I haven’t played Asteroids(tm) since the days when Atari was computer games King and 124K was an incredible amount of memory. And before any young gamers out there laugh at what an old geezer I must be, I will insist that that says much more about how fast computers have evolved than it does about how old I may or may not be!
But as the subject of asteroids was raised here in the comments recently, I thought I might play a climate customized version of that game today.
Before we get started, I would like to answer crakar’s referenced comment seriously because it may indeed resonate with some folks out there unfamiliar with the standard distractions we deal with all the time in the climate wars. If climate advocates want to engage in outreach, we really must avoid coming off as too dismissive of anything that someone somewhere might sincerely believe or even be inclined to believe. Immediately after, I will break the rule I just defined and have little fun (sorry crakar!).
The argument is something like this:
Taking actions towards mitigating climate change in the face of an uncertain future and imperfect models is invoking the Precautionary Principle. Similarily, we know there is a risk of an asteroid strike ELE though we can not predict when or where such a strike will occur. Now, if the world really took the precautionary principle seriously there would be well-stocked underground bunkers all over the place to ensure the survival of the human race. There aren’t, and climate advocates don’t call for constructing these, therefore the world should not try to avert warming and we are hypocrites for advocating doing so.
The argument is a failure on many levels, the most striking of which is the fact that the search for killer asteroids is very active and discussions of what to do if one is identified in time are serious and ongoing. And although bunkers for the masses have not been built, bunkers for our fearless leaders to hide in have been. (warning: unvetted link from a lazy google search!). Alot of money goes into these endeavours (granted underground bunkers are good for nuclear armageddon too). As providence would have it, I recently came across a lovely animation showing just how many asteroids have been discovered and orbits plotted in the last 50 years, have a look!
But that failure aside, we can also argue that two wrongs don’t make a right, so if humanity is failing on the killer asteroid issue why does that mean it is okay to fail on climate change? Another easy objection is that action on mitigating climate change is not simply money tossed down the drain if it turns out that some magic negative feedback or magic techno-pixie dust will dial down the global thermostat just in the nick of time. Weaning ouselves off of oil has to happen sooner or later and coal burning produces plenty of other pollutants and problems.
The relative risks are also very different. The odds of a large asteroid impact are in the order of 1 in thousands or even hundreds of thousands over the next century. Dramatic global warming is a certainty, though the consequences are as hard to define as they are very likely to be badly negative. And finally, there are many issues one can agitate about and just because I, or any other individual, have chosen to focus on climate change does not imply anything about my awareness of or concern for other dangers or injustices.
Okay, lecture over, how about the fun I mentioned? I thought it might be a kick to apply a climate denialist mindset to the issue of an asteroid impact. What arguments might the likes of Lord Monckton make? What junkscience would come from The Heartland institute? Let’s say that we have one monster in our sights set to strike in 2020.
I’ll start off with a couple of easy ones:
“Asteroid strikes are completely natural and have occured many times in the past! In fact, humans would never have evolved to what we are today without them.”
“Asteroids are great sources of mineral wealth, the more the merrier.”
Bonus points for complexity, opacity and equations!