Could climate change make humans go extinct?
There's good news and bad news.
The impacts of climate change are here with soaring temperatures, stronger hurricanes, intensified floods and a longer and more severe wildfire season. Scientists warn that ignoring climate change will yield "untold suffering" for humanity. But if things are going to get that much worse, could climate change make humans go extinct?
Scientists predict a range of devastating scenarios if climate change is not kept under control, but if we just consider the direct impacts, then there's some good news; it's unlikely to cause our extinction.
"There is no evidence of climate change scenarios that would render human beings extinct," Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State and author of "The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet" (PublicAffairs, 2021), told Live Science in an email.
It's possible that climate change will still threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people, such as by leading to food and water scarcity, which has the potential to trigger a societal collapse and set the stage for global conflict.
Too hot to handle?
Humans are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities. These gases trap and hold heat from the sun, causing global temperatures to rise and the climate to change much faster than it otherwise would, putting humanity on a dangerous path.
A runaway greenhouse effect is probably the only way climate change impacts could directly cause human extinction, according to Luke Kemp, a research associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. This effect happens when a planet is caught in an unstoppable, positive feedback loop of warming and absorbs more heat than it loses, until the planet's oceans evaporate and it can no longer sustain life.
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