The BBC reports that the Russian government is working to divert an asteroid that has a 1 in 250 000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2036.
“People’s lives are at stake,” Mr Perminov reportedly told the radio service Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia).
“We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”
Remind you at all of Daniel Gilbert’s analysis of climate change psychology?
“Because we barely notice changes that happen gradually, we accept gradual changes that we would reject if they happened abruptly. The density of Los Angeles traffic has increased dramatically in the last few decades, and citizens have tolerated it with only the obligatory grumbling. Had that change happened on a single day last summer, Angelenos would have shut down the city, called in the National Guard and lynched every politician they could get their hands on.
Environmentalists despair that global warming is happening so fast. In fact, it isn’t happening fast enough. If President Bush could jump in a time machine and experience a single day in 2056, he’d return to the present shocked and awed, prepared to do anything it took to solve the problem.”
Not just Bush (now Obama). We would need to get every world leader into that time machine. Better still, take them to 2100 or a bit beyond. Maybe even send the likes of Marc Morano, Rush Limbaugh, and a few of the Australian denialati, Andrew Bolt, Ian Plimer, Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin, Steve Fielding, Barnaby Choice (the last four are Opposition politicians here). Sadly, I don’t think even that reality check would make a whole lot of difference to the psyche of people who aren’t going to be around then. As Gilbert says, it would take the wholesale exposure of the ordinary people to such changes to make a difference. Cognitive dissonance is a tough nut to crack as well.
Anyway, enough doom and gloom. We’re now officially shot of the Noughties, it’s hard to believe that it is already 2010, and a Happy New Year to you, Kate, and your readers. Keep up the good work, your calm voice of reason in a sea of denialist ambiguity, distortion and outright lies is a welcome respite and much needed. Cheers,
[Happy New Year to you too! Thank you for the kind words! To clarify, Daniel Gilbert’s article was written before Obama was elected. -Kate]
A) Global warming problems and
B) Asteroid collisions
are somewhat separate problems, but do overlap.
A) Is a choice between a 100% chance of Bad (say +2C) if we go all-out,
a fairly likely chance of Worse (say +4C) if we don’t,
and a difficult-to-calibrate chance of Awful (+6C or more), if we head for Worse, but cross multiple tipping points.
Even if Awful is low-probability, the costs of Awful dominate (some people’s) calculations of the average costs. Awful may well be the end of human technological civilization.
B) Is similar to Awful. While the chance of a major asteroid collision is low in any given year, the probability that there will be one sometime is ~1.0, the question is when. It could easily be hundreds of M years away, or it might be a few decades.
Serious people watch:
In the long run, if humans do not keep a technological civilization good enough to:
a) Detect potential collisions early enough AND
b) Be able to deflect them (which is much easier the earlier you do it)
Then, Really Awful is the potential result. We can do a) fairly well, but oddly, it is a good insurance policy to invest enough in space to make sure we *could* build what we need in time.
Of course, if poor response to AGW+Peak Oil drops our technology base too low, sooner or later, sooner or later, the next asteroid will be The End.
Barry Brook & I had an amusing sequence on this:
Nope, purely military.
Tossing rocks down from space is the cheapest, most effective and cleanest weapon. Idea comes from early space exploration age..or more purely from cave men. Cheap. If the rocks are up there already then it is just a matter of aiming. Something the size of a refrigerator or car could take out a small city.