More studies needed on climate change risk to human extinction

More studies needed on climate change risk to human extinction

The authors of a major new work on climate change have said that more needs to be done to research the possibility of human extinction.

Lead by Dr Luke Kemp of the University of Cambridge, the group warned that prudent risk management ‘requires consideration of the bad-to-worst case scenarios’ but that for climate change, such potential futures are ‘poorly understood’.

The report comes out following record-breaking weather events in the UK which saw both the driest July since 1935 and the first ever recorded temperatures exceeding 40°C in a number of locations.

The study also asks whether anthropogenic climate change could result in ‘worldwide societal collapse or even human extinction?’ and warn that the subject is ‘dangerously underexplored’ even though there are many reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe.

The group proposes four areas of research to understand and perhaps mitigate the human existential threat they argue could happen as a result of global warming. The areas of proposed research are to identify the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events, discover the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity, describe human societies’ vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades such as from conflict political instability and systemic financial risk, and, finally to examine how these multiple strands of evidence, alongside other global dangers, can be usefully synthesised into an “integrated catastrophe assessment”.

Lead author Dr Kemp said: “Understanding these plausible but grim scenarios is something that could galvanise both political and civil opinion.

“We saw this when it came to the identification of the idea of a nuclear winter that helped compel a lot of the public efforts as well as the disarmament movement throughout the 1970s and ’80s. And I hope if we can find similar concrete and clear mechanisms when it comes to thinking about climate change, that it also has a similar effect.”

The study is published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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