SOURCE: Nature

DATE: May 6, 2020

SNIP: Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we have very low probability, less than 10% in most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse.

In the last few decades, the debate on climate change has assumed global importance with consequences on national and global policies. Many factors due to human activity are considered as possible responsible of the observed changes: among these water and air contamination (mostly greenhouse effect) and deforestation are the mostly cited. While the extent of human contribution to the greenhouse effect and temperature changes is still a matter of discussion, the deforestation is an undeniable fact. Indeed before the development of human civilisations, our planet was covered by 60 million square kilometres of forest1. As a result of deforestation, less than 40 million square kilometres currently remain. In this paper, we focus on the consequence of indiscriminate deforestation.

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Modern societies are in fact driven by Economy, and, without giving here a well detailed definition of “economical society”, we may agree that such a kind of society privileges the interest of its components with less or no concern for the whole ecosystem that hosts them. Clear examples of the consequences of this type of societies are the international agreements about Climate Change. The Paris climate agreement is in fact, just the last example of a weak agreement due to its strong subordination to the economic interests of the single individual countries. In contraposition to this type of society we may have to redefine a different model of society, a “cultural society”, that in some way privileges the interest of the ecosystem above the individual interest of its components, but eventually in accordance with the overall communal interest. This consideration suggests a statistical explanation of Fermi paradox: even if intelligent life forms were very common only very few civilisations would be able to reach a sufficient technological level so as to spread in their own solar system before collapsing due to resource consumption.

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Our discussion, being focused on the resource consumption, shows that whether we assume the mediocrity principle or our “uniqueness” as an intelligent species in the universe, the conclusion does not change. Giving a very broad meaning to the concept of cultural civilisation as a civilisation not strongly ruled by economy, we suggest for avoiding collapse that only civilisations capable of such a switch from an economical society to a sort of “cultural” society in a timely manner, may survive. This discussion leads us to the conclusion that, even assuming the mediocrity principle, the answer to “Where is everybody?” could be a lugubrious “(almost) everyone is dead”.

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In conclusion our model shows that a catastrophic collapse in human population, due to resource consumption, is the most likely scenario of the dynamical evolution based on current parameters. Adopting a combined deterministic and stochastic model we conclude from a statistical point of view that the probability that our civilisation survives itself is less than 10% in the most optimistic scenario. Calculations show that, maintaining the actual rate of population growth and resource consumption, in particular forest consumption, we have a few decades left before an irreversible collapse of our civilisation. Making the situation even worse, we stress once again that it is unrealistic to think that the decline of the population in a situation of strong environmental degradation would be a non-chaotic and well-ordered decline. This consideration leads to an even shorter remaining time.