Human civilisation as we know it may have already entered its last decades, a worrying new report examining the likely future of our planet’s habitability warns.
The increasingly disastrous impacts of the climate crisis, coupled with inaction to tackle it are sending our planet down a bleak path towards an increasingly chaotic world which could overwhelm societies around the globe, the report’s authors contend.
The paper, produced by the Melbourne-based think tank the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, is presented by the former chief of the Australian Defence Forces and retired Royal Australian Navy Admiral Chris Barrie.
In his introduction he says the report’s authors “have laid bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way.”
The paper argues that “climate change now represents a near to mid-term existential threat to human civilisation,” and calls for a recalibration in how governments respond to estimated climate scenarios so they take worst case projections more seriously.
It also argues that the detrimental impacts of climate breakdown, such as increasing scarcity of food and water, will act as a catalyst on extant socio-political instabilities to accelerate disorder and conflict over the next three decades.
To usefully prepare for such an impact, the report calls for an overhaul in countries’ risk management “which is fundamentally different from conventional practice”.
“It would focus on the high-end, unprecedented possibilities, instead of assessing middle-of-the-road probabilities on the basis of historic experience.”
The research was authored by David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director, and Ian Dunlop, a former international oil, gas and coal industry executive, who worked for Royal Dutch Shell and was chair of the Australian Coal Association.
Their paper offers what they say is a plausible scenario providing “a glimpse into a world of outright chaos”.
Based on lack of meaningful global action to rapidly extinguish all greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade, the authors sketch out a scenario in which global emissions peak in 2030.
In this case, using several existing studies, they hypothesise average global temperatures may reach 3C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
The effect of this would be to realise the “hothouse Earth” scenario in which the planet would be heading for at least another degree of warming.
The reflective sea ice would melt, warming oceans further and raising sea levels rapidly. There would be “widespread permafrost loss and large-scale Amazon drought and dieback”.
The scenario reads: “The destabilisation of the Jet Stream has very significantly affected the intensity and geographical distribution of the Asian and West African monsoons and, together with the further slowing of the Gulf Stream, is impinging on life support systems in Europe.
“North America suffers from devastating weather extremes including wildfires, heatwaves, drought and inundation. The summer monsoons in China have failed, and water flows into the great rivers of Asia are severely reduced by the loss of more than one-third of the Himalayan ice sheet.
“Glacial loss reaches 70 per cent in the Andes, and rainfall in Mexico and central America falls by half.”
This scenario would also put the world on track for 5C of warming by 2100.
The paper notes that scientists have already warned that warming of 4C is incompatible with an organised global community, would be devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable. The World Bank said the planet may be “beyond adaptation” to such conditions.
“Even for 2C of warming, more than a billion people may need to be relocated and in high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end,” the paper says.
The authors say “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change,” but also put forward policy recommendations which could help to mitigate the worst effects.
“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate.
“This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”
Admiral Barrie added: “A doomsday future is not inevitable! But without immediate drastic action our prospects are poor. We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”