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The Future of Nature

The Future of Nature: Documents of Global Change

Libby Robin
Sverker Sörlin
Paul Warde
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Future of Nature
    Book Description:

    This anthology provides an historical overview of the scientific ideas behind environmental prediction and how, as predictions about environmental change have been taken more seriously and widely, they have affected politics, policy, and public perception. Through an array of texts and commentaries that examine the themes of progress, population, environment, biodiversity and sustainability from a global perspective, it explores the meaning of the future in the twenty-first century. Providing access and reference points to the origins and development of key disciplines and methods, it will encourage policy makers, professionals, and students to reflect on the roots of their own theories and practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18847-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Libby Robin, Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde
  4. How to Use This Book
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Documenting Global Change
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book is about change. Almost no one denies that the Earth—along with its continents, oceans, and atmosphere, its plants, animals, and diseases—is changing. These collective changes have become familiar enough to be called by a singular expression:global change. The concept of global change is a child of the 1980s, fostered by the emergence of such major international research programs as the World Climate Research Programme (established in 1980) and the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (established in 1987). From this time on, there has been an interdisciplinary “global change science” conducted by a set of specialists who...

  6. Part 1: Population: Are We Too Many, or Are We Too Greedy?

    • [Part 1: Introduction]
      (pp. 15-18)

      The relationship between the number of people and the resources available to them has long been a matter of human concern, at first understood where pressures were most immediately felt, by the family and the local community. For many centuries this equation was mostly considered only on a basic level: is there enough food to go around? From the seventeenth century, what mattered was simply how many people there were, and the early accounting of people—what we now call demography—was an important stimulus to the development of data collection, quantitative methods of analysis, and statistics. Yet with the...

    • An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)
      (pp. 19-30)

      I think I may fairly make two postulata.

      First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.

      Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state.

      These two laws, ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature, and, as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are, without an immediate act of power in that Being who first arranged the system of...

    • The Shadow of the World’s Future (1928)
      (pp. 31-39)

      We have already, in Chapter VI, given some slight indication of the significance of the population-question. Owing to the imperfections and inadequacies of existing statistics, we cannot fix the population-limits with any precision, and we have shown that it is dependent largely upon factors at our disposal, viz., our economic and ethical advance, and the standard-of-living which we are prepared to accept. What has appeared in regard to the significance of rates has shown us that, even if the “unspecified” area of the world’s surface should turn out to be “productive,” the issues are not materially altered. The shadow is...

    • “Ghost Acreage” (1962)
      (pp. 40-53)

      It is a well-known fact that most countries do not subsist merely on agriculture but depend upon the importation of food and feed and in addition obtain essential protein from oceans, rivers, and lakes. This should be self-evident, but private and national economies with their vested interests enter as disrupting or blurring factors into these simple relationships. Nevertheless, economic and nutritional measures are commonly discussed and analyzed as though they concerned agriculture alone. There are many factors which might explain this state of affairs. One important reason for the lack of understanding of these fundamental forces is the fact that...

    • The Population Bomb (1968)
      (pp. 54-62)

      Americans are beginning to realize that the underdeveloped countries of the world face an inevitable population-food crisis. Each year food production in these countries falls a bit further behind burgeoning population growth, and people go to bed a little bit hungrier. While there are temporary or local reversals of this trend, it now seems inevitable that it will continue to its logical conclusion: mass starvation. The rich may continue to get richer, but the more numerous poor are going to get poorer. Of these poor, aminimumof ten million people, most of them children, will starve to death during...

  7. Part 2: Sustainability: Are We Limited by Knowledge or Resources?

    • [Part 2: Introduction]
      (pp. 63-66)

      Wanting more and having to get by with less is not just a human story, but a description of the life of many species. Fear of scarcity and management of risk means that regulation and control of resource use have ancient roots and are to be found in most human societies. But during the seventeenth century, the development of theories on the political order of Europe and its new colonies, and on relative economic performance, suggested concrete questions more orientated toward the future. Was the destiny of states determined by the resources at their disposal? Were states successful because they...

    • Sylvicultura oeconomica (1713)
      (pp. 67-77)

      Most serene and all-powerful King, most gracious Lord!

      Just as your royal Majesty’s great and gloriousActionesin Imperial affairs, and the unendingInclinationes, that You graciously direct to the raising up of your diverse territories and people, to your majesty’s most high and undying fame throughout the whole world, and ringing out to every man’s great amazement, that are granted to all, and therefore can nevermore be sufficiently extolled and venerated; and shining out especially among other things, from your royal Majesty’s incomparable care consoling your poor subjects, the raising of trade and commerce, and through thisconservingample...

    • The Coal Question (1865)
      (pp. 78-88)

      Day by day it becomes more evident that the Coal we happily possess in excellent quality and abundance is the mainspring of modern material civilization. As the source of fire, it is the source at once of mechanical motion and of chemical change. Accordingly it is the chief agent in almost every improvement or discovery in the arts which the present age brings forth. It is to us indispensable for domestic purposes, and it has of late years been found to yield a series of organic substances, which puzzle us by their complexity, please us by their beautiful colours, and...

    • “Possible Limits of Raw-Material Consumption” (1956)
      (pp. 89-100)

      This paper does not seek to analyze the availability, present or prospective, of particular raw materials. This already has been done effectively by the President’s Materials Policy Commission, and some of its findings, summarized below, constitute basic information from which the arguments herein stem. This information leads to presentation of a theory of the limit of growth. The possibility of avoiding, in the United States, arrival at such a limit by imports and technological discovery is minimized. The remainder of the paper is addressed to possible ways by which our prosperity may be sustained. It is suggested that, for the...

    • The Limits to Growth (1972)
      (pp. 101-116)

      The overwhelming growth in world population caused by the positive birth-rate loop is a recent phenomenon, a result of mankind’s very successful reduction of worldwide mortality. The controlling negative feedback loop has been weakened, allowing the positive loop to operate virtually without constraint. There are only two ways to restore the resulting imbalance. Either the birth rate must be brought down to equal the new, lower death rate, or the death rate must rise again. All of the “natural” constraints to population growth operate in the second way—they raise the death rate. Any society wishing to avoid that result...

  8. Part 3: Geographies: Are Human and Natural Futures Determined or Chosen?

    • [Part 3: Introduction]
      (pp. 117-120)

      Natural surroundings—“airs, waters, places”—have been used as an explanation for the state of civilizations and cultures since the writings of Hippocrates in classical times. After the great colonial expansion of Europe beginning in the fifteenth century, not only were the new empires confronted with a need to categorize, understand, and find uses for the great number of new plants, animals, and minerals that they encountered, they also wondered what might explain the great variety of cultures scattered around the globe, and why some appeared to be more successful than others. Was the diversity of society and fortune they...

    • The Pulse of Asia (1907)
      (pp. 121-133)

      In the progress of human knowledge the marked advances in each science have been made under the stimulus of a great fundamental principle. Astronomy could proceed but little beyond astrology until Newton discovered the law of gravitation; physics remained empirical until the conservation of energy was recognized; chemistry was merely alchemy until its pioneers worked out the unfailing law of the replacement of atom by atom; and geology would still be miner’s lore, if scientists had not seen that in the course of ages the earth as we know it has been slowly evolved by processes identical with those still...

    • “Nature Versus The Australian” (1920)
      (pp. 134-144)

      All Australians are anxious to see their homeland develop speedily, so that it may come as soon as possible into its proper place in the comity of nations. There are two distinct methods of helping toward this happy goal. One of these follows what we may call commercial lines, and the other (not necessarily antagonistic) travels over the accepted routes of scientific research.

      The former plan might be likened to putting all the best goods into the window, and, having arrived attracted the customers, to see that they purchase something. The other method is to give as much attention to...

    • The Northward Course of Empire (1922)
      (pp. 145-156)

      Man, as an animal, is indeed, a tropical animal. But man, as distinguished from animals, is not at his best in the tropics or very near them. His fight upward in civilization has coincided in part at least with his march northward over the earth into a cooler, clearer, more bracing air.

      For the last few centuries, and especially in America, our attention has been centered upon the proposition that “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” It has indisputably taken a westerly course during the last few centuries. But it is equally indisputable and more significant (because it...

  9. Part 4: “The Environment”: How Did the Idea Emerge?

    • [Part 4: Introduction]
      (pp. 157-160)

      What is “the environment”? After at least half a century of environmental concern, with Rachel Carson’s best sellerSilent Spring(1962) often used as the canonical scripture of the foundation myth, we still know surprisingly little about the concept, its origins, usage, functions, let alone its deeper relations with global change science. This is despite the fact that a lot of that science has the self-understanding of being environmental, or at least potentially beneficial for the environment, a term generally understood as denoting something out there that is important for our well-being but is affected (negatively) by human action.


    • The Biosphere (1926)
      (pp. 161-173)

      The biosphere may be regarded as a region of transformers that convert cosmic radiations into active energy in electrical, chemical, mechanical, thermal, and other forms. Radiations from all stars enter the biosphere, but we catch and perceive only an insignificant part of the total; this comes almost exclusively from the sun. The existence of radiation originating in the most distant regions of the cosmos cannot be doubted. Stars and nebulae are constantly emitting specific radiations, and everything suggests that the penetrating radiation discovered in the upper regions of the atmosphere by Hess originates beyond the limits of the solar system,...

    • Deserts on the March (1935)
      (pp. 174-186)

      [165] Twelve years have passed since the preceding chapters were first printed. Since then, a score of excellent books have been written about the resources which have made this nation great and about our obligation to conserve them. At least sixty millions of acres have, with the technical supervision of the Soil Conservation Service, been put under proper land use and management, halting erosion and restoring lost fertility. The care of millions of additional acres has been influenced for the better by our growing consciousness of danger. These measures have not only arrested damage—they have contributed vastly to farm...

    • Road to Survival (1948)
      (pp. 187-194)

      By excessive breeding and abuse of the land mankind has backed itself into an ecological trap. By a lopsided use of applied science it has been living on promissory notes. Now, all over the world, the notes are falling due.

      Payment cannot be postponed much longer. Fortunately, we still may choose between payment and utterly disastrous bankruptcy on a world scale. It will certainly be more intelligent to pull in our belts and accept a long period of austerity and rebuilding than to wait for a catastrophic crash of our civilization. In hard fact, we have no other choice.


    • (pp. 195-204)

      [21] There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of colour that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines. Then foxes barked in the hills and deer silently crossed the fields, half hidden in the mists of the autumn mornings.

      Along the roads,...

  10. Part 5: Ecology: How Do We Understand Natural Systems?

    • [Part 5: Introduction]
      (pp. 205-208)

      In this section we focus on the “economy of nature,” the science of ecology. In 1866, Ernst Haeckel defined ecology (Ökologiein German) as a science for understanding how organisms relate to their “external world.” We are not so much concerned here with “the” ecology (a term sometimes used to refer to the natural world), as the changing worldview created by the methods of this particular science. As it developed in the twentieth century, its concepts influenced thinking about policy making for global change. Later, in Part 8, “Diversity,” we focus on ideas about biological diversity and its management, but...

    • Essay on the Geography of Plants (1807)
      (pp. 209-219)

      Based on measurements and observations performed on location, from the tenth degree of boreal latitude to the tenth degree of austral latitude in the years 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803.

      When one ascends from sea level to the peaks of high mountains, one can see a gradual change in the appearance of the land and in the various physical phenomena in the atmosphere. The plants in the plains are gradually replaced by very different ones: woody plants decrease little by little and are replaced by herbaceous and alpine plants; higher still, one finds only grasses and cryptogams. Rocks are...

    • “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms” (1935)
      (pp. 220-232)

      It is now generally admitted by plant ecologists, not only that vegetation is constantly undergoing various kinds of change, but that the increasing habit of concentrating attention on these changes instead of studying plant communities as if they were static entities is leading to a far deeper insight into the nature of vegetation and the parts it plays in the world. A great part of vegetational change is generally known assuccession, which has become a recognised technical term in ecology, though there still seems to be some difference of opinion as to the proper limits of its connotation….


    • Principles and Concepts Pertaining to the Ecosystem and Biogeochemical Cycles 1953
      (pp. 233-244)

      Living organisms and their nonliving (abiotic) environment are inseparably interrelated and interact upon each other. Any entity or natural unit that includes living and nonliving parts interacting to produce a stable system in which the exchange of materials between the living and nonliving parts follows circular paths is an ecological system or ecosystem.¹ The ecosystem is the largest functional unit in ecology, since it includes both organisms (biotic communities) and abiotic environment, each influencing the properties of the other and both necessary for maintenance of life as we have it on the earth. A lake is an example of an...

    • Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems (1973)
      (pp. 245-260)

      Individuals die, populations disappear, and species become extinct. That is one view of the world. But another view of the world concentrates not so much on presence or absence as upon the numbers of organisms and the degree of constancy of their numbers. These are two very different ways of viewing the behavior of systems and the usefulness of the view depends very much on the properties of the system concerned. If we are examining a particular device designed by the engineer to perform specific tasks under a rather narrow range of predictable external conditions, we are likely to be...

  11. Part 6: Technology: Does Technology Create More Problems Than It Solves?

    • [Part 6: Introduction]
      (pp. 261-263)

      Technology has long been a double-edged sword when it comes to human relations with nature. It is in large part through technology that we have come to our modern understanding of the environment, giving us the capacity to measure, analyze, and view it from a microscopic to a global level. In this sense, we can even say that technology has been a crucial element in constructing the very idea of the environment.

      At the same time, technology has been a major agent in the human transformation of the global environment—often in a way seen as damaging. This has been...

    • The Tree of Science (1857)
      (pp. 264-272)

      Modern civilization, unlike Greek or Roman civilizations, is not limited to a town or an empire, it can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the South Sea Islands, as such it is a very specific phenomenon to which nothing can be compared…. All these historical civilizations have fallen through invasions, wars, political or religious upheavals; modern civilization however will fall in harmony, not through conquest or invasions but under the weight of its own force and power, in an excited wave of immense scientific discovery, and for the present we cannot possibly conceive the repercussions of this.


    • To Choose a Future (1972)
      (pp. 273-281)

      [7–8] The concept of the welfare state has hitherto been seen as closely harnessed to the rapid development of science and technology. However, this development is now also being recognized as a source of danger for our societies because of over-hasty transformations and unforeseen negative effects. There is broad agreement that scientific and technological capacity will be a crucial factor in our common efforts to bring acceptable material standards of living to all people. But are the present large-scale technologies really furthering this aim? What alternative choices exist? How are cumulative technological innovatory processes to be reconciled with slower...

    • “The Dynamics of Energy Systems and the Logistic Substitution Model” (1979)
      (pp. 282-290)

      One of the objectives of IIASA’s Energy Systems Program is to improve the methodology of medium- and long-range forecasting in the areas of the energy market and energy use, demands, supply opportunities and constraints. This is commonly accomplished with models that capture and put into equations the numerous relationships and feedbacks characterizing the operation of an economic system or parts of it. Such an approach encounters many difficulties, which are linked to the extreme complexity of the system and the fairly short-term variation of the parameters and even of the equations used. Consequently, these models lend themselves to short- and...

  12. Part 7: Climate: How Can We Predict Change?

    • [Part 7: Introduction]
      (pp. 291-294)

      Climate, a word used as long ago as the time of the ancient Greeks, was formerly understood as a local phenomenon, the climate of a place. Only recently has its meaning changed to refer to global climate, mainly defined as global mean temperature, to which local climates contribute only partially. Carbon dioxide has played a major role in this globalization of climate, from early theorizing about atmospheric chemistry in the nineteenth century, to measuring the concentration of this gas throughout the entire atmosphere encircling the earth. Carbon dioxide is now seen as playing a major role in steering the climate...

    • “On the Transmission of Heat” (1859)
      (pp. 295-302)

      Some analogies between sound and light were first pointed out: a spectrum from the electric light was thrown upon a screen—the spectrum was to the eye what an orchestra was to the ear—the different colours were analogous to notes of different pitch. But beyond the visible spectrum in both directions there were rays which excited no impression of light. Those at the red end excited heat, and the reason why they failed to excite light probably was that they never reached the retina at all. This followed from the experiments of Brücke and Knoblauch. These obscure rays had...

    • “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground” (1896)
      (pp. 303-315)

      A great deal has been written on the influence of the absorption of the atmosphere upon the climate. Tyndall in particular has pointed out the enormous importance of this question. To him it was chiefly the diurnal and annual variations of the temperature that were lessened by this circumstance. Another side of the question, that has long attracted the attention of physicists, is this: Is the mean temperature of the ground in any way influenced by the presence of heat-absorbing gases in the atmosphere? Fourier maintained that the atmosphere acts like the glass of a hot-house, because it lets through...

    • “Seasonal Foreshadowing” (1930)
      (pp. 316-326)

      [Read at a meeting of the Society on May 21, 1930.]

      [359] 1. Statistical methods have been applied to the discovery of relationships between weather in many parts of the world, but although the number of coefficients worked out is of the order of ten thousand, satisfactory formulae for predicting the character of seasons have been worked out in very few countries. An effort was made by the author in 1908 in connection with the monsoon rainfall of India and Australia and the Nile floods, and methods promising greater reliability have since been developed for the summer and winter rainfall...

    • “The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature” (1938)
      (pp. 327-336)

      By fuel combustion man has added about 150,000 million tons of carbon dioxide to the air during the past half century. The author estimates from the best available data that approximately three quarters of this has remained in the atmosphere.

      The radiation absorption coefficients of carbon dioxide and water vapour are used to show the effect of carbon dioxide on “sky radiation.” From this the increase in mean temperature, due to the artificial production of carbon dioxide, is estimated to be at the rate of 0.003°C per year at the present time.

      The temperature observations at 200 meteorological stations are...

    • “Unpleasant Surprises in the Greenhouse?” (1987) and
      (pp. 337-347)

      [123] The inhabitants of planet Earth are quietly conducting a gigantic environmental experiment. So vast and so sweeping will be the consequences that, were it brought before any responsible council for approval, it would be firmly rejected. Yet it goes on with little interference from any jurisdiction or nation. The experiment in question is the release of CO2and other so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ to the atmosphere. Because these releases are largely by-products of energy and food production, we have little choice but to let the experiment continue. We can perhaps slow its pace by eliminating frivolous production and by making...

    • “Climate and Atmospheric History of the Past 420,000 Years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica” (1999)
      (pp. 348-362)

      [429] The recent completion of drilling at Vostok station in East Antarctica has allowed the extension of the ice record of atmospheric composition and climate to the past four glacial–interglacial cycles. The succession of changes through each climate cycle and termination was similar, and atmospheric and climate properties oscillated between stable bounds. Interglacial periods differed in temporal evolution and duration. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane correlate well with Antarctic air-temperature throughout the record. Present-day atmospheric burdens of these two important greenhouse gases seem to have been unprecedented during the past 420,000 years. The late Quaternary period (the...

  13. Part 8: Diversity: Why Do We Need It, and Can We Conserve It?

    • [Part 8: Introduction]
      (pp. 363-366)

      In Part 8 we explore ideas about global life systems and the biological sciences that inform their management. Cultural diversity also has been an important principle of global change thinking, and has recently been intertwined in current management discussions. In this part, the focus is mostly onbiologicaldiversity (and after 1986, “biodiversity”) as diversity has emerged as a key concept in reorganizing nature conservation historically on a global scale in the postwar years.

      Approaches to nature in the eighteenth century were often highly local: one study of the nature of a single parish in southern England was Gilbert White’s...

    • The Invaders (1958)
      (pp. 367-380)

      [15] … Nowadays we live in a very explosive world, and while we may not know where or when the next outburst will be, we might hope to find ways of stopping it or at any rate damping down its force. It is not just nuclear bombs and wars that threaten us, though these rank very high on the list at the moment: there are other sorts of explosions, and this book is about ecological explosions. An ecological explosion means the enormous increase in numbers of some kind of living organism—it may be an infectious virus like influenza, or...

    • The Forestry Projections and the Environment: Global-Scale Environmental Impacts (1980)
      (pp. 381-390)

      The second global change implied by the forestry projections is a significant reduction in biotic diversity. The extent to which the diversity of the flora and fauna is maintained provides a basic index to the ecological health of the planet. Presently the world’s biota contains an estimated 3–10 million species. Until the present century, the number of species extinguished as a result of human activities was small, and the species so affected were regarded as curiosities. Between now and 2000, however, the number of extinctions caused by human activities will increase rapidly. Loss of wild habitat may be the...

    • “What Is Conservation Biology?” (1985)
      (pp. 391-408)

      [727] Conservation biology, a new stage in the application of science to conservation problems, addresses the biology of species, communities, and ecosystems that are perturbed, either directly or indirectly, by human activities or other agents. Its goal is to provide principles and tools for preserving biological diversity. In this article I describe conservation biology, define its fundamental propositions, and note a few of its contributions. I also point out that ethical norms are a genuine part of conservation biology, as they are in all mission- or crisis-oriented disciplines.

      Conservation biology differs from most other biological sciences in one important way:...

    • “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique” (1997)
      (pp. 409-432)

      The respected radical journalist Kirkpatrick Sale has celebrated “the passion of a new and growing movement that has become disenchanted with the environmental establishment and has in recent years mounted a serious and sweeping attack on it—style, substance, systems, sensibilities and all” (Sale 1986: 26). The vision of those whom Sale calls the “New Ecologists”—and what I refer to in this chapter as deep ecology—is a compelling one. Decrying the narrowly economic goals of mainstream environmentalism, this new movement aims at nothing less than a philosophical and cultural revolution in human attitudes towards nature. In contrast to...

  14. Part 9: Measuring: How Do We Turn the World into Data?

    • [Part 9: Introduction]
      (pp. 433-436)

      How do we get a conceptual grip on “the environment” and what is happening to it? If we imagine its future is going to be different from its present (or past), how do we present the nature of that difference? Is the aspect we are interested in going to be more, or less (frequent, intense, reliable, and so on)? Does this make it better, or worse? To begin to answer these questions, we need to have some kind of measure, breaking down a continuous world into discrete elements. At the same time—ironically—to understand a phenomenon like global change,...

    • An Investigation of the Currents of the Atlantic Ocean (1832)
      (pp. 437-444)

      [1–3] Although the currents of the ocean form a most important part of hydrography, yet it is only since the introduction of chronometers, and of celestial observations for the longitude at sea, (that is, not much more than forty years ago), that a competent idea of their direction and force, in any kind of detail, could be obtained. For although the differences in northing and southing, between the dead-reckonings and observations, might be pointed out by the observations of latitude, yet the error of longitude, or of easting and westing, would, of course, escape detection altogether: and it happens...

    • “Current Problems in Meteorology” (1957)
      (pp. 445-453)

      [10] During the decades which have passed since meteorology first took shape shortly after the beginning of this century, the network of meteorological stations which is at our disposal for the study of the daily changes in state and movements of the atmosphere, has been extended in an impressive way. It is now possible to give a rather satisfying picture of the air movements of the troposphere and the lower stratosphere twice a day over the major part of the northern hemisphere. At the same time our knowledge of the dynamics and physics of the atmosphere has to some degree...

    • Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems (1997)
      (pp. 454-464)

      In the space of a single human lifetime, society finds itself suddenly confronted with a daunting complex of tradeoffs between some of its most important activities and ideals. Recent trends raise disturbing questions about the extent to which today’s people may be living at the expense of their descendants, casting doubt upon the cherished goal that each successive generation will have greater prosperity. Technological innovation may temporarily mask a reduction in Earth’s potential to sustain human activities; in the long run, however, it is unlikely to compensate for the depletion of fundamental resources, such as productive land, fisheries, old-growth forests,...

    • The Economics of Climate Change (2006)
      (pp. 465-478)

      The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response.

      This independent Review was commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reporting to both the Chancellor and to the Prime Minister, as a contribution to assessing the evidence and building understanding of the economics of climate change.

      The Review first examines the evidence on the economic impacts of climate change itself, and explores the economics of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The second half of the Review considers the complex policy challenges involved in managing the transition to a...

  15. Part 10: The Anthropocene: How Can We Live in a World Where There Is No Nature Without People?

    • [Part 10: Introduction]
      (pp. 479-482)

      As the world reached the end of the twentieth century, the environmental news was not good. Climate scientists were close to a consensus that human-forced climate change was happening. Conservation activists and biodiversity experts were talking of a sixth mass extinction. And the world’s population was rapidly approaching the 7.8 billion absolute limit put forward by George Knibbs in 1926 (see Part 1). The global view was disturbing, but the world was also becoming hardened to environmental bad news. The increasingly popular slogan of “think global, act local” often just seemed to highlight the gap between aspirations and achievement. The...

    • “The ‘Anthropocene’” (2000)
      (pp. 483-490)

      The name Holocene (“Recent Whole”) for the post-glacial geological epoch of the past ten to twelve thousand years seems to have been proposed for the first time by Sir Charles Lyell in 1833, and adopted by the International Geological Congress in Bologna in 1885 (1). During the Holocene mankind’s activities gradually grew into a significant geological, morphological force, as recognised early on by a number of scientists. Thus, G. P. Marsh already in 1864 published a book with the title “Man and Nature,” more recently reprinted as “The Earth as Modified by Human Action” (2). Stoppani in 1873 rated mankind’s...

    • “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity” (2009)
      (pp. 491-505)

      New approach proposed for defining preconditions for human development

      Crossing certain biophysical thresholds could have disastrous consequences for humanity

      Three of nine interlinked planetary boundaries have already been overstepped

      Although Earth has undergone many periods of significant environmental change, the planet’s environment has been unusually stable for the past 10,000 years.1–3This period of stability—known to geologists as the Holocene—has seen human civilizations arise, develop and thrive. Such stability may now be under threat. Since the Industrial Revolution, a new era has arisen, the Anthropocene,⁴ in which human actions have become the main driver of global environmental...

    • “Reducing the Future to Climate: A Story of Climate Determinism and Reductionism” (2011)
      (pp. 506-526)

      [246] Human beings are always trying to come to terms with the climates they live with. This is as true for the ways the relationship between society and climate is theorized as it is for the practical challenges of living fruitfully and safely with climatic resources and hazards. The story of how the idea of climate has traveled through the human imagination is well told in Lucian Boia’sThe Weather in the Imagination, and an exemplary account of how a society seeks practically to live with its climate is William B. Meyer’sAmericans and Their Weather. When people reflect on...

  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 527-540)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 541-542)
    Libby Robin, Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde
  18. Commentators
    (pp. 543-548)
  19. Selection Credits
    (pp. 549-552)
  20. Index
    (pp. 553-564)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 565-565)