NEED VERSUS GREED
So Niels Bohr, Nobel Laureate in Physics, is supposed to have said about the difficulties of divining that which is to come. The world is a complex place, and determining the state of the world in coming decades might seem like a fool’s errand. Few anticipated transforming events like the recent global economic crisis, the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, or the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, while such social, political and economic upheavals are near impossible to foresee, certain fundamental trends in the physical state of the planet are clear and directional, and do provide firmer foundations for what coming decades might hold. Scientists have dubbed a new geological era, the Anthropocene, to describe the period of accelerating change that followed the advent of the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century. It is this suite of changes, rather than the transient perturbations in economies and political systems, that will ultimately decide our fate.
What trends define the Anthropocene? The clearest signal of all is the rapid change in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, which now holds more carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide than it has for millions of years. Other gases that have never been seen before are present in strong enough concentrations to alter fundamental atmospheric processes, such as the formation of stratospheric ozone. In response to these changes, global surface temperatures have risen by an average of 0.7°C. The oceans have become more acidic as
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