A New Report Finds a ‘High Likelihood’ of Climate Disaster Ending Human Civilization by 2050

A coal-fired power plant in PennsylvaniaRobert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

News about climate change continues to get worse—and a new report is even more troubling, both for the dire predictions it contains and its critique of past reports, which it claims have often been watered-down. The latest analysis is published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, an Australia-based think tank, Vice reports. The researchers conclude that “climate change now represents a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization” and criticizes existing climate reports for being too conservative in gauging the effects of carbon emissions. The risks of climate change, the researchers assert, are much bigger, and much more imminent, than most policymakers will admit.

“Human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way,” wrote retired Australian Navy Admiral Chris Barrie in the report’s foreword.

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The report takes a look at what could happen if a “business-as-usual” scenario, where large-scale reductions in carbon emissions are not implemented, plays out over the next 30 years, and the outlook is stark. The researchers predict planetary warming of 3.4 degrees Celsius by 2050, which is consistent with other climate research estimates. This level of warming spells doom for the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, and would lead to “widespread permafrost loss and large-scale Amazon drought and dieback.” Globally, sea levels will rise by half a meter and weather patterns will become more extreme, making large portions of the planet largely uninhabitable.

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Under these conditions, the report predicts that more than a billion people will be displaced from the tropics, and two billion people will face water scarcity. The effects will be even more widespread: Food production will drop and food prices will skyrocket, creating conflict over the shrinking resources necessary to sustain human life. Based on these climate models, the researchers conclude that unchecked emissions will create “a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end,” starting around the middle of this century.

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Although fossil fuels are largely the cause of this crisis, the report also casts some blame at the feet of climate scientists for down-playing future climate changes. Past scientific analyses of the risks around carbon emissions “have consistently underestimated the severity” of the resulting changes, the researchers argue. They critique widely-publicized reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for relying on limited “general climate models” and not drawing on other sources of information, like paleoclimatology. The researchers call for a bolder, broader approach to assessing climate risks.

Along with the dire predictions, the report is also very clear on what humanity needs to do to save itself: Cut down emissions, and quickly. “It is essential to build a zero emissions industrial system,” the report asserts, which would require a “global mobilization of resources” akin to what happened during World War II.

“Without immediate drastic action our prospects are poor,” Barrie writes. “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

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