed similar sentiments.

“I signed the document because I felt it important that the public know that scientists think that climate change is an important issue that has serious ramifications for humanity and the earth that go far beyond politics,” Dickman said.

Other UO researchers who signed the declaration are Barbara Bomfin and Mark Curry of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, and Elise Weldon, a courtesy research assistant in the Department of Earth Sciences.

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications