Masters of nature

Interesting article in The Economist:

Welcome to the anthropocene

They do understand the science of climate change, but they don’t seem to have accepted the scale of effort required to keep it from becoming dangerous.

One thought on “Masters of nature

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    The age of man

    SIR – Your leader on the geological impact of human activity on the planet described geoengineering, which is the deliberate intervention in the climate system to counteract global warming, as a “dramatic change” designed to enhance the Earth’s durability (“Welcome to the Anthropocene”, May 28th). I would go further. The emerging debate over geoengineering is the principal forum in which old and new visions of nature and society are competing to guide our collective approach to life. Geoengineering is the most concrete embodiment of the recognition that humanity is now the dominant geological force on the planet, and must act accordingly.

    In a world in which people have altered the climate system, it is not only inaccurate, but also irresponsible and even untenable to continue to view civilisation as separate and distinct from nature. The need for active, purposeful management of the Earth’s systems clashes with a premise on which much of modernity, including environmentalism, is founded, namely, that man stands apart from nature. Geoengineering erases this distinction. Given the stakes, the arguments are certain to intensify.

    Joshua Horton

    SIR – Geoengineering, which would potentially scrub carbon from the sky, is the type of thinking that got us into this environmental mess in the first place. If we really do want to “think afresh” about our relationship with the planet, we should find solutions that avoid such high-risk projects.

    Dan Saragosti

    SIR – A key element missing from your briefing is that human alterations to the planet over the past 50 years have degraded our ecosystems. We depend on properly functioning ecosystems for our well being, including providing freshwater, regulating the climate and controlling pollination. Restoring and sustaining these for growing populations and an unpredictable climate is the paramount challenge of our time.

    As you said, we can “add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions.” Governments, the UN and some businesses, such as Mondi, Syngenta and Akzo Nobel, are using an ecosystem-services review to identify what they affect and depend upon. We need a concerted approach to repair our ecosystems. Otherwise, we will be fiddling as the Anthropocene comes to an abrupt end rather than moving toward the Sustainocene.

    Janet Ranganathan
    Frances Irwin
    World Resources Institute
    Washington, DC

    * SIR – You quoted Henry David Thoreau as saying “In wilderness is the preservation of the world”. This was slightly wrong. In “Walking”, Thoreau actually wrote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world”.

    Daniel Shively
    Indiana, Pennsylvania

    * SIR – You said that “the natural fluxes in carbon dioxide into and out of the atmosphere are still more than ten times larger than the amount that humans put out every year by burning fossil fuels”. True enough, but climate-change sceptics often pounce on this fact to pooh-pooh the anthropogenic impact from the burning of fossil fuels.

    Although you went on to recognise that human activity causes these natural flows to become unbalanced, it can actually take only two or three decades for humans to cumulatively emit an amount that matches those natural fluxes, given how long carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere and the low amount that the earth can absorb each year.

    Anant Sundaram
    Hanover, New Hampshire

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