From: The Red and Black, Friday, December 4, 1987
TO THE EDITOR:
Though appreciative of The Red and Blacks interest in the Earth Defense Initiative (EDI) and the overall tone of the report (Ecologist warns of danger from meteors 11/12/87) published on this proposal I would like to clarify one point.
The statement the U.S. government would be fiddling around while earth burns attributed to me was a misconstruing of my words "We could be guilty of fiddling around until the Earth burns." This was meant as a blanket warning for our era--a caution that could be read in two ways.
Should we choose to continue dumping talent and resources into weapons research and development a tragic artificial incineration of much nature will become increasingly likely. Attempts at techno-fixes such as the Reagan Administration's SDI program threaten to exacerbate the problem by triggering an acceleration in the arms race which will further erode mutual trust between the super powers. An active nuclear exchange however, is only a possibility--an outbreak of reason could and hopefully will occur.
The other implication of my statement above is that if we continue to view the natural phenomena of high energy impacts with extraterrestrial debris as a remote possibility we are leaving ourselves needlessly vulnerable to an inevitable and potentially species-destroying event. Prudence argues against playing the odds when our very continuance is at risk.
The numbers ostensibly given by the local astronomy professor mentioned in the report are at odds with contemporary calculations made by astronomers and astrogeologists who are still gathering data on impact phenomena. For Instance British astronomers Clube and Napier in their work The Cosmic Serpent (1982) give 1,900 years as a typical interval between 5,000-megaton level impacts. Such energy could be delivered by a stony object with a diameter of a little less than four hundred yards. Clube and Napler are respected researchers who have been published in several scientific periodicals including Nature. Their work has important implications not only for our future, it promises to alter radically the prevailing view of ancient history. An astronomically credible scenario for the origin of what is generally labeled apocalyptic literature is offered. The Cosmic Serpent is available at the science library.
The New Yorker, in a recent (10/26/87) edition published an interview with the Shoemakers (Gene and Carolyn) who are, on this continent, in the forefront of gathering knowledge in impact phenomena and the orbits of Earth-orbit-crossing objects. Gene started a new field of geology--astrogeology--to fill the void left by astronomers who had for the most part abandoned the Solar System in pursuit of galaxies black holes and such. This article (A Reporter at Large--Dark Time) is an excellent overview of the current state of insight.
A 5000-megaton impact could easily throw civilization into a tailspin--I urge readers to better inform themselves of this randomly occurring natural phenomenon. The problem deserves more attention than it has received. It is a general lack of awareness that allows a lackadaisical attitude toward this issue. In the words of Louis Block Professor Joseph V. Smith taken from his article The Defense of the Earth (New Scientist 4/17/86): "The genuine dangers of nuclear war have overshadowed the threat to humankind from natural hazards--hazards that few people fully recognize. Such dangers have become obvious over the past 20 years to geologists and astronomers. We can now propose sensible methods to prevent or mitigate them. Given worldwide cooperation over the next century we could kill two birds with one stone if we reduced expenditure in weapons and engaged the scientists engineers and manufacturers in new programmes to defend people from natural hazards."
Director Pro Eden and spACE LINK
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