Gregg Easterbrook is an idiot.
Dear Mr. Easterbrook,
You’re an alarmist.
Yours sincerely,Frank Bi
For you non-US readers, Easterbrook’s idiocy is even worse than you think. He also inexplicably gets his own column on espn.com’s Page 2 every (American) football season!
The sun rose in the east today.
Yeh, so what else is new?
Gregg Easterbrook is a New York Times writer.
After the stuff we have seen from the NY Times over the past decade (eg, wild pre-war claims about Iraqi WMD) should we somehow expect more?
After the stuff we have seen from the NY Times over the past decade
…which is exactly why I read the WashTimes, Nat’l Post, Drudge, et al.
1) The idiocy here is to assign meaningful probabilities to extremely rare events. A dinosaur-killer may arrive in the next few years, or it may be millions, and talking about probabilities over next century is approximately useless.
2) However, just as Martin Weitzman has been arguing about the fat tail on climate change issues [i.e., that the expected costs of climate change are almost entirely dominated by the modest chance of a really bad outcome, and that just as one buys insurance against a house fire, we should buy insurance against the bad outcome.], it is probably worth the modest cost to insure against the really bad outcome of the next big asteroid. After all, the probability that there will be another is very high, the only question is when?
3) The real issue is whether humanity exits the fossil fuel age with a technological civilization that retains adequate space-based capability to detect and fend off any asteroid that appears. That’s probably possible, although BusinessAsUsual [find and burn fossil fuels as fast as possible] will create a lot of stranded assets & very bad climate challenges] won’t get there.
4) Maybe this is an explanation of the Fermi paradox (i.e., Where are they? At least for Earthlike planets.) Fossil fuels are a one-time endowment, which we have used to build an industrial civilization and create technology good enough to (eventually, if we deployed enough) eliminate the need for fossil fuels.
If a species uses its high-EROI fossil fuels and fails to invest enough of it in getting to the followon technologies, it’s not obvious that it or later species would ever get much of a second chance, and least for 10s or 100s of millions of years, since oil and gas and coal take a while. Their EROIs and energy densities are just too good, and readily usable even with minimal technology. An interesting question is to know whether a civilization can take a dinosaur-killer asteroid hit and recover, after the fossil fuels have been used up.
For example, there’s a lot of oil out there, but it’s getting harder and harder to get – it takes a much higher-energy civilization to get the oil in the Gulf of Mexico than it did in Titusville.
Suppose there was no coal, gas, or oil accessible with the tech level pre-Industrial Revolution. Would the IR have happened? Figuring one out might make a good science fiction story.
5) Needless to say, anybody who thinks we should ignore climate and energy issues in favor of massive investments in anti-asteroid efforts (as opposed to very modest ones) isn’t thinking very long-term. or is using it as another misdirection argument (i.e., like Lomborgian-style arguments about priorities.)
It doesn’t matter if you know how to stop an asteroid unless you can maintain the technology and have the energy to actually do it whenever it comes.
Considering Easterbrook’s past idiocies http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Gregg_Easterbrook , why should we be surprised?
“If a species uses its high-EROI fossil fuels and fails to invest enough of it in getting to the followon technologies” well, as it occurred to me and i posted elsewhere, it is by no means clear than anyone but us has access to high-EROI fossil fuels, such b eing an artifact of the carboniferous period, and it not being guaranteed that every planet get one of those.
re: #10 z
Note the earlier qualifier in my post “At least for Earthlike planets.”
Maybe I should have been even more specific, but I that that covered it. Of course nothing guarantees that a species (on Earthlike planet) gets lots of fossil fuels; the point is if they get 1 and use it, they have 0, and nobody will have 1 again for a very long time, at best.
Yeah, I almost bothered to write a letter to the Atlantic, but I didn’t bother. We should be watching out for 1 km objects and larger, but when he was talking about the 1 in 10 chance per century I thought Tunguska in 1908 vs. Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in 1991 and Mt. Katmai in 1912, not to mention all the big earthquakes.
The problem is innumeracy. Tunguska was a catastrophic event and so was Chicxulub, but the second was seven orders of magnitude larger than the first.
Of course the problem in my case is virtual illiteracy. I almost bothered to write a letter but didn’t bother. It would almost be worth the end of civilization to keep that sentence from being written.
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