I could not resist… (2)

Another direct quote from a private email I wrote in 2009:

I am not buying into the argument that because some analyses indicate potential for catastrophic warming by 2100 we as a humanity should automatically commit all available resources to combat this particular (perceived) threat. There is any number of possible scenarios which might spell doom to mankind and we have to prioritise based on the credibility of individual threats. Other serious contenders are for example:


Accidental release of smallpox from US or Russian bio labs

Impact of a medium-sized meteorite

Widespread social unrest and break-down of societies caused by economic crisis

Accidental nuclear exchange between [the] superpowers

Any of the above threats could cause mayhem but in each case there are things we can do [to] give humanity a fighting chance of survival. We can for example invest mega-billions in bio-research, build underground shelters in high-lying areas, work on increasing productivity etc. What we cannot do is all of the above at once – there is simply not enough wealth. 

Based on the above my aim is to find out if AGW is enough of a threat to leap-frog all other possible doomsday scenarios in the queue for funding.

I will add some comments on the threats perceived as rare and exotic. Are they just a confusion factor? How likely is a meteor strike? The fact we are asking this question means that we do not know. Meteor strikes have happened in the past. The one hitting Yucatan circa 70 million years ago:


is credited with wiping out up to 99% of life on Earth, including the dinosaurs. Many other meteorite impact craters have been identified:


– some of them quite recent (in geological terms). The famous Tunguska meteorite from 1908:


appears to have been a near-miss, exploding in the atmosphere and releasing energy equivalent to 5-30 megatons of TNT. These events do happen and they have a potential to change the World we know. A meteor 10km across hitting the Earth would be game over for all of us. But what about a unit 500-1000m in diameter? We cannot avoid the impact but can we prepare for it? This is where a rational risk-based cost analysis comes in.

What I object to is humanity, motivated by politics and vested interests, blindly investing all our contingency funds into addressing just one catastrophic scenario. No amount of solar cells is going to help us if a Tunguska-on-steroids strikes. In fact, due to the “nuclear winter” effect, their efficiency would drop considerably! I realise that it is easier to change the Che Guevara T-shirt prints to a catchy slogan like “Save the Arctic” or “BP are carbon criminals” than to stop and think but thinking is what made us what we are.

Which branch of UN has, after a careful assessment of all possible threats, decided on how to divvy up the contingency budget? How much is going into funding new antibiotic research? How much will be used to build and mothball hospitals which may be needed if smallpox strikes?



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