I’ve been playing with a thought experiment. I don’t think it’s very original, but I think it’s an interesting exercise so I’m going to share it with you and ask for your input. This is an outgrowth of a Global Warming conversation I had the other day with my book club. (Yes, I live in the country and am [semi-]retired. We do that sort of thing.) Most of the table accepted the science and was in agreement with with the proposition that Global Warming is happening, is serious, and that something ought to be done about it. No one said quite what should be done, and that’s a pretty big question. I’ll get to that. One friend at the table doesn’t seem entirely convinced it’s happening and doesn’t think we can or should do anything about it even if it is. That’s a not-uncommon view; one that is apparently winning the political argument in many parts of the world. So it’s not an insignificant point of view. It discounts the contribution of a huge number of scientists who are working on this topic; I strongly disagree with some of the “scientific” conclusions of our sceptical friend, but the issue is not so clear when it comes to what should be done about Global Warming. The rest of us might agree that this is a big problem and we’ve all got to get off our arses and do something, but my reading suggests that the world’s options are severely limited.
There’s plenty of emotion in this sort of discussion, but does the discussion itself even make a difference? Is there anything to be gained in eight over-60s living in relative comfort in country NSW, passionately discussing problems that are not likely to become critical until after we’re all dead. It feels like an important subject, but is it really? I don’t know the answer to that. I can’t help but react to silly denialist arguments about the science, but when it comes to what we ought to do about it, I get stuck on the question of who is meant by “we”. There are significant limitations to our ability as individuals to make a difference in the face of such a huge lumbering avalanche that is taking it own sweet time to bury us.
So here’s the thought experiment (at least my first crack at it):
Scientists have discovered a rogue asteroid in the solar system. It’s over 10km in diameter and it’s headed our way. It’s coming in from the outer solar system and will pass within shouting distance of a gas giant or two, so it’s hard to say exactly where it’s going to end up. But the calculation are clear on a few things: it’s going to miss the Earth and pass inside the orbit of Mercury to swing around and start back out of the solar system. When close to the sun tidal forces will almost certainly break it into many smaller pieces. And some of those smaller pieces, along with a few piece that may still be very large, will be headed, most likely, towards a collision with Earth. That collision, should it occur, will happen on December 22, 2062. That gives us 50 years. If we do nothing it will probably be very bad – no guarantees, but a 90% chance. The science, while couched in probabilities, is very solid. So…
If an answer you like is in my list, please select it (you can choose up to two of them). If a completely different answer occurs to you, please let me know in the comments and I might be able to add it to the list. This is really just a draft. I’d like to turn it into something that will get people thinking. I’m sure the answers I’ve created reflect my bias, so please, if you have another way to express any of the answers let me know.