To avert disaster, scientists and policymakers must do a better job communicating climate change issues to the public, California Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday. “We’re in a war here in the contest of ideas,” he said. “You have to reach people who are skeptical, disinterested and maybe even somewhat hostile.”

Brown made the plea before accepting an environmental consensus statement signed by 520 scientists from 44 countries, including 48 from Stanford, during the Sustainable Silicon Valley Water, Energy and Smart Technology Summit held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The statement, whose drafters include eight Stanford faculty members, lays out a global scientific consensus and offers broad-brush solutions for challenges including climate change, loss of eco-diversity, extinctions, pollution, population growth and overconsumption of resources. (Read about Gov. Brown's presentation of the consensus statement to Chinese President Xi Jinping here.)

“By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future,” the scientists write in a summary of the statement.

Holding up the statement summary at Thursday’s event, Brown urged those who agree with its message to spread it widely. “You have to become missionaries,” he said.

“It's important to start fixing these problems today – not next week, next year or next decade,” the statement’s lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a University of California at Berkeley integrative biology professor and Cox Visiting Professor in Stanford’s Department of Environmental Earth Systems Science, said before the event. “We want to deliver this message to every world leader in government, business, religious institutions and people in all walks of life. These are big problems, but they are fixable.”

Among the Stanford faculty who presented the consensus statement to Gov. Jerry Brown (at right) are (from left) Rodolfo Dirzo, Anne Ehrlich, Paul Ehrlich, Stephen Palumbi and Elizabeth Hadly. Next to Brown is Anthony Barnosky, who is a University of California - Berkeley professor and Cox Visiting Professor at Stanford. Barnosky was the lead author of the statement.

In presenting the statement to Brown, Barnosky was joined on stage by Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellows Rodolfo Dirzo, Paul Ehrlich, Elizabeth Hadly and Stephen Palumbi, as well as Anne Ehrlich, a senior research scientist in Stanford’s biology department. 

“This statement deciphers decades of science describing how humans have radically changed the planet,” said Hadly, one of 23 senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute who signed the statement. “I hope it helps policymakers of California and the world practice effective global stewardship.”

The statement, “Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support System in the 21st Century,” asserts that the rate of climate change, extinctions, land conversion, pollution and consumption are at record levels that cannot be sustained. Among the statement’s recommendations:

  • Replace fossil fuels with carbon-neutral energy sources such as solar, wind and biofuels
  • Promote energy-efficient buildings, transportation and manufacturing systems
  • Plan adaptation measures for climatic impacts such as sea-level rise
  • Recognize the long-term economic benefits and intangible gains that accrue from protecting natural ecosystems, and act accordingly in dealing with pressures such as overfishing
  • Improve the efficiency of food production and distribution
  • Slow and eventually stop world population growth by ensuring access to education, economic opportunities and health care, including family planning services, with a special focus on women’s rights

The effort grew out of a conversation between Brown and Barnosky, lead author of a 2012 paper warning that Earth is approaching a tipping point beyond which the planet’s climate and biodiversity will be radically and unalterably changed beyond anything humanity has known. “Governor Brown asked me last year why, if global change is such a big deal, scientists are just publishing in scientific journals and not translating their findings into terms that policymakers, industry and the general public can understand and start to address,” Barnosky said.

“In 30 years, there are a few things that people will credit us for doing now or bemoan our failure if we don't,” said statement co-author Stephen Palumbi, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford and director of Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. “Grappling with climate change, and stopping it, is the best gift we can give the future, because unstopped it will crack our society and impoverish our children.”

The statement’s signers include two Nobel Prize winners and dozens of members of national academies of science around the world.

The eight Stanford faculty members who helped draft the statement: Gretchen Daily, Rodolfo Dirzo, Anne Ehrlich, Paul Ehrlich, Elizabeth Hadly, Harold Mooney, Rosamond Naylor and Stephen Palumbi.

The 40 other Stanford faculty members who signed the statement are Ken Arrow, Khalid Aziz, Sally Benson, Carol Boggs, Meg Caldwell, Page Chamberlain, Craig Criddle, Larry Crowder, Lisa Curran, Guilio De Leo, Rob Dunbar, Marcus Feldman, Scott Fendorf, Tad Fukami, Christopher Gardner, Deborah Gordon, Phil Hanawalt, Craig Heller, Martin Hellman, Jamie Jones, Pat Jones, Donald Kennedy, Julie Kennedy, Jeff Koseff, Eric Lambin, Stephen Luby, Gil Masters, Perry McCarty, Sue McConnell, Michael McGehee, Fiorenza Micheli, Jonathan Payne, Kabir Peay, Dmitri Petrov, Erica Plambeck, Terry Root, Ross Shachter, Robert Street, Peter Vitousek and Charley Yanofsky.