Noted British naturalist and scientist Sir David Attenborough warned that humanity faces a sixth mass extinction in this century if it does not address climate change and overexploitation of the planet’s natural resources. In his new book, A Life on Our Planet, Attenborough predicts a future of floods, droughts and an acidic ocean if Earth is not saved in time.
“The natural world fades. The evidence is everywhere. It has happened during my lifetime. I have seen it with my own eyes. If we do not act now, it will lead to destruction. The catastrophe will be immeasurably more destructive than Chernobyl,” writes Attenborough, 94.
The science popularizer, famous for successful documentaries that celebrated the incredible diversity of life on Earth, predicts a number of possible terrifying scenarios the next generation might face.
“We are faced with the real possibility of a sixth mass extinction, caused by human actions,” he writes. “Within the lifespan of someone born today, our species is currently predicted to cause nothing less than the collapse of the living world, precisely what our civilization is based on.”
The problem, he says, is not just the climate crisis. “People rightly talk a lot about climate change. But now it is clear that man-made global warming is just one of several crises at stake.
A team of esteemed scientists led by Johan Rockstrom and Will Steffen has identified nine critical thresholds embedded in the Earth’s environment:
Loss of biodiversity
Depletion of the soil layer
Acidification of the oceans
Fresh water withdrawals
The first problem could erupt in full severity in the decade beginning in 2030 when, after years of deforestation and illegal burning in the Amazon basin, the world’s largest rainforest could be reduced by 75 percent.
“Reduced rainfall would cause water shortages in cities and droughts on agricultural lands created by deforestation. Food production would be radically affected, the loss of biodiversity would be catastrophic”, says the author. “The species that may have provided us with medicines, new foods and industrial applications may have disappeared,” he adds.
“In addition, with global warming increasing the temperature of the Earth, the thaws in the Arctic will start earlier and the frosts will arrive later. This means that the polar bear, which relies on northern sea ice to hunt seals, will begin to go extinct. As the ice-free period lengthens, scientists will detect a worrying trend. Pregnant females, deprived of their resources, will give birth to smaller cubs”.
“It is very possible that one year, the summer will be a little bit longer and the cubs that are born that year will be so small that they cannot survive their first polar winter. All that population of polar bears would collapse.”
“With climate change continuing into the 2050s, the entire ocean would become totally acidic as a result of carbon dioxide forming carbonic acid to trigger a dire decline. The mid-2050s would be the end for the remaining commercial fisheries and fish farming around the world”.
Attenborough predicts that a major crop failure will occur in the 2080s, bringing another Pandemic. Global food production will reach a crisis point after centuries of intensive agriculture adding too much fertilizer to the soil leaving it exhausted and lifeless. The lack of food will also be exacerbated by the onset of another Pandemic.
“We are just beginning to understand that there is an association between the emergence of viruses and the disappearance of life on the planet,” says the scientist. “The more we continue to fracture nature with deforestation, expansion of farmland and illegal wildlife trade activities, the more likely it is that another Pandemic will emerge.”
Collapse beginning the next century
Finally, by 2100, the wild world will have “almost completely disappeared.” By then, “ninety-six percent of the mass of all mammals on Earth will be made up of our bodies and those of the animals we raise for food. We have invaded Earth. But by the next century, we may have made it uninhabitable.”
“The 22nd century could begin with a global humanitarian crisis, the largest event of forced human migration in history,” Attenborough writes. “Coastal cities around the world would face a predicted 3-foot sea level rise during the 21st century, caused by the slow melting of ice sheets, along with a progressive expansion of the ocean as it warms. Sea level could be high enough by 2100 to destroy ports and flood the interior. ”
Added to this is another problem. “If all these events unfolded as described, our planet would be 4 ° C warmer by 2100. More than a quarter of the human population could live in places with an average temperature of more than 29 ° C, a daily level. of heat that currently burns only the Sahara”.
“The sixth mass extinction of the Earth would become unstoppable”, according to the scientist. “Within the lifespan of someone born today, our species is currently predicted to cause nothing less than the collapse of the living world, precisely what our civilization is based on.”
There still is time
However, Attenborough says solutions are “within our grasp” and there are a number of “steps we can take and goals that we must achieve to avoid the catastrophe that is coming.”
Among the remedies, the British science popularizer cites greater sustainability, clean energy, rebuilding the oceans, taking up less space and slowing down population growth.