The Edge’s Annual Question for 2009

From the Edge, and their annual “World Question Center” for 2009.

What will change everything?  What game changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

Many thoughtful answers, including a particularly good one about climate, likening potential abrupt state changes to unpredictably soundly sleeping giants that we do not want to awaken:

Unfortunately, we are discovering more giants that are probably lighter sleepers than the thermohaline circulation (THC). Seven others — all of them potential game-changers — are now under scrutiny: (1) the disappearance of summer sea-ice over the Arctic Ocean, (2) increased melting and glacier flow of the Greenland ice sheet, (3) “unsticking” of the frozen West Antarctic Ice Sheet from its bed, (4) rapid die-back of Amazon forests, (5) disruption of the Indian Monsoon, (6) release of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, from thawing frozen soils, and (7) a shift to a permanent El Niño-like state. Like the THC, should any of these occur there would be profound ramifications — like our food production, the extinction and expansion of species, and the inundation of coastal cities.

We’re wallowing in the fat tails.

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