5 January 2018
Steve Mustow, Senior Director in WYG's environment discipline, looks at the global catastrophic risks to the environment at a time of political upheaval. The article was first published on W: transform.iema.net.
The 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement, which reflects the level of global catastrophic risk, gives the time as only two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the time of apocalypse. This is 30 seconds closer than in 2016. The time of the famous Doomsday Clock is set by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and is 70 years old this year.
The threat of apocalypse increased due to the international community’s continued failure to tackle the most severe existential threats of nuclear war and climate change. The current nuclear stand-off between the USA and North Korea, and President Trump’s decision to quit the Paris climate deal have subsequently exacerbated this situation.
Have we as environmental and sustainability professionals been paying enough attention to the existential threats that confront our planet? Our work involves protection of the environment and sustainable management of resources. However, this is often on a relatively small scale, for example, managing the environmental risks of an individual development project, protecting a particular habitat or improving the sustainability performance of an organisation.
Although this is important work, is there more we should be doing to address the greatest threats to the environment? It is often tempting to ignore such global threats on the basis that they have a relatively low probability of occurring and may fall outside our area of expertise. However, although the probability of occurrence in any one year is low, the scale of potential impact is huge. Also, although we tend to think in terms of our own lifetimes, on a planetary time span there are millions of years ahead of us.
Comparisons to risks that we can understand are therefore helpful, albeit sobering. For example, it has been calculated that an individual would be more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event than a car crash (Global Challenges Foundation, Global Catastrophic Risks 2016).
To read the full article, visit the IEMA website here.