A report just published in Nature by a group of 22 international scientists warns that human activity is quickly pushing the planet to a tipping point, after which time the Earth's ecosystem will suffer a rapid and irreversible collapse. What's worse: They suggest we're nearly there.
By using recent scientific theories, ecosystem modeling, and paleontological evidence, the scientists have concluded that the Earth's ecosystem is poised for a "state-shift", after which time the ecosystem is poised for an imminent collapse that would happen in the "blink of an eye." The report, titled "Approaching a State Shift in Earth's Biosphere," warns that localized ecosystems will shift abruptly and enter into a new state of equilibrium.
Not only would these transitions be irreversible, they warn — they'd likely be catastrophic to all life on the planet.
The scientists point to a number of indications that we are quickly approaching the critical 50%, a trend that's being driven by accelerating loss of biodiversity, increasing climate fluctuations, growing ecosystem interconnectedness, and radically changing total energy budgets. They suspect that human civilization is 43% of the way there, owing to such things as the conversion of landscapes into agricultural and urban areas — developments that make the planet more susceptible to an "environmental epidemic".
Their findings run contrary to the popular belief that such a collapse will never happen, or that it won't happen for centuries. Rather, they suspect a potential state-shift to occur later this century should humanity maintain its current course.
Not willing to completely give up, and considering that humanity has yet to push the planet to the brink, the scientists highlight the need to improve biological forecasting. At the same time, they suggest we address the root causes of how humans are forcing biological change.
And their prescriptions aren't subtle.
Specifically, they recommend five actions that should be taken immediately should we have any hope of delaying or minimizing a planetary-state-shift. These include drastic reductions to population growth, moving to high density areas so that parts of the planet can recover, forcing people to be materially poorer (at least in the short term), and investments in creating technologies to produce and distribute food in an environmentally friendly way.
The authors admit that it's "a very tall order".
The consortium includes scientists from Chile, Canada, Finland, the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States.