Re-framing the threat of global warming: an empirical causal loop diagram of climate change, food insecurity and societal collapse

Richards, C. E.; Lupton, R. C.; Allwood, J. M.

There is increasing concern that climate change poses an existential risk to humanity. Understanding these worst-case scenarios is essential for good risk management. However, our knowledge of the causal pathways through which climate change could cause societal collapse is underdeveloped. This paper aims to identify and structure an empirical evidence base of the climate change, food insecurity and societal collapse pathway. We first review the societal collapse and existential risk literature and define a set of determinants of societal collapse. We develop an original methodology, using these determinants as societal collapse proxies, to identify an empirical evidence base of climate change, food insecurity and societal collapse in contemporary society and then structure it using a novel-format causal loop diagram (CLD) defined at global scale and national granularity. The resulting evidence base varies in temporal and spatial distribution of study and in the type of data-driven methods used. The resulting CLD documents the spread of the evidence base, using line thickness and colour to depict density and type of data-driven method respectively. It enables exploration of how the effects of climate change may undermine agricultural systems and disrupt food supply, which can lead to economic shocks, socio-political instability as well as starvation, migration and conflict. Suggestions are made for future work that could build on this paper to further develop our qualitative understanding of, and quantitative complex systems modelling capabilities for analysing, the causal pathways between climate change and societal collapse