My first goal would be to reduce the perturbation in the carbon cycle. That would mean using carbon neutral sources of energy, and changing our agricultural practices to be less disruptive and polluting. I'm not talking about a policy here so much as changing the way our infrastructure works. That's why I'm so fascinated with changing the way we build cities, because they are the most developed forms of physical infrastructure for human habitation.
I think it's the process of demystification, and realizing that we are not talking about some supernatural nightmare - we're talking about a natural process that the planet has gone through before, and which animals have survived before.
Obviously it depends on how you define a word like "evolution," because of course we have been evolving - both biologically and culturally - in relation to the natural world for hundreds of thousands of years.
I don't know if most people have truly taken on board what this says about our place in the natural world. It doesn't mean that humans are dominating the Earth, ruling over all of nature. In fact, it is a reminder that we are only a tiny part of nature, at the mercy of a system whose operations predate us by billions of years, and will continue billions of years after we're gone.
Cities should function more like ecosystems, or even metabolisms. When we build, we should be thinking about how we can integrate into the ecosystems around us, but without sacrificing all the niceties of civilization like good restaurants, concert halls, and high-speed Internet access. I'm saying that partly tongue-in-cheek, but I'm also deadly serious. The future of technology is sustainable ecology.
I think that humans are also set up to survive. We're not as small as rats, but we make up for that by being intelligent enough to make our own hiding places and to adapt to new habitats, even if they are changing very quickly. We have an enormous population, and can afford to lose billions of people without suffering very much as a species. Indeed, some would say losing five billion people would be good for the planet - I disagree with them, but can't deny that we would do just fine if there were two billion of us... Read more »
Sometimes it's hard to take everyday concerns seriously when you think about vanished ecosystems that existed 300 million years ago and were eradicated by giant explosions. My goals haven't changed, because my goal has always been to save the world!
We are headed to a radically new Earth, at least from our perspective. But from the planet's perspective, this is nothing new. As the geologist Peter Ward is fond of pointing out, we are actually heading back to a time kind of like the Miocene. The Miocene ended about 5.5 million years ago, and it was the last time that the planet had no icecaps.
It's only been in the past two generations that we truly understood the impact our civilization has had on the natural world. To our credit as a species, we have turned this obscure scientific fact about carbon cycles into one of the most important political issues of the 21st century.
I would want us to start our quest to survive mass extinction by rethinking how we build cities. Cities should be commonplaces of production, rather than consumption - they should be producing food, and fuel.