Scientists warn of a “ghastly future” for humanity with climate devastation, tens of millions of environmental migrants and more pandemics unless extraordinary action happens soon, according to a new paper.
“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, and catastrophe will surely follow,” said one of the paper’s co-authors, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
“What we are saying is frightening, but we must be both candid and vocal if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face in creating a sustainable future.”
In the paper published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science, 17 prominent scientists cite more than 150 studies, concluding that it is now “scientifically undeniable” that humanity is “on the path of a sixth major extinction.”
The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions, each accounting for a loss of more than 70% of all species on the planet. The most recent was 66 million years ago.
The paper reports projected temperature increases and other human assaults on the environment mean that about 1 million of the planet’s 7 million to 10 million species are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.
Blumstein, also a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said that in the next several decades, an extinction affecting as many as 70% of all species could take place.
One of the major trends discussed in the paper is the explosive growth of the planet’s human population. There are now 7.8 billion people, more than double the Earth’s population just 50 years ago.
By 2050, the figure is likely to reach 10 billion, the scientists write, which would cause or exacerbate numerous serious problems.
For example, more than 700 million people are starving and more than 1 billion are malnourished already; both figures are likely to increase as the population grows.
Population growth also greatly increases the risk for pandemics, the authors write, because most new infectious diseases result from human-animal interactions.
Population growth also contributes to rising unemployment and, when combined with a hotter Earth, leads to more frequent and intense storms, flooding and fires, poor water and air quality, and worsening human health.
The authors write that there is a “near certainty that these problems will worsen over the coming decades, with negative impacts for centuries to come” and that the adverse global trends are obvious.
“Humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for short-term economic enhancement today,” said Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University professor emeritus of population studies and a co-author of the study.
The authors write that the severity of the threats should transcend political tribalism. But they haven’t and the scientists are skeptical about when or if change can occur.
Most of the world’s economies are predicated on the political idea that meaningful counteraction now is too costly to be politically palatable, according to the paper.
“Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time,” the paper contends.
“While it is positive news that President-elect Biden intends to reengage the U.S. in the Paris Climate accord within his first 100 days of office, it is a minuscule gesture given the scale of the challenge,” according to Ehrlich.
The paper suggests concrete changes that could help avert catastrophe, including completely and rapidly ending the use of fossil fuels, strictly regulating markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying and empowering women.
In addition to UCLA and Stanford, the scientists who wrote the paper represent 11 other institutions and groups, including UC Berkeley, Virginia Tech and Oregon State University.
– City News Service