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A Real challenges or just science?
The ecological challenge
On top of nuclear war, in the coming decades humankind will face a new existential threat that hardly registered on the political radars in 1964: ecological collapse. Humans are destabilising the global biosphere on multiple fronts. We are taking more and more resources out of the environment, while pumping back into it enormous quantities of waste and poison, thereby changing the composition of the 5 soil, the water and the atmosphere.
We are hardly even aware of the myriad ways in which we disrupt the delicate ecological balance that has been shaped over millions of years. Consider, for example, the use of phosphorus as a fertiliser. In small quantities it is an essential nutrient for the growth of plants. But in excessive amounts it becomes toxic. Modern industrial farming is based on artificially fertilising the fields with plenty of phosphorus, but the high-phosphorus run-off from the farms subsequently poisons rivers, lakes and oceans, with a devastating impact on marine life. A farmer growing corn in lowa might thus inadvertently kill fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a result of such activities, habitats are degraded, animals and plants are becoming extinct, and entire ecosystems such as the Australian Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon rainforest might be destroyed. For thousands of years Homo sapiens behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer. If we continue with our present course it will cause not just the 25 annihilation of a large percentage of all life forms, but it might also sap the foundations of human civilisation.
Most threatening of all is the prospect of climate change. Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and have survived
numerous ice ages and warm spells. However, agriculture, cities and complex societies have existed for no more than 10,000 years. During this period, known as the Holocene, Earth's climate has been relatively stable. Any deviation from Holocene standards will present human societies with enormous challenges they never encountered before. It will be like conducting an open-ended experiment on billions of human guinea pigs. Even if human civilisation eventually adapts to the new conditions, who knows how many victims might perish in the process of adaptation.

This terrifying experiment has already been set in motion. Unlike nuclear war which is a future potential - climate change is a present reality. There is a scientific consensus that human activities, in particular the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, are causing the earth's climate to change at a frightening rate. Nobody knows exactly how much carbon dioxide we can continue to pump into the atmosphere without triggering an irreversible cataclysm. But our best scientific estimates indicate that unless we dramatically cut the emission of greenhouse gases in the next twenty years, average global temperatures will


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increase by more than \( 2^{\circ} \mathrm{C} \), resulting in expanding deserts, disappearing ice caps, 50 rising oceans and more frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons. These changes in turn will disrupt agricultural production, inundate cities, make much of the world uninhabitable and send hundreds of millions of refugees in search of new homes. Moreover, we are rapidly approaching a number of tipping points, beyond which even a dramatic drop in greenhouse gas emissions will not be 55 enough to reverse the trend and avoid a worldwide tragedy. For example, as global warming melts the polar ice sheets, less sunlight is reflected back from planet Earth to outer space. This means that the planet absorbs more heat, temperatures rise even higher and the ice melts even faster. Once this feedback loop crosses a critical threshold it will gather an irresistible momentum, and all the ice in the 60 polar regions will melt even if humans stop burning coal, oil and gas. Hence it is not enough that we recognise the danger we face. It is critical that we actually do something about it now.

Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, 2018
a) Outline the use and abuse of phosphorous in farming.
b) Define the Holocene period.
c) Describe three 'tipping points' mentioned in this text.
a) List the words and phrases in the text that are scientific jargon.
b) Choose one of the ecological challenges mentioned here. Write what you know about it with respect to its effect on Germany. Use some of the scientific words from the text.

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