Geoscience Reference
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detailed analyses of what is likely to happen if greenhouse gas emissions
rise to a certain level. We no longer need science fiction to help us imag-
ine future ruins: a generation of scientists is now analyzing our prospects
while atempting to remove every trace of iction from its scrupulous esti-
mates. We can now absorb professional assessments of how dry central
Africa and eastern Australia will become, how much the water levels in
the Great Lakes will recede, how much of Bangladesh or Florida will be
submerged, how much of the grain of northern China or the American
Midwest will die under the greater heat of the sun. As we begin to think
of adapting to these and other possibilities, what was once science fic-
tion has become the reality of our world, the ruins in which we must pre-
pare to live.
Those ruins are not terribly picturesque. Contemplating the remains
of Mayan temples, we might take pleasure in the surviving structures of a
distant culture. Contemplating the ruins of our own cities and landscapes
is entirely different, if only because we still live in them. While we take in
a ictional scenario, we might enjoy puting ourselves in a distant future
to look back at the present with wonder or regret. But in reality, we take
the ongoing viability of our lives for granted. To think about our future
ruins, then, is ultimately to confront the fact that the world in which we
now live is about to transform into something else—something we may
not wish to live through at all. Those future ruins, in short, bear upon our
present , casting a shadow over who we are.
Those future ruins are strange in another respect. In them, the idea of
ruins will extend from buildings to landscapes, from landscapes to con-
tinents and seas, and then to the Earth itself. Today we can easily imag-
ine that an observer a century hence, viewing a pine forest in Colorado,
will see a good share of its trees browned and dying, others already fallen
and in decay. Such an observer, having experienced part of the previous
century and having learned about the rest, will see in that landscape the
ruins of a forest. To think in this way of an ecosystem in ruins also pro-
vokes a new emotion. Where a visitor to the Colosseum might ponder
the decline and fall of Rome, and thus the mortality even of the mightiest
empires, this observer of the pines will contemplate something quite dif-
ferent. The inevitable mortality of nature? Not exactly: those pines stood
there for millennia and presumably could have stood much longer. The
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