Humanity will be extinct within a century unless we deal with global warming - leading scientist.

25/6/2010 New Scientist To say Frank Fenner is no fool is without doubt an understatement.He is an accomplished scientist, and that rarity in modern science, a polymath. As a virologist he helped lead the eradication of smallpox, while as a human ecologist he set up the respected Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University.
So how worried should we be that Fenner told an Australian newspaper that humanity will be extinct within a century because of our failure to deal with global warming?

All is not necessarily lost, at least according to Stephen Boyden, Fenner’s colleague at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, who told the same paper there is still time to prevent our extinction. The problem, he says, is to do it we will need to pull off “revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability”. Still hardly an optimistic view.

And it’s not just Fenner and Boyden who are gloomy about the future of our species.
More and more people who study the prospects for human well-being in coming decades agree that food will be the key limiting factor. Demand will skyrocket, fuelled, as Fenner says, by both population growth and “unbridled consumption”. Meanwhile climate change will make it harder to produce more food.

As New Scientist readers know, scientists agree the drivers of climate change are already in place. They disagree only over the extent of the impacts. Fenner used the word “extinction”, perhaps knowing that doing so would attract attention. Indeed it did. Others say social and economic collapse with some human die-off. Few go as far as extinction.

However, the complexity of our civilisation means noboby can predict with certainty what the consequences of its collapse will be. Extinction of a species numbering nearly 7 billion may seem unlikely. But if biology teaches us anything it is that complexity contains tipping points that can be terrifyingly quick. In the 1800s, anyone watching a single flock of 2 billion passenger pigeons go by would have laughed if you said the bird would be extinct in a century.

Boyden is right: there are still things we can do. But so is Fenner: if we don’t do some of them, we’re in trouble. How much trouble? Well, how lucky do you feel?

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