By Robert A. Vella

A controversial report published this month has sparked intense debate over the likelihood that catastrophic climate change will cause the collapse of modern civilization by mid-century.  Pushback against the report spans the entire spectrum of opinion on anthropogenic global warming from climate change deniers who ridicule such claims as “alarmist” to government officials and the greater scientific community who don’t want the general public to lose hope.  Everyone has an agenda, it seems.  Regardless of the furor, this post will attempt to cut through all the emotionalism and assess the situation as objectively as possible.  But first, let’s take a look at the report in question.

From:  New Report Suggests ‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ Starting in 2050

A harrowing scenario analysis of how human civilization might collapse in coming decades due to climate change has been endorsed by a former Australian defense chief and senior royal navy commander.

The analysis, published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, a think-tank in Melbourne, Australia, describes climate change as “a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization” and sets out a plausible scenario of where business-as-usual could lead over the next 30 years.

The paper argues that the potentially “extremely serious outcomes” of climate-related security threats are often far more probable than conventionally assumed, but almost impossible to quantify because they “fall outside the human experience of the last thousand years.”

On our current trajectory, the report warns, “planetary and human systems [are] reaching a ‘point of no return’ by mid-century, in which the prospect of a largely uninhabitable Earth leads to the breakdown of nations and the international order.”

There are two main issues to examine:

  1. Could climate change trigger the collapse of modern civilization?
  2. Could climate change cause the extinction of Homo sapiens?

I’ll address the second question first because it is easier to answer.  The last time our species faced an extinction threat was roughly 75,000 years ago when a massive volcanic super-eruption occurred at Lake Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.  The eruption was orders of magnitude larger than any other in human history.  It pumped huge quantities of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other chemical compounds high into the atmosphere where it blocked sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface for at least several decades.  This and other effects resulted in a “nuclear winter” scenario that killed plant life and subsequently many of the animals which fed on it.  Genetic evidence indicates that the world’s human population fell from around 2.5 million to perhaps only a few thousand individuals.  Since we lived in primitive and widely dispersed hunter-gatherer groups back then, the disaster caused no great shock to our social organization and our numbers began to rise shortly afterwards.  See:  How Human Beings Almost Vanished From Earth In 70,000 B.C.

Conclusion:  If such a sudden calamitous event as the Toba super-eruption didn’t cause the extinction of our species, then the more gradual calamity of climate change should be less likely to do so.

Regarding the first question, I assert there are many misconceptions about modern civilization.  Because it is so technologically advanced, so much more socially integrated, and our populations so concentrated in complex urban communities, people tend to see it as more resistant to environmental change.  The reality is that modern civilization is less resistant because of its heavy dependence on technology and social integration which has denuded the individual of our ancestral self-survival skills while also enabling the world’s human population to grow to unprecedented and unsustainable levels (currently 7.7 billion).  If, for any reason, civilization’s vital infrastructure (i.e. food, water, waste disposal, transportation, communication, etc.) failed or were severely disrupted, the impact to human populations would immediately stress our social organization (i.e. government and other social institutions) to the breaking point.  Since the dawn of agriculture, our history is replete with examples of violent unrest when basic human needs are not met;  and, this is exactly the threat posed by climate change.

Scientists have been sounding alarms about food and water shortages destabilizing modern society for many years now.  In 2015, I quantified the impending crisis in a projected leveling off of global crop yields as the world population continues to rise (see:  A statistical projection of Population Decline in the 21st Century due to Climate Change).  As these social stresses mount, it fertilizes the growth of political extremism and proportionally increases tensions between nations, regions, and peoples from competition over dwindling resources as well as from desperation to control the masses.  Sooner or later, such a combustible tinderbox would ignite from any number of potential triggers (e.g. a volatile leader like President Trump using nuclear weapons).  In this situation, we couldn’t rely on reason and rational behavior to prevail.

Conclusion:  Unmitigated climate change is more than enough to trigger some sort of societal collapse within the current century.  Whether modern civilization would disappear altogether and return humanity back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is far less likely.  However, I don’t think it would matter much to most people.  As the population declines and the “lucky” few retreat into secluded sanctuaries, the unlucky many would see the end of the world was upon them.

Today’s news:

World Is Losing Confidence in U.S. Leadership, Report Shows

FEC chair responds to Trump saying he’d accept foreign intel on opponent: ‘It is illegal’

GOP Senator Blocks Bill Requiring Campaigns To Report Offers Of Foreign Help To FBI

Senate rejects effort to block Trump’s Qatar, Bahrain arms sales

All the times Kellyanne Conway ran afoul of a federal watchdog over the Hatch Act

What’s allowed and not allowed under the Hatch Act

Annoyed White House press corps vented before Sarah Sanders exit announced

Agriculture Dept. Announces Plan to Move Economists to Kansas City Region

U.S. appeals court orders new review of Trump transgender military ban

New York ends religious exemption to vaccine mandates

All Pending Flint Water Charges Have Been Dismissed

10 thoughts on “New report sparks debate over the end of civilization and possibly the human species (and today’s news)

  1. The migration we have seen especially in 2015 from the Middle East to Europe is just a tiny drop in comparison to the human tsunami to come from Africa sometime in the next 50 years. Deserts are growing in Africs and as well population in an incredible way. Nobody dares to discuss the disastrous human overpopulation which is the main reason for climate to change. I am not very optimistic.

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  2. One of the things we so seldom seem to think about is the enormity of the pain and suffering that we as a species visit on all the other species of the earth – the plants, the animals, the sea creatures, even the mountains and the rocks. The earth, if there is something left of it, may breathe a sigh of relief after we are gone. Once upon a time, there were peoples and traditions that lived more in harmony with the earth, that took only what they needed and not more than their fair share. I hope that, if there are some remnants of us left to start anew that we may be kinder, wiser, and more aware, as some of our ancestors were — before we “progressed” to the point of degeneration where we now are.

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    • Earth will recover. We humans have only been here for a very short time. Despite the great damage we’re causing now, it will just be a short blip in the incredibly long history of life on this planet. In this larger context, Homo sapiens are not all that important.

      That said, my concern is parochial because I am human. I care about people and our species because I want us to be better denizens of Earth. I want us to survive and evolve into a higher life form because I believe we are capable. If we don’t survive, or if we further devolve into depravity, then that unique potential will be lost to the universe forever; and, that prospect saddens me.

      Thanks for commenting.


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