Prof William Rees provides grim calculations for humanity if climate change, population growth, and consumption fueled by cheap energy goes unchecked.
No 2522 Posted by fw, September 19, 2019
“On Aug. 15, in a memorable session of the BBC’s HardTalk, Hallam irritated multiple cultural nerves by claiming, on the basis of ‘hard science,’ that six billion people will die as a result of climate change in coming decades. More specifically, our ruling elites’ inaction and lies on climate change will lead to climate turmoil, mass starvation and general societal collapse in this century. Normally unflappable HardTalk host, Stephen Sackur, just couldn’t wrap his mind around Hallam’s unyielding assertions. … UC Davis research scientist Amber Kerr dismisses Hallam outright. … Similarly, Ken Caldeira, senior scientist said … ‘there is [no] substantial likelihood that climate change could cause the starvation of six billion people by the end of this century.’ … in May of this year, Johan Rockström, current director of the Potsdam Institute opined that in a 4°C warmer world: ‘It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that…. There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world’ Meanwhile, greenhouse gas concentrations are still increasing. … The first thing to take from this analysis is that we are once again playing in Roger Hallam’s death-toll ballpark. But a more important point is that climate change is not the only existential threat confronting modern society. Indeed, we could initiate any number of conversations that end with the self-induced implosion of civilization and the loss of 50 per cent or even 90 per cent of humanity.” —William Rees, The Tyee
UBC professor emeritus William Rees is the creator of the ecological footprint on life and death in a world 4°C hotter.
In the following article, reposted below, professor emeritus Rees provides the grim calculations for humanity if climate change and growth in population and consumption fueled by cheap energy goes unchecked. And time is not on our side. For as Dr. Nate Hagens has pointed out, humans have inherited a time-bias survival mechanism from their ancestors: we “have an intense preference on the present – not only the present this year but the present tonight, the present this week.” Little wonder, then, that policymakers have, for decades, taken no decisive action on climate change. So why should this time around be any different?
My slightly edited repost includes added subheadings, text highlighting and some minor omissions and editing changes. To read the full article as published by The Tyee, click on the following linked title.
UBC professor emeritus William Rees provides the grim calculations for humanity if climate change and growth in population and consumption fueled by cheap energy goes unchecked.
“One thing the climate crisis underscores is that Homo sapiens are not primarily a rational species”
One thing the climate crisis underscores is that Homo sapiens are not primarily a rational species. When forced to make important decisions, particularly decisions affecting our economic security or socio-political status, primitive instinct and raw emotion tend to take the upper hand.
Don’t count on “Hope” to save us
This is not a good thing if the fate of society is at stake. Take “hope” for example. For good evolutionary reasons, humans naturally tend to be hopeful in times of stress. So gently comforting is this word, that some even endow their daughters with its name. But hope can be enervating, flat out debilitating, when it merges with mere wishful thinking — when we hope, for example, that technology alone can save us from climate change. As novelist Jonathan Franzen asks: “If your hope for the future depends on a wildly optimistic scenario, what will you do 10 years from now, when the scenario becomes unworkable even in theory?”
Roger Hallam, of Extinction Rebellion, declared climate change would wipe out 6-billion in coming decades
We needn’t bother Roger Hallam with this question. He can scarcely be held up as a “messiah of hope.” Quite the contrary. Hallam, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, has been desperately warning of societal collapse for years. But on Aug. 15, in a memorable session of the BBC’s HardTalk, Hallam irritated multiple cultural nerves by claiming, on the basis of “hard science,” that six billion people will die as a result of climate change in coming decades.
Hallam also asserted elite’s inaction and lies would lead to societal collapse this century
More specifically, our ruling elites’ inaction and lies on climate change will lead to climate turmoil, mass starvation and general societal collapse in this century. Normally unflappable HardTalk host, Stephen Sackur, just couldn’t wrap his mind around Hallam’s unyielding assertions.
Two U.S. scientists flatly dismiss Hallam’s prediction of 6-billion casualties
Sackur is no solitary skeptic. UC Davis research scientist Amber Kerr dismisses Hallam outright. The idea that six billion people are doomed to die by 2100 “is simply not correct. No mainstream prediction indicates anywhere near this level of climate-change-induced human mortality, for any reason.” Similarly, Ken Caldeira, senior scientist, Carnegie Institution, points out, “There is no analysis of likely climate damage that has been published in the quality peer-reviewed literature that would indicate that there is any substantial likelihood that climate change could cause the starvation of six billion people by the end of this century.”
Note how these two scientists qualified their rejection of Hallam’s forecast
One key to understanding these scientists’ rejections is their language. They assert that there is “no mainstream prediction” nor analysis in the “peer reviewed literature” that climate change will precipitate such catastrophic human mortality. But keep in mind that scientists are reluctant, for professional reasons, to go far beyond the immediate data in formal publication. Moreover, organizations like the United Nations, including even its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are so dominated by economists’ concerns and bent by political considerations that extraneous noise obscures the scientific signal.
Given the controversiality of climate change, erring on the side of least drama is not surprising
Prominent climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director emeritus of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, argues that, in these circumstances “a trend towards ‘erring on the side of least drama’ has emerged” and “when the issue is the survival of civilization is at stake, conventional means of analysis may become useless.” Exploring this argument, policy analysts David Spratt and Ian Dunlop conclude, “Climate policymaking for years has been cognitively dissonant, ‘a flagrant violation of reality.’ So it is unsurprising that there is a lack of understanding amongst the public and elites of the full measure of the climate challenge.” It seems that in mainstream scientific publications and official reports, the truth about climate change and the fate of civilization may be buried deeply between the lines.
However, a 2009 discussion of a 4°C world did prompt scientists to candidly consider the devastating population implications
Fortunately, there are other contexts in which experts are not quite so reticent and whose assertions echo Roger Hallam’s. As much as a decade ago a climate symposium organized to discuss the implications of a 4°C warmer world concluded, “Less than a billion people will survive.” Here Schellnhuber is quoted* as saying: “At 4°C Earth’s… carrying capacity estimates are below 1 billion people.” His words were echoed by professor Kevin Anderson of the U.K.’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change: “Only about 10 per cent of the planet’s population would survive at 4°C.” [*The article referred to offers no bibliographical citation for Schellnhuber or Anderson. See my August 28, 2019 post for related information].
This past May, another scientist speculated a 4°C world could not accommodate even half a billion people
Similarly, in May of this year, Johan Rockström, current director of the Potsdam Institute opined that in a 4°C warmer world: “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that…. There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world.” Meanwhile, greenhouse gas concentrations are still increasing.
Keep in mind that a global temperature increase averaging 4°C means land temperatures would be 5.5°C to 6°C warmer away from the coasts. Much of the tropics would be too hot for humans and many densely populated parts of the temperate zone would be desertified. A 4°C warmer world map suggests that as much as half the planet would become uninhabitable. (A ‘4°C world’ assumes business-as-usual or no new climate policies in coming decades. Note, however, that known and unknown ‘feedback’ mechanisms could make 4°C possible, even with new politically acceptable policies in place.)
So, did Roger Hallam’s prediction of 6-billion deaths go too far? Not at all!
In a recent review of this debate and related evidence, David Spratt asks (and answers): “So did Roger Hallam ‘go too far’? Not at all, there is serious research and eminent voices in support of his statements. The gross error in all of this are all those who cannot countenance this conversation.”
Making forbidden calculations
Which begs the question of whether “all those” would countenance any uncomfortable conversation. Population has long been a forbidden topic despite being at the root of the ecological crisis. Where might a discussion of population ecology lead and would its conclusions be any more politically acceptable?
Consider the exponential growth of population – 200,000 years to reach 1 billion — just 2000 years to top 7.5 billion
As the figure below shows, it took 200,000 years for the human population to reach its first billion in the early 1800s. In other words, population growth was essentially negligible for 99.95 of human history. But when sustained exponential growth kicked in, it took just 200 years — 1/1000th as much time — for the population to top 7.5 billion early in this century!
Abundant cheap fossil fuel energy underpinned population explosion
Half of all fossil energy was consumed in just past 30-35 years
Recent spurt of population, economic, and material consumption growth is unprecedented in human history
The human enterprise has overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity by liquidating natural capital
Humanity is literally converting the ecosphere into human bodies, prodigious quantities of cultural artifacts, and vastly larger volumes of entropic waste. (That’s what tropical deforestation, fisheries collapses, plummeting biodiversity, ocean pollution, climate change, etc. are all about.)
The depletion of essential bioresources and the destruction of life-support functions is accelerating
Corollaries: We will not long be able to maintain even the present population at current average material standards. And, population growth toward 10 billion will accelerate the depletion of essential bioresources and the destruction of life-support functions upon which civilization depends.
Rapid exponential population explosion will further deplete Earth’s essential resources and pollute our habitat
The population expands rapidly (exponentially), until it depletes essential resources and pollutes its habitat. Negative feedback (overcrowding, disease, starvation, resource scarcity/competition/conflict) then reasserts itself and the population crashes to a level at or below theoretical carrying capacity (it may go locally extinct).
As we approach the peak of our global population cycle, global civilization will collapse this century
The transition from carbon-based energy to carbon-free substitutes will merely delay the collapse
Post-collapse, the long-term carrying capacity of Earth is estimated from under a billion to an absurd trillion
The collapse will wipe out five to nine billion people
Making the looming disaster an election issue
The first thing to take from this analysis is that we are once again playing in Roger Hallam’s death-toll ballpark. But a more important point is that climate change is not the only existential threat confronting modern society. Indeed, we could initiate any number of conversations that end with the self-induced implosion of civilization and the loss of 50 per cent or even 90 per cent of humanity.
Humanity faces a hydra-like ecological crisis that the ruling elites won’t discuss
And that places the global community in a particularly embarrassing predicament. Homo sapiens, that self-proclaimed most-intelligent-of-species, is facing a genuine, unprecedented, hydra-like ecological crisis, yet its political leaders, economic elites and sundry other messiahs of hope will not countenance a serious conversation about of any of its ghoulish heads.
Despite 33 high-level international talks, emissions have more than doubled and continue to rise at record rates
Climate change is perhaps the most aggressively visible head, yet despite decades of high-level talks — 33 in all — and several international agreements to turn things around, atmospheric CO2 and other GHG concentrations have more than doubled to over 37 billion tonnes and, with other GHG concentrations, are still rising at record rates.
In these circumstances, the only certainty is that the longer we deny reality and delay concerted action, the steeper and deeper the crash is likely to be.
Given the apocalyptic situation, what does it mean to have hope?
So, where does this leave us? Jonathan Franzen has a suggestion: “You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable…. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope.”
Certainly hope is sterile if unaccompanied by vigorous action that reflects looming reality.
Ask your candidate – How much time has your party spent discussing these issues? — And what is your plan?
This is an election year in Canada. Ask your candidates — sitting MPs in particular — just how much time they have spent contemplating these issues or debating them in caucus.
What is their party’s plan for the coming great unravelling?
Covering Climate Now is a worldwide network of over 250 publications, as well as many journalists and organizations, committed to covering the climate crisis with urgency and high journalistic standards. Members have pledged coverage all this week leading into the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept. 23. For more on who originated the initiative, who else belongs, and why The Tyee was early to join, click here.
We’re headed for a four-degree-warmer world within decades : “The bad news is we risk great loss of life and perhaps the end of our civilizations.” Posted August 27, 2019 — “Experts agree that global heating of 4°C by 2100 is a real possibility. The effects of such a rise will be extreme and require a drastic shift in the way we live. Drowned cities; stagnant seas; intolerable heatwaves; entire nations uninhabitable…
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