Ghastly Future

Even though I’ve been led by a concern for our environment since my teenage years, which has taken many forms, I have often found what we are facing to be nearly overwhelming. Despite seeing the perilous path we are on, there have been large blocks of time I have not given this the full attention it needs from us all. The consequences of the damage to Mother Earth are now an existential threat.

It grieves me to think we would likely not be in this situation if those of us who rejected the idea of personal automobiles had prevailed.

In the paper “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future”, the researchers cite more than 150 scientific studies and conclude, “that we are already on the path of a sixth major extinction is now scientifically undeniable.”

We report three major and confronting environmental issues that have received little attention and require urgent action. First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action. Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.

“Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future” by Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Paul R. Ehrlich, Andrew Beattie, Gerardo Ceballos, Eileen Crist, Joan Diamond, Rodolfo Dirzo, Anne H. Ehrlich, John Harte, Mary Ellen Harte, Graham Pyke, Peter H. Raven, William J. Ripple, Frédérik Saltré, Christine Turnbull, Mathis Wackernagel and Daniel T. Blumstein, 13 January 2021, Frontiers in Conservation Science.

Flinders University Professor Corey Bradshaw summarizes the perspective paper “Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future.”

Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization (Ceballos et al., 2015IPBES, 2019Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020WWF, 2020). While suggested solutions abound (Díaz et al., 2019), the current scale of their implementation does not match the relentless progression of biodiversity loss (Cumming et al., 2006) and other existential threats tied to the continuous expansion of the human enterprise (Rees, 2020). Time delays between ecological deterioration and socio-economic penalties, as with climate disruption for example (IPCC, 2014), impede recognition of the magnitude of the challenge and timely counteraction needed. In addition, disciplinary specialization and insularity encourage unfamiliarity with the complex adaptive systems (Levin, 1999) in which problems and their potential solutions are embedded (Selby, 2006Brand and Karvonen, 2007). Widespread ignorance of human behavior (Van Bavel et al., 2020) and the incremental nature of socio-political processes that plan and implement solutions further delay effective action (Shanley and López, 2009King, 2016).

We summarize the state of the natural world in stark form here to help clarify the gravity of the human predicament. We also outline likely future trends in biodiversity decline (Díaz et al., 2019), climate disruption (Ripple et al., 2020), and human consumption and population growth to demonstrate the near certainty that these problems will worsen over the coming decades, with negative impacts for centuries to come. Finally, we discuss the ineffectiveness of current and planned actions that are attempting to address the ominous erosion of Earth’s life-support system. Ours is not a call to surrender—we aim to provide leaders with a realistic “cold shower” of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.

Frontiers | Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future | Conservation Science (frontiersin.org)

The paper has the following sections

  • Biodiversity Loss
  • Sixth Mass Extinction
  • Ecological Overshoot: Population Size and Overconsumption
  • Failed International Goals and Prospects for the Future
  • Climate Disruption
  • Political Impotence
  • Changing the Rules of the Game

Summary of major environmental-change categories expressed as a percentage change relative to the baseline given in the text. Red indicates the percentage of the category that is damaged, lost, or otherwise affected, whereas blue indicates the percentage that is intact, remaining, or otherwise unaffected. Superscript numbers indicate the following references: 1IPBES, 20192Halpern et al., 20153Krumhansl et al., 20164Waycott et al., 20095Díaz et al., 20196Christensen et al., 20147Frieler et al., 20138Erb et al., 20189Davidson, 201410Grill et al., 201911WWF, 202012Bar-On et al., 201813Antonelli et al., 202014Mora et al., 2011.

Three years ago I wrote Design and Build Beloved Community Models. I was envisioning how to respond to a large migration of climate refugees that I think will be moving to the Midwest as sea levels rise and flood coastal areas.

“Along America’s most fragile shorelines, [thousands] will embark on a great migration inland as their homes disappear beneath the water’s surface.” LA Times, Victoria Herrmann Jan 25, 2016

We need to build model sustainable communities. There have been, and are numerous such experiments in intentional community. 

But for climate refugees we need a model created with the intention of being replicated many times over with minimal complexity, using locally available materials—a pre-fab community.


Those are basically the physical components. But we also need to change how we live together. I’ve been learning about Mutual Aid for over a year now. And clearly see how we have to learn to live as equals in community, with a flat or horizontal hierarchy. Reject the vertical hierarchy of the culture most of us live in now. Vertical hierarchies create conflicts when people try create positions of power over us.

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