An opinion piece published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calls for more research into the specific pathways by which civilization may collapse as a result of 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 occur and what can be done to prevent it,” says Dr. Daniel Steel of the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.
“Climate ethics and policy require a better understanding of the risks of collapse.”
Dr. Steel and his colleagues, Dr. C. Tyler DesRoches of Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and Dr. Kian Mintz-Woo of University College Cork, define civilization collapse as the loss of societal capacity to maintain essential governance functions, particularly security, the rule of law, and the provision of basic necessities such as food and water, in their article.
The co-authors consider three scenarios for civilization collapse: localised collapse of specific, vulnerable locations; the collapse of some urban and national areas while the remaining ones suffer from negative climate-related effects such as food and water scarcity; and global collapse in which urban areas around the world are abandoned, nations are no longer present, and global population falls.
Not only the direct effects of climate change, such as drought, flooding, and extreme heat, but also less-studied mechanisms, may increase the risk of collapse.
Climate change, as Dr. Steel and his co-authors explain, may also have indirect effects on systems such as trade and international cooperation, which could lead to political conflict, dysfunction, and war. The authors also state that these effects may reduce civilizations’ adaptability, making them vulnerable to other shocks such as pandemics.
“The threat that climate change poses to civilization should not be left solely to journalists, philosophers, and filmmakers to contemplate. Scientists have a responsibility to look into this as well “Dr. Steel stated.