Metro

Why dozens of Mass. scientists signed the ‘Warning to Humanity’ letter

The earth is in danger, say thousands of scientists.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
The earth is in danger, say thousands of scientists.

Of the more than 15,000 scientists who signed a letter Monday warning people about the environmental threats the Earth faces, about 70 of them were professors, researchers, or PhD candidates at Massachusetts universities.

Thirty-eight scholars from University of Massachusetts schools signed — 30 from UMass Amherst, five from UMass Boston, and three who did not specify which UMass campus they were affiliated with.

In Cambridge, 23 scholars from Harvard University signed, as well as five from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Across the river in Boston, five Boston University academics endorsed the letter.

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The Globe contacted the local signatories to ask them why they signed. Here’s a sampling of their responses:

Tobias Baskin, biology professor at UMass Amherst

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We have been blessed with this unspeakably gorgeous planet and we are destroying it. We are behaving like spoiled children stomping on their toys. We really do need to change course. And as that letter makes clear, we can. We just need to grow up and pay attention to the important things.

Jeffrey Blaustein, psychological and brain sciences professor at UMass Amherst

I signed the letter ... because our planet and its life are in jeopardy. Every individual on our planet has a responsibility to participate in changing the trajectory that we are on. Decisions have to be based on evidence provided by sound science, not politics, gut feelings nor uninformed misinformation. This letter provides a path toward meeting our obligation of sustainability to save the planet and its inhabitants.

Peter Alpert, biology professor at UMass Amherst

The scientific evidence for the global changes that the article summarizes is very strong, and ... I can affirm as a scientist that these changes are likely to transform all of nature. Science cannot say what society should do, but it can measure the effects of what society does, and predict what will happen if society acts in certain ways in the future. This article warns that society may regret its effects on natural resources.

Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at Harvard and MIT

Any sensible person would be taking major steps to avoid the risk of a whole series of potential environmental/ecological catastrophes. With our current willfully ignorant political leadership, we are like passengers in a car travelling at high speed through a blinding snowstorm — despite the fact that everyone but the driver believes that there is probably a bridge out somewhere ahead.

Rachel Bell, biology PhD student at UMass Amherst

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Climate change affects both humans and wildlife alike. We are already seeing the disastrous effects of anthropogenic climate change — one only has to look at the uptick of tropical storms and hurricanes globally to understand the destructive consequences of our actions and the humanitarian crises they induce. I hope that this letter will communicate the urgency of our environmental situation to policy-makers on a global scale and inspire progressive strategies toward sustainability in countries around the world.

Bethany Bradley, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst

I care about the environment, both because I believe that other species have the right to exist, but also because I know that things like clean air and water are a necessity for us too. We’re well past the point of needing more science to convince us; it’s time to start acting.

Eric Chivian, founder and former director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School

I signed the Warning, as I did in 1992, as our continued degradation of the physical, chemical, and biological systems of our planet ... is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced, not only in its scope and magnitude, but in its duration. Those who deliberately ignore scientists, like some in the present administration and like some fossil fuel companies, who are aware of the extreme dangers that these scientists are warning about, are guilty, in my view, of “crimes against humanity.”

James Hanken, biology professor at Harvard

The concept of a tipping point is often invoked casually, but I think in this case we’re starting to reach the point where there’s going to be irrevocable damage done that’s going to cause calamity for humans over the next generation. It’s really urgent that society… take steps to address them.

Jeremy Poindexter, materials science and engineering PhD student at MIT

Part of my career is really focusing on fighting against climate change and encouraging renewable energy technologies. It’s really politics that are the sticking point and hindrance in fighting against climate change. When I saw that letter, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for scientists to speak up about these issue.

Christopher Schmitt, biological anthropology professor at BU

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There is only so much an individual can do to get the message out that we, as a society, are causing ourselves harm in the long term with our current ways of interacting with our environment. I hope the scale of this statement will give our concerns greater weight and consideration.

Michael Shiaris, biology professor at UMass Boston

From a non-science, but science-literate perspective, and as a member of the human race, I am gravely disappointed and alarmed about the change in political climate that is likely to exacerbate the causes of global temperature rise, and pollution threats to human health and the ecosystem. This is our greatest long-term threat.

Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at Harvard and MIT

Any sensible person would be taking major steps to avoid the risk of a whole series of potential environmental/ecological catastrophes. With our current willfully ignorant political leadership, we are like passengers in a car travelling at high speed through a blinding snowstorm — despite the fact that everyone but the driver believes that there is probably a bridge out somewhere ahead.

Alyssa Meyers can be reached at alyssa.meyers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.