The Council for the Human Future, which is a dedicated group of intelligent well-informed people, has identified ten Mega Risks to Earth. As it happens, all ten risks are threatening the planet all at the same time. Consequently, the board of the Council has called for an Earth System Treaty. This may be one of the most unique efforts to organize the world community under a banner of identification of serious mega risks to the planet’s life-support system.
“Humanity created its current dire trajectory. It is now time to change course with a binding global treaty designed to empower individuals, institutions, and policymakers, and through this shared effort, reduce the existential threats to civilization. The Earth Systems Treaty is potentially a major step forward, a step towards a healthy future for all.” (Paul R. Ehrlich, Emeritus Professor, Stanford University)
Two issues are key to the way forward: (1) focusing on the Mega Risks to take coordinated constructive measures, or (2) ignore Mega Risks as if they’re harmless science fiction, a fantasy world not to be concerned about; it’ll go away. There are no other options. Now is the time when people must decide which option to take. The Earth System has never been more vulnerable. For the first time, the direct impact of global warming and vulnerability of degraded ecosystems have become nightly TV news, almost every night!
Studies have shown that climate change puts most people into one of two camps: (1) believing in the science or (2) casting it off as essentially science fiction, ignoring the issue. But beware grasshopper, reality often follows in the footsteps of science fiction. In that regard, this article will take a step forward, or maybe a step backwards, depending upon perspective, into the world of the Twilight Zone, created by Rod Sterling in the 1960s for an interesting retrospective on science fiction foretelling the future.
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) was an American science fiction TV series about people experiencing strange problems, for example: The Midnight Sun, Episode 75, November 1961: “At twenty minutes to midnight, it is 110 °F (43 °C) and sunny as high noon. Norma and Mrs. Bronson try to support each other as they watch life as they know it erode around them. The streets are deserted, water usage is limited to an hour a day, and their electricity is gradually being turned off. Food and water are scarce, and the sea has dried up. A radio presenter announces that the police have been moved out of the city and that citizens must defend themselves against looters, then angrily goes off script before being forcibly taken off the air.”
Science fiction has a way of becoming reality. For example, some say that “Space Station V” of 2001: A Space Odyssey was inspiration for the International Space Station (ISS).
And 40 years before the introduction of the iPad, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole crew members of Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey held “newspads” in their hands that Samsung would later claim as the original tablet featured in the film 40 years before arrival of the first iPad in 2010. Eventually, Samsung lost its claim in a lawsuit against Apple.
In the 1990 film Total Recall, Douglas Quaid (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) jumps into a driverless car to escape pursuit by bad guys. The car is driven by an onboard satellite navigation system, which is at the forefront of driverless vehicles today.
And most amazing of all, Star Trek’s “beam me up, Scotty” via dematerialism and conversion back to rematerialization is now a reality but not with humans. Quantum entanglement allows for teleporting balls of energy known as photons with two entangled particles far away from each other remaining connected with actions performed by one affecting the other. This happens faster than the speed of light. It’s true! Einstein referred to quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.”
Today’s Earth System Mega Risks are real even though seemingly science fiction because of the near impossibility of mentally accepting the most-difficult-of-all-consequences, i.e., loss of inhabitable land because of a rapidly changing climate system. Indeed, who can accept the reality of a deadening planet right under their feet, for example, massive drought caused by global warming has put 75% of Spain’s surface area at risk of desertification. As such, the devastation of mega risks requires a universal treaty to confront reality and to do something positive.
This article is an abbreviated version of the Mega Risks, as identified by the Council. The full list resembles science fiction simply because it does not seem real to people. Nobody wants to believe the worst can happen. But truth is stranger than fiction. The threats posed by mega risks are real and active and advanced, e.g., major commercial waterways throughout the world like the Rhine and Danube and Loir have been threatened because of severe drought, which is far-reaching, for example, the Panama Canal was forced to reduce shipping traffic (August 2023) because or severe drought conditions and experienced huge traffic jams with dozens of ships backed up at both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. World drought hits world shipping!
Of additional ‘remarkable’ interest, one of the items found in the list of Mega Risks is Mass Delusion. After all, it’s a hollow world without regard for reality: “The inability of people to understand the deadly threats that now confront us all is the greatest barrier to global action for a safe human future. Disinformation, lies, and false beliefs pose an existential risk to our survival.” (Source: The Mega Risks by The Council for the Human Future, Prof. John Hewson – Chair, Prof. Bob Douglas, Prof. Robyn Alders, Julian Cribb)
In large measure, Mega Risks revolve around the human footprint, which has grown so large that it now consumes 1.75 earths. Yes, humans are using the equivalent resources of more than one planet to survive. The human ecological footprint crossed the line into biocapacity deficit way back in the late 1970s. The planet no longer regenerates fast enough to carry the necessary ecological assets to support human life because of unsustainable excessive demand plus ecosystem abuse, misuse, and degradation.
In other words, the planet is running on reserves built up over millennia and will one day be running on fumes… to be followed by the threat of mass extinction. It’s indisputable that Earth’s resources are finite especially as biocapacity regeneration is overwhelmed by human demand in concert with reckless misuse and disregard for ecosystems.
For example, the oceans are a dumping ground for plastics and chemicals and toxic radioactivity and have been nearly drained of life: According to the Marine Stewardship Council, depletion of fish stocks is the most urgent threat to the world’s oceans.
Ninety-three percent (93%) of the world’s major marine fish stocks are classified as fully exploited, overexploited, or significantly depleted. “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a pervasive, far-reaching security threat.” (Source: Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing, United States Coast Guard, 2022)
It’s obvious that sustainable fishing plus putting a stop to using the ocean as an open sewer, especially dumping radioactive toxicity (Japan’s Fukushima*), as well as ecological sustainable farming, as well as sustainable use of all natural resources is the only way forward, but it does not have strong enough sponsorship, in fact, quite the opposite! There is no sponsorship that’s powerful enough to make a positive impact that’s meaningful for nature and its ecosystems, not enough to save the planet from proactive mega risks. There are many NGOs that support nature, like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace, nevertheless, widespread collapsing ecosystems still tell a sorrowful tale.
It’s never been more important to address the issue of global warming, especially in consideration of the repercussions, for example, Electricite de France SA threatened (August 21st) to reduce nuclear output (70% French electricity) as a heat wave affecting a large part of the country warmed rivers used for cooling its reactors. Ergo, connecting the dots: too much heat diminishes nuclear power capability which threatens home and business air conditioning needed to escape the same heat that cripples the nuclear power plants, a vicious circle. Global warming is nuclear power’s nemesis (beware of the nuclear energy trap).
The Council for the Human Future is aware of the risks and intends to create enough awareness in the world to help maintain a functioning Earth System. The Council does not pretend to have all the answers but does know it is important to create an awareness and a vehicle to expand knowledge of what can be done. As things stand, there is no formal worldwide organization other than The Council for the Human Future exclusively dedicated to itemizing the full panoply of mega risks to the planet with a mission of organizing humanity under one umbrella to do something constructive.
Yes, at first blush, it seems pretentious that a handful of people can save the planet, but as Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Please sign the petition to Save a Habitable Earth for our Children. It’s never been more important. People are signing up every hour.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at [email protected].