SA Perspectives: Science at the Crossroads; September 2005; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
At an environmental science workshop this past spring, Columbia University ecologist Shahid Naeem mused, "Gone are the good old days when you could do ecology just because it was fun." Those in his profession might once have analyzed ecosystems purely for the intellectual challenge, but today their work has an urgency to it. They return to a forest they had worked in, only to find it chopped down; they hear older colleagues reminisce about birds last seen decades ago; they walk on permafrost turned mushy by global warming.
As described in this special issue, the world is now undergoing a remarkable set of transitions: population growth has reached an inflection point and is starting to level off, the developing world is becoming developed, and environmental problems that used to be localized are radiating everywhere. The interconnected changes are, in demographer Joseph Chamie's words, a "quiet revolution" that reaches into every corner of life. They pose threats but also offer opportunities. Having seen firsthand what is happening, the authors of the articles here have thrown themselves into the task of helping society navigate the shoals ahead.