Planet prognosis forecasts 'ghastly' future

Friday, 15 January, 2021

Planet prognosis forecasts 'ghastly' future

The survival of all species, including ours, is being threatened by loss of biodiversity and accelerating climate change in the coming decades — coupled with ignorance and inaction. This is the forecast of an international team of 17 scientists, who have comprehensively assessed the state of civilisation and produced a perspective paper published in Frontiers in Conservation Science.

The researchers — from institutions including Stanford University, UCLA and Flinders University — warn that the outlook is worse than is generally understood, stating that world leaders need a ‘cold shower’ regarding the state of our environment, both to plan and act to avoid a ‘ghastly future’.

Lead author Professor Corey Bradshaw from Flinders University in Adelaide said he and his colleagues have summarised the state of the natural world in stark form to help clarify the gravity of the human predicament.

“Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” Professor Bradshaw said.

“In fact, the scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms is so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Summary of major environmental-change categories expressed as percentage relative to the baseline given in the text. Red indicates the percentage of the category that is damaged, lost or otherwise affected, whereas blue indicates the percentage that is intact, remaining or otherwise unaffected.1

Stanford University’s Professor Paul Ehrlich said that no political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action.

“Stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere close to the top of any country’s priorities, trailing far behind other concerns such as employment, health care, economic growth or currency stability.

“While it is positive news that President-elect Biden intends to reengage the US in [the] Paris climate accord within his first 100 days of office, it is a minuscule gesture given the scale of the challenge.

“Humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for short-term economic enhancement today.

“Most economies operate on the basis that counteraction now is too costly to be politically palatable. Combined with disinformation campaigns to protect short-term profits it is doubtful that the scale of changes we need will be made in time,” Professor Ehrlich said.

Professor Dan Blumstein from UCLA said the team of scientists is choosing to speak boldly and fearlessly because life literally depends on it.

“What we are saying might not be popular, and indeed is frightening. But we need to be candid, accurate and honest if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face in creating a sustainable future.

“Without political will backed by tangible action that scales to the enormity of the problems facing us, the added stresses to human health, wealth and wellbeing will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of the Earth’s life-support system upon which we all depend.

“Human population growth and consumption continues to escalate, and we’re still more focused on expanding human enterprise than we are on devising and implementing solutions to critical issues such as biodiversity loss. By the time we fully comprehend the impact of ecological deterioration, it will be too late.

“Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals, and catastrophe will surely follow,” Professor Blumstein concluded.

The authors say their paper — which cites more than 150 studies — seeks to outline clearly and unambiguously the likely future trends in biodiversity decline, mass extinction, climate disruption and planetary toxification — all tied to human consumption and population growth — to demonstrate the near certainty that these problems will worsen over the coming decades, with negative impacts for centuries to come. It also explains the impact of political impotence and the ineffectiveness of current and planned actions to address the ominous scale of environmental erosion.


1. Bradshaw, CJA, PR Ehrlich, A Beattie, et al. 2020. Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future. Frontiers in Conservation Science 1: 615419. doi:10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419

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