Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?(10 page pdf, Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Jan. 8, 2013)
Today we review a paper written by ecologist Paul Ehrlich on his election to the Royal Society in 2012. He assesses the prospects for survival of human civilization as we know it, faced with overpopulation, increasing consumption of natural resources and a growing set of interacting and serious challenges that slowly but persistently threaten to overwhelm society’s ability to cope. One apt observation about this state of affairs is the difficulty in dealing with slow, almost imperceptible, changes, given that the magnitude of the responses needed become greater with time- something that many short term political thinkers have difficulty with.
This leads to the suggestion for “foresight intelligence”- an approach that looks at the various scenarios possible or likely and where these lead so that the re4sults of various policies can be evaluated in advance. It strikes this reviewer that thinking about change is needed from the bottom-up rather than leaving it all to action and policy at the global level because it is in urban centres where most people live and where the impacts of inaction are so often first felt and where a change in energy use and consumption can probably best be achieved.
English: Climate zones of the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“The most serious of these problems show signs of rapidly escalating severity, especially climate disruption… an accelerating extinction of animal and plant populations and species,.. land degradation and land-use change; a pole-to-pole spread of toxic compounds; ocean acidification and eutrophication (dead zones); worsening of some aspects of the epidemiological environment … depletion of increasingly scarce resources including especially groundwater…and resource wars"
“The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that increasing food production by some 70 per cent would be required to feed a 35 per cent bigger and still growing human population adequately by 2050”
“Agriculture itself is a major emitter of greenhouse gases and thus is an important cause of climate disruption as well as being exceptionally vulnerable to its consequences… agriculture is a leading cause of losses of biodiversity and thus of the critical ecosystem services supplied to agriculture itself (e.g. pollination, pest control, soil fertility, climate stability)”
“The central challenge, of course, is to phase out more than half of the global use of fossil fuels by 2050 in order to forestall the worst impacts of climate disruption.. interests with large financial stakes in fossil fuel burning have launched a gigantic and largely successful disinformation campaign in the USA to confuse people about climate disruption ..and block attempts to deal with it”
“Recent predictions are that environmental refugees could number 50 million by 2020…Severe droughts, floods, famines and epidemics could greatly swell that number”
“We know that simply informing people of the scientific consensus on a serious problem does not ordinarily produce rapid changes in institutional or individual behavior…Foresight intelligence could not only systematically look ahead but also guide cultural changes towards desirable outcomes such as increased socio-economic resilience”