Expert prognosis for the planet – we’re on track for a ghastly future

By Corey J. A. Bradshaw / Flinders University

An international group of 17 leading scientists have produced a comprehensive yet concise assessment of the state of civilization, warning that the outlook is more dire and dangerous than is generally understood.

A loss of biodiversity and accelerating climate change in the coming decades coupled with ignorance and inaction is threatening the survival of all species, including our very own, according to the experts from institutions including Stanford University, UCLA, and Flinders University.

The researchers state that world leaders need a ‘cold shower’ regarding the state of our environment both to plan and act to avoid a ghastly future.



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Lead author Professor Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia says he and his colleagues have summarized the state of the natural world in stark form to help clarify the gravity of the human predicament.

“Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization,” Professor Bradshaw says.

“In fact, the scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms is so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival,” he says.

Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University says that no political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action.

“Stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere close to the top of any country’s priorities, trailing far behind other concerns such as employment, healthcare, economic growth, or currency stability. While it is positive news that President-elect Biden intends to reengage the US in Paris Climate accord within his first 100 days of office, it is a minuscule gesture given the scale of the challenge. Humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for short-term economic enhancement today”.

“Most economies operate on the basis that counteraction now is too costly to be politically palatable. Combined with disinformation campaigns to protect short-term profits it is doubtful that the scale of changes we need will be made in time,” Professor Ehrlich says.

Professor Dan Blumstein from UCLA says the scientists are choosing to speak boldly and fearlessly because life literally depends on it. “What we are saying might not be popular, and indeed is frightening. But we need to be candid, accurate, and honest if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face in creating a sustainable future. Without political will backed by tangible action that scales to the enormity of the problems facing us, the added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of the Earth’s life-support system upon which we all depend. Human population growth and consumption continues to escalate, and we’re still more focused on expanding human enterprise than we are on devising and implementing solutions to critical issues such as biodiversity loss. By the time we fully comprehend the impact of ecological deterioration, it will be too late. 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”.

The experts say their ‘perspective’ paper, which cites more than 150 studies, seeks to outline clearly and unambiguously the likely future trends in biodiversity decline, mass extinction, climate disruption, planetary toxification, all tied to human consumption and population growth to demonstrate the near certainty that these problems will worsen over the coming decades, with negative impacts for centuries to come. It also explains the impact of political impotence and the ineffectiveness of current and planned actions to address the ominous scale of environmental erosion.

Summary of major environmental-change categories expressed as percentage relative to the baseline given in the text. Red indicates the percentage of the category that is damaged, lost, or otherwise affected, whereas blue indicates the percentage that is intact, remaining, or otherwise unaffected.

Prof Corey J. A. Bradshaw: Global Ecology, College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University; Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, EpicAustralia.org
Prof Paul R. Ehrlich: Department of Biology, Stanford University, USA
Prof Daniel T. Blumstein: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Emeritus Prof Andrew Beattie: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia
Dr Gerardo Ceballos: Institute of Ecology, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
Emeritus Associate Prof Eileen Crist: Department of Science, Technology, and Society, Virginia Tech, USA
Joan Diamond: Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, Stanford University, USA
Prof Rodolfo Dirzo: Department of Biology, Stanford University, USA
Emeritus Dr Anne H. Ehrlich: Department of Biology, Stanford University, USA
Prof John Harte: Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley, USA; The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, USA
Dr Mary Ellen Harte: The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, USA
Prof Graham Pyke: Department of Biology, Stanford University, USA; The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, USA
Dr Peter H. Raven: Missouri Botanical Garden, USA
Prof William J. Ripple: Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, USA
Dr Frédérik Saltré: Global Ecology, College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University; Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, EpicAustralia.org
Dr Christine Turnbull: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia
Dr Mathis Wackernagel: Global Footprint Network, USA

Original article: Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future

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