Those reality show contestants competing for a bunker might not be so crazy after all.
According to a new report, climate change, population growth, and the destruction of natural ecosystems could push the Earth towards a "state shift" in the biosphere, a global "tipping point" that might result in mass extinction, among other things. "It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point," said Anthony Barnosky, professor of integrative biology at the UC Berkeley, and the lead author of the review paper. "The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations."
The report, from 22 scientists from The Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology (and first pointed out by James Fallows of The Atlantic in a post titled, "I fear this may be the most important news of 2012"), says that there's no certainty that the tipping point will happen, or when. But it's certainly possible, especially if we hit a threshold where around 50 percent of the planet's land goes to agriculture or urban purposes. Currently we're at 43 percent.
"Can it really happen?" Barnosky asks. "Looking into the past tells us unequivocally that, yes, it can really happen. It has happened. The last glacial/interglacial transition 11,700 years ago was an example of that."
Here's video with more from Barnosky: