Managing the Earth

Sometime in the next twenty years, the relationship between human beings and the natural world is going to change, profoundly and forever. It won't happen suddenly, but current scientific developments will make change inevitable. Like it or not, ready or not, these scientific developments are putting us on the road to becoming the managers of the global ecosystem, rather than just a participant in it.

I like to think about this coming revolution in historical terms. For most of the three and a half million years that beings we might call "human" have walked the Earth, they were unambiguously part of the natural system. The iron laws of evolution governed their survival, and those who couldn't compete died early and were soon forgotten. Our only defenses against a hostile world were primitive stone tools and fire - a minimal kind of protection at best.

Then, about 10,000 years ago, something extraordinary happened. Somewhere in the Taurus mountains in what is now Turkey, a group of people, probably women, began to develop a new set of technologies that would change the way that human beings interacted with their environment. We call these technologies "agriculture," and, for the first time, they gave human beings the power to move outside the laws of natural selection. No longer would our ancestors have to content themselves with the food that nature offered - they could start to grow their own, far surpassing nature's meager supply.

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