Doomsday scenarios typically feature a knockout blow: a massive asteroid, all-out nuclear war or a catastrophic pandemic. Yet there is another chilling possibility: what if the very nature of civilisation means that ours, like all the others, is destined to collapse sooner or later?

California has told car makers to start producing hybrid vehicles that can be plugged into the electricity mains. Last week the state's Air Resources Board ruled that makers must produce at least 58,000 "plug-in" hybrid vehicles for sale in California between 2012 and 2014.

Doomsday predictions are funny things. We are predisposed to pay attention to bad news, and the news industry thrives on disasters. Yet our fascination is fickle. If the warning is too scary or distressing, we attack the messenger as a doom-monger. Take the 1972 book The Limits to Growth, one of the first efforts to predict the future using computer models. It found that if trends in population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion continued unchanged, resources would eventually run out. (Editorial)

Think about this next time you upgrade your PC: toxic metals from old electronic goods are finding their way into school grounds in China. Seventy per cent of the world's discarded phones and computers are exported to China. Most are processed in family-run workshops, where the circuit boards are ripped out of old equipment and heated over open fires. This melts the solder, allowing individual components to be removed and resold. The bare circuit boards are then burned.

"Agriculture can do more than just focus on production," says Bob Watson, director of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), the project that he hopes will change agriculture forever when the final draft of its report is published on 15 April. "Farming can help supply clean water, it can help to protect biodiversity, and it should be managed in a way that manages our soils sustainably," says Watson, who used to be head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Beware Chinese rice. That's the message following the discovery of rice consignments containing an experimental genetically modified strain called Bt63. From 15 April, all rice imported from China into the European Union must be certified as free of Bt63.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was set up to take stock of our knowledge, technology and policy, and help find a way to feed the world without destroying it . With $12 million funding from the World Bank, UN Environment Programme, UN Food and Agriculture Organization and others, it has been a staggering enterprise, involving dialogue between farmers, industry, governments, non-governmental organisations and other civil society groups.

Can Australia lead the world in carbon capture technology? The influential climate scientist James Hansen hopes so. In an open letter published last week, he asked Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd not to build any new coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and store carbon dioxide is ready.

Until recently, most assumed that the American West was a natural dust bowl where every cowboy breathed true grit. Now it seems that the dust was mostly man-made and came with the cows. Head 'em up, move 'em out - and choke on the dust. Before the cows and the cattle trails immortalised in TV series such as Rawhide, there was no dust. It could even explain some of the changes in the region now blamed on global warming.

Next week, government negotiators will gather in Bangkok, Thailand, for the latest round of international climate change talks.