Scientists say climate disaster potential is overlooked

Experts are overlooking the worst possible climate change, including the collapse of society or the possible extinction of humans, though unlikely, claims a group of top scientists.

Eleven scientists from around the world are calling on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s official climate science organization, to “bring to attention how much is at stake” for a special science report on “catastrophic climate change”. are. Worst-case background.” In their perspective piece in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they raise the idea of ​​human extinction and worldwide social collapse in the third sentence, calling it a “dangerously overlooked topic.”

The scientists said they are not saying the worst is about to happen. The trouble, he says, is that no one knows how likely or impossible a “climate end game” is and that the world needs those calculations to fight global warming.

Luke Kemp, lead author of the study at the Center for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge in England, said, “I think it’s very unlikely that you’re going to see anything even close to extinction in the next century, because Humans are incredibly resilient.” , “Even if we have a 1% chance of extinction being a global disaster in the coming century, 1%, it’s too high.”

Kemp said catastrophic climate scenarios “appear enough to warrant attention” and could lead to prevention and warning systems.

The study authors said that good risk analyzes consider both what is most likely and what could be the worst. But with a backlash from non-scientists who reject climate change, mainstream climate science has focused on looking at what is most likely and disproportionately on low-temperature warming scenarios approaching international targets. , said co-author Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England.

There is, Lenton said, “not enough emphasis on how things, risks, big risks, can go horribly wrong.”

It’s like an airplane, Lenton said. There’s a high chance it will land safely, but that’s only because so much attention was paid to calculating the worst-case scenario and then figuring out how to avoid the crash. It only works if you research what can go wrong and that not enough is being done with climate change, he said.

“The stakes may be higher than we thought,” said Jonathan Overpeck, environmental dean at the University of Michigan, who was not part of the study. He worries the world could “stumble” on climate risks it doesn’t know about.

When global science organizations look at climate change they look at what happens to the world: extreme weather, high temperatures, melting ice sheets, rising seas and plant and animal extinctions. But they are not factoring enough in how these resonate in human societies and interact with existing problems such as war, hunger and disease – the study authors said.

“If we don’t look at the intersection risks, we will be in for painful surprises,” said University of Washington public health and climate professor Christie Abbey, a co-author who, like Lenton, has been part of the United Nations Global Climate Assessment. Huh.

EB said it was the fault of health professionals prior to COVID-19 when assessing potential pandemics. He talked about the spread of the disease, but not about the lockdown, supply chain problems and growing economies.

The study’s authors said they worry about social collapse – wars, famines, economic crises – related to climate change more than physical changes on Earth.

Outside climate scientists and risk experts were both welcoming and careful to focus on the worst, even as many disapprove of climate doom.

“I don’t believe in civilization as we know it will be out of this century,” University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, a former British Columbia legislator for the Green Party, said in an email. “The resilient man will survive, but our societies that have been urbanized and supported by rural agriculture will not.”

Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth, has criticized climate scientists in the past for using scenarios of too much increase in carbon pollution in the future when the world is not on those paths of more rapid warming. . Still, he said it makes sense to look at catastrophic scenarios “as long as we are careful not to mix the worst-case scenario with the most likely outcome.”

“Talking about the extinction of humans isn’t a very effective communication tool,” said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Brown University. “People immediately say, well, just, you know, waving hands or doom. of the day.”

He said that what is happening before the extinction is bad enough.

Co-author Tim Lenton said that researching the worst-case scenario may be nothing to worry about: “You might be able to rule out many of these bad scenarios altogether. Well, it’s actually like that.” It’s worth spending your time doing. Then we should all be a little happier.”

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