The Threat We Pose... to Ourselves

From Adam Frank at cosmos&culture a short posting about the species that just might be the most endangered by global warming, Polar Bears? Think again...


Sixty-five million years ago, our tiny mammalian ancestors were overjoyed when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. The evolutionary bounce-back from mass extinction means that life on Earth will do just fine, thank you very much. But that recognition forces us to see the real challenge of climate change.

The danger is not to the planet but to our civilization on the planet.

This uber-technological civilization we have constructed so quickly is a network of networks (energy, transportation, economic, information and social networks). We all rely on those networks to keep food appearing in grocery stores and electricity flowing into the plugs in walls. To scientists studying the overlapping webs that define civilization, it has become clear how vulnerable these systems are to not just risk but hyperrisk — the cascade of failures that can be triggered by even small disruptions. Thus, the real dilemma we face is keeping this machine we call civilization working in a rapidly changing natural world.