Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scientists Fear Global Ecological Collapse Once 50% of the Natural Landscape is Gone

I love me some solid, science-backed doom and gloom—and good thing! It's in such ample supply. A new study from 22 respected biologists and ecologists says that the world may be about to undergo a "state shift" that will trigger huge environmental transformations, mass extinctions, and ecological collapse. Oh, it will probably be an existential threat to humanity too.

So, New York Times, riddle me this:

Humans have already converted about 43 percent of the ice-free land surface of the planet to uses like raising crops and livestock and building cities, the scientists said. Studies on a smaller scale have suggested that when more than 50 percent of a natural landscape is lost, the ecological web can collapse. The new paper essentially asks, what are the chances that will prove true for the planet as a whole?
And the answer is ... scientists don't really know for sure, but they're scared shitless.James H. Brown, a macroecologist at the University of New Mexico, said in an interview that this “scares the hell out of me. We’ve created this enormous bubble of population and economy. If you try to get the good data and do the arithmetic, it’s just unsustainable. It’s either got to be deflated gently, or it’s going to burst.”

Guess which option humanity is leaning towards? (Hint: not deflate gently.) It's yet another mostly incomprehensible tipping point to look out for on the horizon—since we're likely to keep developing the natural landscape at roughly the same rate (if not faster) well into the future, we should hit that 50 percent mark pronto. Then I guess we just do what we seem to do best these days: cross our fingers and hope that the scientists are wrong. More