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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer. katherine molé mfa ... art director
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
HUMANITY Likely Faces Rapid ‘CATASTROPHIC COLLAPSE,’ Study Warns
AFP via Getty Images Hannah Sparks
It’s not the news you want to hear during a global health crisis.
In a new theoretical study appearing in Nature Scientific Reports, a pair of statistical researchers have warned that rampant human consumption has sent us on a tailspin towards a rapid “catastrophic collapse” — which could happen in the next two to four decades.
Forest density, or the current lack thereof, is considered the cataclysmic canary in the coal mine, according to the report.
By comparing the rate of deforestation against humanity’s rate of consumption, study authors Mauro Bologna and Gerardo Aquino have determined there’s a 90% chance our species will collapse within decades — calling this estimate an “optimistic” measure.
“Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we have very low probability, less than 10% in most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse,” they wrote.
While much attention has been paid to the ways in which greenhouse gases have contributed to the demise of our species, Aquino focused mathematical models on the “undeniable fact” of human-driven deforestation.
“Before the development of human civilizations, our planet was covered by 60 million square kilometers [37 million square miles] of forest,” according to the article. “As a result of deforestation, less than 40 million square kilometers [25 million square miles] currently remain.”
The researchers set out to “evaluate the probability of avoiding the self-destruction of our civilization” based on numerical simulations — charts and graphs that don’t look like much to us laymen, but for two theoretical physicists, they amount to disaster.
They also call into play “Fermi’s paradox,” which refers to the theoretical discussion of extraterrestrial life from Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist who once asked, “Where is everybody?” One aspect of the discourse is the idea that self-destruction caused by unsustainable environmental exploitation may be an inevitability of intelligent life — and thus a potential reason why we have not yet had the opportunity to meet our galactic neighbors.
To avoid such an outcome, it would require an alien society to prioritize “culture” over “economy,” which Aquino and Bologna assume to be unlikely, based on the human experience.
“Even if intelligent life forms were very common . . . only very few civilizations would be able to reach a sufficient technological level so as to spread in their own solar system before collapsing due to resource consumption,” they added.
“The answer to ‘Where is everybody?’ could be a lugubrious ‘(Almost) everyone is dead.’ ”