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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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Brian Fagan

What are the three most critical challenges facing Planet Earth going forward?

1. Water. I believe that the single most pressing issue facing humanity for the foreseeable future is water, especially if current global warming trends continue. If drought predictions by the Hadley Center and others are to be believed, then the percentage of humanity exposed to severe and extreme drought, especially in semi-arid and arid regions, will rise exponentially in the future. Such epochal droughts will raise important issues of international cooperation, infrastructure, and global governance that have yet to be faced.

2. Climate Change. The world’s changing climate will be a major concern, whether or not there is anthropogenic global warming – which seems a scientific reality. At issue here will not only be water supplies, but sea level changes, shifts in the length of growing seasons and distributions of crops, and the melting or otherwise of ice caps. There are many uncertainties. Are we correct, for example, in suspecting that the potential implosion of the Greenland ice sheet will trigger another mini-Ice Age by slowing Gulf Stream downwelling, as happened 12,000 years ago? Many climatic issues will transcend national boundaries and involve global initiatives, which will override petty nationalist or spiritual issues. We will have to master the art of living with climatic shifts, as humanity will never be able to control either climate or weather.

3. Spiritual relationships to the environment. Spiritual beliefs and ritual are two aspects of our human-ness that have been grossly neglected by anyone except religious historians and a few anthropologists. Recent research on Australian Aborigines, for example, shows that their spiritual beliefs were a major factor in their adaptations to climate change and semi-arid lands. As the future becomes more complex and more threatening, I believe that our relationships to the supernatural realm will transcend organized religion and its trivial rivalries. I think we will develop new belief structures that will reflect a more connected, more spiritual world, where materialism is less important.