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1 Nearly 70 years ago, a Soviet geochemist made a surprising observation: through technology and great human numbers, he wrote, people were becoming a geological force, shaping the planets future just as rivers and earthquakes had shaped its past. Eventually, the scientist, Vladimir Vernadsky, wrote that global society guided by science, would soften the human environmental impact, and the Earth would become a "noosphere" — a planet of the mind, "life's domain ruled by reason".
2 Today, a broad range of scientists say the part of Vernadsky s thinking has already been proved correct: people have significantly altered the atmosphere and are the dominant influence on ecosystems and natural selection. The question now is whether the rest of his vision will come true.
3 Humans have realised the environmental damage of the last century. With the aid of satellites and supercomputers, they now have a real chance to balance economic development with the environment beginning with sustaining the Earths ecological systems.
4 "We've come through a period of finally understanding the nature and effect of humanity's transformation of the Earth," said William Clark, a biologist at Harvard University. "Having realised it, can we become clever enough to be able to maintain the rates of progress?" he asked. "I think we can.
5 Some scientists say people can't understand the living planet well enough to know how to manage it. But this problem attracts world leaders and thousands of other participants to summits where they discuss ways of sustainable development. Communities and countries face choices that are likely to determine the quality of human life and the environment well into the 22nd century.
6 Human activity has such a great influence on the planet's ecology that it is no longer possible to separate people from nature. Emissions of carbon dioxide, whether from an Ohio power plant or a Bangkok taxicab, contribute to global warming. Shoppers in Tokyo seeking inexpensive picture frames send people deep into Indonesian forests.
7 Experts conclude that the same inventiveness that accelerated human development can be used to soften human impact.