Foundation Search



American Climate Alliance (ACA)

2010 Kistler Prize
Call for Nominations

Deadline: September 30, 2020

Planned Events

“Darwin Day" Celebration

February 12, 2020

Walter P. Kistler Book Award

Spring 2009

“Nature vs. Nurture” Workshop

Spring 2009

“Young Scholars Inquiry” Seminar

Spring 2009

Tenth Annual Kistler Prize

Fall 2009



“Anthropogenic Climate Destabilization: A Worst-case Scenario” Humanity 3000 Workshop

September 2008

Ninth Annual Kistler Prize

September 2008

“Future of Planet Earth” FFF/UNESCO Joint Sponsored Seminar

June 2008

“Think Globally, Act Locally” Humanity 3000 Seminar

April 2008


Streaming Video

Foundation For the Future 10th Anniversary

Where Does Humanity Go from Here?

Cosmic Origins: From Big Bang to Humankind


Recent Publications

“Think Globally – Act Locally” Workshop Proceedings

“Energy Challenges” Executive Summary

“Energy Challenges” Workshop Proceedings

[34.9 MB PDF]

“Humanity and the Biosphere” Seminar Proceedings

[8.7 MB PDF]

Foundation Newsletter

Winter 2007/2008
[1.6 MB PDF]









Humanity 3000


HOME | SEMINARS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 | SYMPOSIA 1 2 | WORKSHOPS 1 2 3 4 5


Workshop 5

“Anthropogenic Climate Destabilization: A Worst-case Scenario”
Participant Statement

September 12–14, 2008 | Bellevue, Washington

< Previous | Main | Next >

Feng Hsu

What are the three critical questions you would ask pertaining to “anthropogenic climate change: a worst-case scenario” – and why?

1. Can we afford to take any chances (regardless of the level of likelihood and associated uncertainties) if the risk associated with a catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is the ultimate consequence of our own extinction on Earth?

Although a mountain of scientific, natural, and human empirical evidences have brought to an indisputable close of the worldwide debate on the issue of whether the climate change is largely affected or aggravated by human emissions of GHG into Earth’s atmospheric environment, it remains unclear for politicians and policy-makers of some major nation-states – even amongst the climate change research community – on the level of risks humanity is confronted with pertaining to anthropogenic climate change. The reason that there exists such ambiguity or skepticism about the urgency of the GHG issue and either ignoring or underestimating the risks of a catastrophic climate change is largely due to lack of understanding by many of us on the underlying issues from risk assessment and management perspectives. There are many of us in high levels of policy-making apparatus within human societies who would like to believe that the likelihood of a catastrophic climate change is too insignificant to become a real threat to the survival of humanity. However, in my view as a risk assessment and management expert, it must be made very clear to the general public and to all levels of politicians and policy-makers that risk is not merely a measure of likelihood of occurrence of any dangerous or adverse event; it is, rather, a combination of event likelihood of occurrence, scenario, and associated consequences if the undesired event were to occur. Therefore, in dealing with the climate change risks, if the worst-case scenario is potential catastrophic sea level rise, acidification and severe loss of freshwater and food supplies leading to the cascading consequences of massive dying out of biospecies, wildlife, and the ultimate extinction of humankind, should we be still arguing about the level of likelihood (or probability) of such an unthinkable risk? Mankind simply can’t afford to take any chances but must take any immediate actions we possibly can to reduce and mitigate such risk, because the consequence is just too high, as far as there is none-zero likelihood.

2. What if the Earth’s atmospheric GHG concentration has already passed the “Tipping Point” and we continue to focus all our resources in seeking out ways of reducing human release of CO2 while ignoring the risk mitigation and human survival and adaptation strategies?

There have been studies and heated debate within the scientific community regarding whether or not the Earth’s level of CO2 concentration has really reached or passed the “Tipping Point” (350-450 ppm, Hansen et al.) where regardless of whether humans stop dumping any more CO2 into the Earth’s atmospheric environment, the surface ocean will continue to absorb the rest of the GHG dose, and the acidification process already destined to occur is more than sufficient to change ocean ecology in many catastrophic aspects. In other words, there exists a conceivable risk scenario where the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 level might have already reached the dangerous zone at which an inevitable and irreversible catastrophic climate warming process is already on its way ahead of us. Meanwhile, humans continue to focus all our resources in GHG reduction and largely ignoring any risk mitigation and human adaptation and survival strategies. This is certainly a non-trivial risk likelihood and scenario according to a recent probabilistic analysis that concluded that the long-term CO2 limit is in the range 300-500 ppm for 25% risk tolerance, depending on climate sensitivity and non-CO2 forcings. So, are we ready or have we done anything and taken actions toward mitigating (or even accepting) such risk consequences of possibly adapting ourselves and living with a Planet Earth with no ice sheets in both poles and with drastically raised sea level, diminished major glaciers & rivers, and extreme drought conditions for the continued survival of our species? The Dutch, among others, have shown for centuries how to live with sea level rise. But that is going to require resources and long-term risk strategies, and that is where an adaptation fund or policy support would be needed. I believe this could be a credible risk scenario that has been largely ignored and it deserves open debate and actions not only from within the research community but from among the policy-making circles as well. Again, the consequence of failing to address such risk issue in a timely manner could be the end of our species on the planet.

3. What are the social and economic implications from the impact of the anthropogenic climate change, especially from the impact of climate and ecosystem breakdown risks in Tibet with respect to Asia and the rest of globe populations?

Among many risk scenarios of natural and anthropogenic climate change, such as increasing heat waves, heavy rains, drought, devastating storms, loss of biodiversity, sea level rise, etc., the societal and economic implications of the climate change risk are the most catastrophic ones, although they have not been widely discussed within the scientific communities. Indeed, the elephant in the room, which almost no one seems to have addressed, is the mass migration of humans as sea levels rise and habitats become marginal or uninhabitable. A large portion of the human population lives within 10 or so meters of sea level and will have to find new places to survive! The risks of climate refugees and, by extension, climate wars (as aggravated by severe water and food shortages) are not the risk scenarios humans can take lightly. When climate refugees retreat permanently to higher and resourceful ground, will they destabilize their own region or their neighbors? From a risk modeling viewpoint, the complexity, uncertainty, and interdependencies of these risk scenarios often produce or trigger even more complex risk outcomes and consequences that are far beyond human predictability, expectation, and controls. The likely cascading (or domino) effect of climate risk events, such as deforestation and irrigation leading to land use changes, will be compounded by drought, flooding, and food shortages causing accelerated deterioration of natural or anthropogenic climate changes. Recent studies have revealed possible humanitarian disasters in large parts of Asia that could potentially be caused by the climate breakdown risks in the Tibetan and Himalayan region. From India or China to California, the world’s food supply is critically dependent on the meltwater of such glaciers that have been in existence since the dawn of the human species. Many of Asia’s greatest rivers – the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and Huang He – derive their summer flow from the meltwater of Tibetan glaciers. As the glaciers are retreating at alarming rates, the volume of water in rivers first increases, causing widespread flooding, and then declines radically. The Gangotri glacier provides 70% of summer flow in the River Ganges, sacred to 800 million Hindus. It is shrinking twice as fast as it was 20 years ago. Here, as elsewhere in India and China, the result could be catastrophic water shortage for hundreds of millions of people in a matter of decades! With a combined population of China and India over 40% of the world’s total, and two of the world’s fastest growing economies relentlessly demanding energy, food, and water resources, the risks of such climate breakdown scenarios are simply too profound for humanity to bear if we don’t start taking actions now.