Dr. Willie Soon alerted me to this story in an email.
Every time I read a story, such as this, I get an overwhelming urge to start chanting a famous Passover ritual, the recital of the Ten Plagues: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Pestilence….
Professors call for more research into climate-change related threats to civilization
UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
An opinion piece published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences, urgently calls for more research into the specific pathways by which civilization could potentially collapse due to climate change.
“Scientists have warned that climate change threatens the habitability of large regions of the Earth and even civilization itself, but surprisingly little research exists about how collapse could happen and what can be done to prevent it,” says Dr. Daniel Steel of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia.
“A better understanding of the risks of collapse is essential for climate ethics and policy.”
In the article, Dr. Steel and his colleagues, Dr. C. Tyler DesRoches with Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and Dr. Kian Mintz-Woo from University College Cork, define civilization collapse as the loss of societal capacity to maintain essential governance functions, especially maintaining security, the rule of law, and the provision of basic necessities such as food and water.
The co-authors consider three civilization collapse scenarios:
- localized collapse of specific, vulnerable locations;
- the collapse of some urban and national areas while the remaining ones experience detrimental climate-related effects such as food and water scarcity;
- global collapse where urban areas around the world are abandoned, nations are no more, and global population falls.
It is not only the direct effects of climate change – such as drought, flooding, and extreme heat – that could create collapse risks, but also less-studied mechanisms.
As Dr. Steel and his co-authors explain, climate change may also have indirect effects on systems like trade and international cooperation, which might in turn lead to political conflict, dysfunction, and war. The authors also state that these effects may lessen civilizations’ adaptability which would leave them vulnerable to other shocks, like pandemics.
“The danger climate change poses to civilization shouldn’t just be left for journalists, philosophers, and filmmakers to ponder. Scientists have a responsibility to investigate this, too,” said Dr. Steel.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
METHOD OF RESEARCH
SUBJECT OF RESEARCH
Climate change and the threat to civilization
ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE
In a speech about climate change from April 4th of this year, UN General Secretary António Guterres lambasted “the empty pledges that put us on track to an unlivable world” and warned that “we are on a fast track to climate disaster” (1). Although stark, Guterres’ statements were not novel. Guterres has made similar remarks on previous occasions, as have other public figures, including Sir David Attenborough, who warned in 2018 that inaction on climate change could lead to “the collapse of our civilizations” (2). In their article, “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency 2021”—which now has more than 14,700 signatories from 158 countries—William J. Ripple and colleagues state that climate change could “cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable” (3).
Because civilization cannot exist in unlivable or uninhabitable places, all of the above warnings can be understood as asserting the potential for anthropogenic climate change to cause civilization collapse (or “climate collapse”) to a greater or lesser extent. Yet despite discussing many adverse impacts, climate science literature, as synthesized for instance by assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has little at all to say about whether or under which conditions climate change might threaten civilization. Although a body of scientific research exists on historical and archeological cases of collapse (4), discussions of mechanisms whereby climate change might cause the collapse of current civilizations has mostly been the province of journalists, philosophers, novelists, and filmmakers. We believe that this should change.
Here we call for treating the mechanisms and uncertainties associated with climate collapse as a critically important topic for scientific inquiry. Doing so requires clarifying what “civilization collapse” means and explaining how it connects to topics addressed in climate science, such as increased risks from both fast- and slow-onset extreme weather events. This kind of information, we claim, is crucial for the public and for policymakers alike, for whom climate collapse may be a serious concern. Our analysis builds on the latest research, including Kemp et al.’s PNAS Perspective, which drew attention to the importance of scientifically exploring the ways that climate outcomes can impact complex socioeconomic systems (5). We go further by providing greater detail about societal collapse, for instance, distinguishing three progressively more severe scenarios. Moreover, we emphasize avoiding doom-saying bias and recommend studying collapse mechanisms in conjunction with successful adaptation and resilience, seeing these as two sides of the same coin.
We define civilization collapse as the loss of societal capacity to maintain essential governance functions, especially maintaining security, the rule of law, and the provision of basic necessities such as food and water. Civilization collapses in this sense could be associated with civil strife, violence, and widespread scarcity, and thus have extremely adverse effects on human welfare. Such collapses can be wider or narrower in scope, so we consider three representative scenarios.
I wonder what Roger Pielke Jr. thinks of this one.