In a new opinion piece published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of international scientists has urgently called for more research about the specific pathways by which human 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,” explained lead author Daniel Steel, an expert in 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 their article, Dr. Steel and his colleagues define civilization collapse as the loss of societal capacity to maintain essential governance functions, such as maintaining security, implementing equitable forms of law, and providing basic necessities like food or water. The scientists identified three possible civilization collapse scenarios:
According to the researchers, it is not only the direct effects of climate change – such as heatwaves, droughts, or floods – which could lead to civilization collapse, but also less-studied mechanisms. For instance, climate change may have indirect effects on trade and international cooperation, which might lead to political conflict and war. Such impacts could lower civilizations’ adaptive capacities, leaving them more vulnerable to other major hazards, 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,” Dr. Steel concluded.
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