Climate change expert urges a rethink of forest futures 

Professor William Laurance believes the future of tropical forests are under huge threat from increased global industrial activity.

The earth could be in the mists of the single biggest extinction period since the dinosaurs, according to an internationally recognised researcher.

Professor William Laurance, from the School of Marine and Tropical Biology at James Cook University, presented his public lecture “Paradise in peril: Emerging threats to tropical forests” to a captivated audience at Charles Darwin University.

A 2010 Laureate Fellowship recipient, Professor Laurance presented a dim view of the future if the major contributors to tropical deforestation remained unaddressed.

“Some scientists believe that in the next one or two centuries we could be looking at a catastrophic loss of wildlife diversity in tropical forest, which will rival some of the biggest species extinctions in the planet’s five billion year history,” he said.

Professor Laurance explored the alarming drivers of climate change and threats to tropical forests around the world.

He pointed to the fundamental change in the driver of deforestation as a major challenge.

“When people were talking about deforestation in the 1970s and ’80 s they were talking about small-scale farmers and Indigenous peoples using machetes and chainsaws,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is a major shift to bulldozers, shifters and other large-scale industrial equipment.

“Future models predict global industrial activity to expand three to six fold by 2050.”

Professor Laurance addressed in-depth several other threats to tropical forests including climate change, the explosive growth of bio fuels and massive road and highway expansions.

“Climate change is an increasingly emerging and potentially serious driver of change in the tropics,” he said.

“Even the most modest of temperature changes will have massive impacts on tropical forests and their inhabitants.”

Professor Laurance said that despite extensive future modeling, predicting the future for tropical forests remained largely a “crap shoot”.

A wide range of models employed by reputable organisations all painted a different picture of what the earth might look like towards the end of the century.

“This to me is one of the most alarming findings,” he said.