Probability of our civilisation to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse estimated at less than 10% in most optimistic scenario

Interesting study, concerning findings. :grimacing:

Probability of our civilisation to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse estimated at less than 10% in most optimistic scenario.

Nature: Deforestation and world population sustainability: a quantitative analysis

(…)" 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 remain2. In this paper, we focus on the consequence of indiscriminate deforestation."

The link to EBTs relates to the urgency of us taking on the four ennobling tasks the four noble truths are all about.

Venerable @sujato, you may wish to quote and refer to this study in your future talks!



So obviously I can’t assess the mathematics here, but I have had a bit of a look at the data they’re using.

For deforestation rates, they use a NASA study, Global Forest Cover, Loss, and Gain 2000-2012. As the title indicates, it assesses only up to 2012. I can’t find any really authoritative sources for more recent studies, but as I understand, in recent years there has been a tendency for deforestation to slow or reverse in developed countries, while in undeveloped countries (and Australia) it is very much still happening.

Deforestation is a complex thing to measure, because the nature of forests varies so much. A forest is not just a bunch of trees; and treating old-growth forest in the same category as pine plantations may obscure more than it reveals.

Still, since the study is focussed on a very much “big picture” analysis, I don’t know whether newer data would change the conclusions.

As to population, they use Human population growth and the demographic transition from 2009, which seems surprisingly outdated. More recent reserach published in Lancet indicates that population growth may peak much sooner than previously estimated. Again, I’m not sure if this actually affects the conclusions, as their window for collapse would precede any significant divergence between the population growth models.

Unsurprisingly, I am more than sympathetic to their view that addressing this situation will take more than the weak response we have seen so far, and requires a shift to a different kind of global social order, which the authors refer to as:

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.

If anyone wants to get the gist the article without the math, there’s a decent summary in Vice. And if you want to listen to the Vice summary as plagiarized by the Daily Mail, together with surreal interludes on celebrity culture, enjoy:


Population collapse is unfortunately inevitable for any group of animals, even if given limitless resources and no natural predators. This was proven by John Calhoun in his rat utopia studies (1950-1970). They make for fascinating reading, especially the part about the emergence of the “Beautiful ones”…

The few secluded spaces housed a population Calhoun called, “the beautiful ones.” Generally guarded by one male, the females—and few males—inside the space didn’t breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.

Let’s hope we’re better than that…


Wow, that’s weird and creepy.


Fortunately, Bhante there is still hope! Towards his later years, Calhoun sought to correct the perceived negative implications of his experimental results by pointing out that humans were different from animals in that they could exploit creative and intellectual space to avert collapse.

Man, he argued, was a positive animal, and creativity and design could solve our problems. He advocated overcoming the limitations of the planet, and as part of a multidisciplinary group called the Space Cadets promoted the colonization of space. It was a source of lasting dismay to Calhoun that his research primarily served as encouragement to pessimists and reactionaries, rather than stimulating the kind of hopeful approach to mankind’s problems that he preferred.



It wouldn’t be the first time for civilization to collapse. :wink:

Eric Cline, April 19, 2020.

If you would rather have an article instead of a 1 hour video he also wrote an article about the collapse of civilization due to climate change.


So that’s optimistically 90% non-returners?


In a way, I think the Buddha developed the perfect answer to the problem of Calhoun’s Behavioural Sink… The 4 fold sangha, the 3 fold training and the 8 fold path.
The more I think about these Buddhist practices in the context of Calhoun’s Rat model of civilizational decline, the more I appreciate the Buddha’s teachings on Sila and Panna with Samadhi as the cornerstone. If only the rat society had heard the true Teaching…



Thank you! Very interesting.

I skimmed the research. My one thought is that a key input, the Earth’s carrying capacity, uses an E. O. Wilson estimate from his 2002 book The Future of Life. He’s a respected scientist. But that was a figure given in a popular book, in 2003, and (unless I missed it) we don’t know the methodology used to come up with his estimate. I didn’t try to work through the math to see how the number was used, but in general your assumption about carrying capacity will impact your conclusions about if/when a collapse would happen.

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Because colonization worked so well the last time?

I wonder what he’d say to our current situation, with multiple competing billionaires working to actually colonize space?

That chimes with the use of apparently old data for deforestation and population. I’m not an expert, so maybe these are the best available data, but it seems odd. It wouldn’t be the first time that physicists writing on topics outside their expertise show a lack of familiarity with the research.


Another important consideration here is that while parts of the world are experiencing deforestation, overall the world is getting greener. Ironically, according to NASA, this is partly the result of increase global CO2 levels, which acts as fertilizer to plants.

Much of the current deforestation is due to burning wood for fuel and farming. The first is a solved problem in developed countries since we primarily use fossil fuels and entirely a solved problem in countries like France that rely primarily on nuclear. As for farming, developed countries has been using less and less farmland to grow more and more food using modern farm tools and techniques such as GMOs, tractors, and artificial fertilizer. I have seen this first hand in China. As the countryside adopted modern farming methods, nature is returning in profusion.

When developing countries a more able to fully embrace these technologies, I have little doubt that a similar trend of reforestation will occur as it has in Europe and North America.

You might want to check your facts on that.

From the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( FAO ) in their Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020. Key findings include:

The world’s forest area is decreasing, but the rate of loss has slowed. … due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in forest area in others through afforestation and the natural expansion of forests.

Thus, while overall deforestation continues, this is driven by the continued deforestation of natural forest, while the amount of planted forest is growing. As I briefly alluded to above, including both of these in the same measure may hide more than it reveals, as natural forest is a far richer carbon sink, with much more diversity, whereas planted forest is essentially a crop, with little ecological value.

You are probably referring to this report, which does indeed conclude this, with the caveat:

The beneficial impacts of carbon dioxide on plants may be limited, said co-author Dr. Philippe Ciais, associate director of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences, Gif-suv-Yvette, France. “Studies have shown that plants acclimatize, or adjust, to rising carbon dioxide concentration and the fertilization effect diminishes over time.”

More recent research, Unexpected reversal of C3 versus C4 grass response to elevated CO2 during a 20-year field experiment) in Science confirms the note of caution, showing that the effects of CO2 on plant growth depend greatly on circumstances, and concluding that:

even the best-supported short-term drivers of plant response to global change might not predict long-term results.

According to the World Resources Institute study in 2018, the primary drivers are agriculture (24%), wildfire (23%), and forestry (26%). No study that I have seen cites tree burning for fuel as a factor.

It’s not as simple as that. The situation in Australia, for example, is far from solved.

Unfortunately, these trends will be undercut by global warming, according to Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country, a book by Wlliam Cline.

World agriculture faces a serious decline within this century due to global warming unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are substantially reduced from their rising path, and developing countries will suffer much steeper declines than high-income countries, according to a new study by a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and the Peterson Institute. …

Individual developing countries face even larger declines. India, for example, could see a drop of 30 to 40 percent. Some smaller countries suffer what could only be described as an agricultural productivity collapse. Sudan, already wracked by civil war fueled in part by failing rains, is projected to suffer as much as a 56 percent reduction in agricultural production potential; Senegal, a 52 percent fall.

“Bill’s projections are sobering and alone they understate the potential problem,” said Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. “Governments and millions of poor people in developing countries have limited ability to cope with such changes. At least a billion people live in the poorest countries that are likely to be worst hit by this slow-moving crisis. This will be a serious problem for us all.”

Cline said that the productivity losses could be even greater than he has calculated because of more insect pests, severe drought, and scarcity of water for irrigation, changes that are likely to accompany climate change but are not explicitly included in the models he used in the study.

Specifically considering the question of whether technology will offset climate losses, Cline shows that “the pace of the green revolution has slowed, with annual global yield gains falling from 2.8 percent per year in the 1960s and 1970s to 1.6 percent in the past quarter century”. Even without the impacts of global warming, population growth, shrinkage of water supplies, increased cost of oil and other fuels, and other factors will make it hard to increase overall agricultural productivity. And of course, the regions that need the greatest increases are the very same regions that will be hit hardest and soonest by global warming.

As I am writing this, all of us are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was ultimately caused by deforestation. We have become so transfixed by our own situation that we sometimes forget that global warming is not waiting for anyone. Right now, over a quarter of Bangladesh is underwater. Meanwhile, according to the NY Times,

Vanuatu is literally sinking into the Pacific. Pastoralists in the Horn of Africa are being pushed to the edge of survival by back-to-back droughts. In the megacity of Mumbai, the rains come in terrifying cloudbursts.

The inequity is striking, no matter which way you slice it. One recent analysis found that the world’s richest 10 percent are responsible for up to 40 percent of global environmental damage, including climate change, while the poorest 10 percent account for less than 5 percent. Another estimated that warming had reduced incomes in the world’s poorest countries by between 17 percent and 30 percent.

The whole article is well worth a read. There is no room for complacency.


Bhante, Thank you for your thoughtful response. It is indeed always good to double check one’s facts. After looking back, I’m quite confident that what I wrote was correct.

I wrote, “overall the world is getting greener.” This is 100% accurate with NASA reporting last year a 20 year study using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, satellite system. According to the FOA that you cited, new tree growth globally exceeded tree loss for the last thirty-five years, by an area the size of Texas and Alaska combined. An area of forest the size of Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Denmark combined grew back in Europe between 1995 and 2015. By the way, the very good news indeed is that there was a whopping 25% reduction in the annual area burned globally from 1998 to 2015. This was due primarily to economic growth through the adoption of capitalism, which allowed poor farmers to give up slash-and-burn farming and move to cities.

You make a good point that newly planted forests are not always as diverse as old growth, which is true. On the other hand, newly planted forests absorb more CO2 than old growth. It is also good to remember that not all planted forests are farms. South Korea was essentially denuded of forest during the war and its aftermath, but after decades of replanting, it has vast, lovely green spaces.

You concurred that I was correct in saying, “according to NASA, this is partly the result of increase global CO2 levels,” but shared an article casting doubt on whether this would continue indefinitely. It is possible that this trend won’t continue, but there isn’t actually evidence in the articles you shared that it isn’t. Commercial green houses regularly add CO2 to increase plant growth. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture states, “Most crops show that for any given level of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), increasing the CO2 level to 1,000 ppm will increase the photosynthesis by about 50% over ambient CO2 levels.” This is of course far higher than the current ~415ppm.

I stated, “Much of the current deforestation is due to burning wood for fuel and farming.” You countered, “According to the World Resources Institute study in 2018, the primary drivers are agriculture (24%), wildfire (23%), and forestry (26%). No study that I have seen cites tree burning for fuel as a factor.” Of course, agriculture and farming are synonymous, so we are in agreement there. According to the UN 2015 SE4All Global Tracking Framework, 2.9 billion people use biomass (mainly wood and dung) for cooking. In parts of Africa, more than 80% of families cook with biomass. These fuels can, “contribute to deforestation, land degradation and desertification.” There are various estimates, but the use of biofuel probably contributes to the deaths of millions of people through indoor pollution. In addition, burning wood for fuel produces far more pollution than other types of fuel, especially per energy generated. For example, wood produces 20% more CO2 than coal and more than twice as much CO2 per GJ than natural gas.

You note that there is still lots of land clearing happening in Australia. I bow to your superior expertise in Australia, but fortunately things are looking up Europe and North America.

I stated that, “developed countries has been using less and less farmland to grow more and more food,” but you claimed, “Unfortunately, these trends will be undercut by global warming.” This is flatly contradicted by UN studies. Today, we produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that this will rise by 30 percent by 2050. They also stated that if we switch from moving toward modern farming methods and instead adopt “Sustainable Practices,” that increase will fall to 20%. A study published by the FAO found that food production would increase even if the world warms by 4-5 degrees C.

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Thanks, but if you could give links for these resources that’d be helpful.

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Some more recent studies on this topic

:grimacing: :pray:

Sounds like a Buddhist monastery! :joy: Here’s to the “Beautiful Ones!” :beers: :thaibuddha: