Prudent risk management requires consideration of bad-to-worst-case scenarios. Yet, for climate change, such potential futures are poorly understood. Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction? At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic. Yet there are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe. Analyzing the mechanisms for these extreme consequences could help galvanize action, improve resilience, and inform policy, including emergency responses. We outline current knowledge about the likelihood of extreme climate change, discuss why understanding bad-to-worst cases is vital, articulate reasons for concern about catastrophic outcomes, define key terms, and put forward a research agenda.

The proposed agenda covers four main questions: 1) What is the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events? 2) What are the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity? 3) What are human societies’ vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades, such as from conflict, political instability, and systemic financial risk? 4) How can these multiple strands of evidence—together with other global dangers—be usefully synthesized into an “integrated catastrophe assessment”? It is time for the scientific community to grapple with the challenge of better understanding catastrophic climate change.

Luke Kemp, Chi Xu, Joanna Depledge, and Timothy M. Lenton

Link to article by Luke Kemp, Chi Xu, Joanna Depledge, and Timothy M. Lenton published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States)

More articles

Apr 11 2024

Tenth consecutive monthly heat record alarms and confounds climate scientists

by Johathan Watts in The Guardian…If the anomaly does not stabilise by August, ‘the world will be in uncharted territory’, says climate expert

Mar 19 2024

The Eco-Civilization Framework

As the planet burns, authoritarian populists dominate politics, oil executives direct the COP process, and the wealthy elite pull further away from everyone else, it is...
Mar 18 2024

Global energy-related CO2 emissions hit record high in 2023 – IEA

by Reuters in Climate Home News…Global emissions from energy rose by 410 million tonnes, or 1.1%, in 2023 to 37.4 billion tonnes, hitting a record hight

Mar 18 2024

Forget the partisan hype, Aust farmers are preparing for the extremes of climate change

by Jamie Seidel in Cosmos Magazine…Farmers consider the animal breeds and crop types they produce to be flexible choices. Others are prepared to relocate...
Mar 18 2024

Pivotal moment for humanity as disasters threaten to converge

by David Nield in Science Alert…The researchers warn of a catastrophic loss of crop-growing capacity with up to half the global area for growing wheat and maize...
Mar 18 2024

What a major solar storm could do to our planet

by Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker…Scientists can’t predict what will happen in space. All they can do is try to identify a threat quickly enough to minimize its...
Mar 04 2024

Rebecca Solnit: Slow Change Can Be Radical Change

by Rebecca Solnit…..We are impatient creatures, impatient for the future to arrive and prone to forgetting the past in our urgency to have it all now.

Feb 15 2024

Critical Atlantic Ocean current system is showing early signs of collapse, prompting warning from scientists

by Laura Paddison on CNN….For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm on the circulation’s stability as climate change warms the ocean and melts ice,...
Feb 15 2024

The perverse policies that fuel wildfires

by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker…Strategies intended to safeguard forests and homes have instead increased the likelihood that they’ll burn.

Feb 15 2024

Hurricanes becoming so strong that new category needed, study says

by Oliver Milman in The Guardian…Scientists propose new category 6 rating to classify ‘mega-hurricanes’, becoming more likely due to climate crisis