William Nordhaus, to be honored next week with the Nobel Prize for his work on environmental economics, wrote in 1977:

“In contemplating the future course of economic growth in the West, scientists are divided between one group crying “wolf” and another which denies that species’ existence. One persistent concern has been that man’s economic activities would reach a scale where the global climate would be significantly affected. Unlike many of the wolf cries, this one, in my opinion, should be taken very seriously.”

A little over four decades later, the wolf is at the door.

Looking back, 2018 has seen more intense heat waves, wildfires, and storms. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. 2018 is on track to join these ranks. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising.

Visible signs of pressure on the natural environment from human activity go far beyond these weather-related events, however. Other key aspects of Earth’s climate and biosphere are under high stress. Rain forests are shrinking. Polar icecaps are retreating as the ocean warms, and coral reefs are disappearing as the ocean acidifies. Fertilizer runoff injects excessive phosphorous and nitrogen into watersheds, damaging freshwater and coastal ecosystems. Microplastics are entering food and drinking water. Our planet’s biodiversity is imploding. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that sixty percent of vertebrate animals have been wiped out since 1970, and insect density is declining in some areas at alarming rates.”



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