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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Charles Dickens had it about right in A Tale of Two Cities. As Nature went to press, negotiators in Paris were edging towards a global deal to try to secure a safe ecological future for all — a few weeks after mass murder on the city’s streets. Nobody was getting too excited about the prospects, or the impact of an eventual deal, but those at the meeting seemed confident that nations would come together to agree, well — something. From a political perspective, a weak treaty that nudges action against climate change forwards is wiser than nothing at all. From a scientific point of view, of course, anything less than full speed ahead is foolishness.

Meanwhile, a week ago and a world away in Washington DC, scientists were meeting to discuss another future for the world. Assuming that the climate talks can secure a habitable planet for humanity, then just what will those humans be... see more