Ahmed, N. 2020. Collapse Within Several Decades Deforestation and rampant resource use is likely to trigger the ‘irreversible collapse’ of human civilization unless we rapidly change course. Vice.com
Two theoretical physicists specializing in complex systems conclude that global deforestation due to human activities is on track to trigger the “irreversible collapse” of human civilization within the next two to four decades.
If we continue destroying and degrading the world’s forests, Earth will no longer be able to sustain a large human population, according to a peer-reviewed paper published this May in Nature Scientific Reports. They say that if the rate of deforestation continues, “all the forests would disappear approximately in 100–200 years.”
“Clearly it is unrealistic to imagine that the human society would start to be affected by the deforestation only when the last tree would be cut down,” they write.
This trajectory would make the collapse of human civilization take place much earlier due to the escalating impacts of deforestation on the planetary life-support systems necessary for human survival—including carbon storage, oxygen production, soil conservation, water cycle regulation, support for natural and human food systems, and homes for countless species.
In the absence of these critical services, “it is highly unlikely to imagine the survival of many species, including ours, on Earth without [forests]” the study points out. “The progressive degradation of the environment due to deforestation would heavily affect human society and consequently the human collapse would start much earlier.”
Tracking the current rate of population growth against the rate of deforestation, the authors found that “statistically the probability to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse, is very low.” Its best case scenario is that we have a less than 10 percent chance of avoiding collapse.
The underlying driver of the current collapse trajectory is that “consumption of the planetary resources may be not perceived as strongly as a mortal danger for the human civilization”, because it is “driven by Economy”. Such a civilization “privileges the interest of its components with less or no concern for the whole ecosystem that hosts them.”
The most effective way to increase our chances of survival is to shift focus from extreme self-interest to a sense of stewardship for each other, other species, and the ecosystems in which we find ourselves.
- There are no signs that the annual rate of forest loss is slowing.
- Only 8% of 250 “powerbroker” corporations—and less than 1% of the 150 leading lenders and investors in agricultural companies—have polices in place to eliminate or reduce deforestation.
- Deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of global man-made emissions through the razing and burning of trees. Because tropical forests are potent carbon sponges, stopping deforestation—and allowing damaged forests to recover—could deliver as much as 40 percent of the emissions cuts needed to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
The New York Declaration on Forests was supposed to help halve forest loss by 2020, but an initial assessment published last week by the Amsterdam-based consulting company Climate Focus along with a group of non-governmental organizations said deforestation has not slowed in the countries that signed the pact. Very few of the world’s leading companies whose practices drive deforestation have changed their policies to begin to tackle the issue, according to a separate report published last week by the Global Canopy Programme.
The declaration was signed in September 2014 by 52 companies—including Unilever, Walmart and General Mills—as well as more than 30 countries and 100-plus subnational governments, indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations. They committed to 10 goals, meant to cut the world’s forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030. The declaration was notable for its ambitious targets and rare collaboration among countries and corporations, and for tackling the root causes of deforestation, primarily corporate agriculture practices. The majority of tropical forest loss and degradation is driven by the production of only six commodities: palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, and pulp and paper.
Cutting the rate of deforestation in half, the goal of the New York declaration, would require $20 to $30 billion a year, significantly more than current pledges, which remain less than $10 billion a year, according to Boucher of the UCS.