THE NEXT IMPACT A NEW
After all of this talk of impacts and antipodal
impact effects, some readers may be wondering about the effect of the next
For those readers who wonder about this question, I
would ask that they imagine that the answer below is being delivered by
comedian Gilbert Gottfried in his whiniest, most grating voice:
"Next impact? NEXT IMPACT?! Are you crazy? Do you
think we are going to be stupid enough to allow another significant impact? If
we're that stupid, then we deserve to die!"
There will be no
more additional significant cosmic impacts on planet Earth. We now have the
technology needed to find, divert and/or destroy significant cosmic objects
that are on a course to impact Earth.
The technology is not yet
perfected. But it is good enough to save us from an extinction emergency.
Let's remember that we didn't even have the mass production methods of
the industrial revolution until the 1800s. The airplane wasn't invented until
1903. Serious guided rockets weren't invented until World War II (by Nazi
Now we have rockets, satellites and nuclear weapons
capable of forming a last line of defense against cosmic marauders. And the
technological solutions will get better
meantime, even rocket-launched nuclear weapons can greatly diminish the effects
of a surprise impending cosmic impact.
In the Hollywood asteroid
disaster movies, some scientist character always warns the heroes that it will
do no good to blow up a comet or meteor with nuclear weapons
weapons will only cause the big object to become many smaller objects raining
doom upon us
nuclear weapons won't solve the problem. Only Clint
Eastwood and Bruce Willis can save us.
It is true that
the best solution to a cosmic impact problem is to force the impact object to
miss the planet. However, if this can't be done, then blowing it up into
smaller pieces is a good secondary solution.
Size matters when it comes
to cosmic impacts. Lots of littler impacts are significantly preferable to one
big impact. Littler impacts can cause local or regional devastation
nothing more. One big impact can create the kind of massive and persistent
volcanism at the antipode of the impact that will destroy the climate for
thousands of years and lead to our extinction.
Furthermore, once a big
impact object is blown up into many littler impact objects, the trajectory of
many of those littler impact objects will have been changed enough so that they
either miss the Earth or ricochet off the atmosphere. Moreover, the atmosphere
will have a greater reduction effect on each littler impact object (burning off
some of the surface and slowing it there will be more surface area
exposed per pound of object with many little ones). Any of the littler impact
objects that hit in water would be slowed more for the same reason.
our missile defense systems become more robust, they will become more capable
of picking off the larger of the remaining objects that would threaten the
planet after the big impact object is broken up. The missile defense systems
will be developed to protect us from enemy missiles, not large cosmic
fragments. However, these missile defense systems will be able to be pressed
into service against impact fragments when needed.
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE
geological history of the planet teaches us that there will be more of these
significant impact objects headed our way in the future.
technology is now capable of fending off these cosmic interlopers. In effect,
the environment and ecology of planet Earth will be protected by man's
technology in a way that nature never could.
What we have here is an
"Adam Smith meets geology" moment. Adam Smith was the great 18th century
economist who wrote "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776. In his book he explains
how an unplanned free market economy delivers goods and services to those who
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher,
the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard
to their own interest." 29
In other words, the
butcher and the baker are acting out of their own self-interest. They are not
part of some grand plan to serve society. They are merely trying to serve
but in the process, they serve others.
unplanned parallel situation is about to occur in geology. It is definitely NOT
the same thing as the free enterprise system, but the nature of the unplanned
benefits of technological development shows unusual parallels with the
unplanned benefits of a free market system.
It was not the purpose of
Nazi leaders and scientists to start creating weapons that would lead to
missiles that could be used against cosmic impact objects. No, the target of
their V2 rockets was London.
Atomic weapons were developed by the
United States in order to first compete with the Nazi nuclear threat at
Peenemunde and later to win the war against Japan.
between the US and the USSR was not designed with cosmic impact objects in
mind. It was part of the cold war's ongoing strategy of mutually assured
Missile defense systems are part of a continuing process
of development of defensive military weapons.
And yet, the final result
is a system of technology with the capability of dealing with cosmic impact
Ironically, it is some of the technology that was developed
for the worst purposes that will now serve the best interests of the planet
all of the planet.
Even though our primary aim in protecting the
planet will be to protect ourselves and our future, this protection will
automatically protect all the other life on Earth, as well.
ways, man's existence and his technology will act almost like a vaccine for the
Earth against significant cosmic impacts. There are some negative side effects
to this human vaccine (when we negatively affect the rest of the planet), but
the side effects pale in comparison with the environmental disaster that is the
alternative (i.e. continuing massive extinctions).
Does this unexpected
technological benefit give industry, government and individuals carte blanche
to cause environmental havoc? No. But it does clearly demonstrate that we are
better off with our modern technology than without it.
DEALING WITH HOTSPOT VOLCANISM
Even though we can argue convincingly that the era of significant
cosmic impacts is over, we still have to deal with active existing hotspot
volcanism from previous impacts, which is a problem.
hotspot volcanism will not come about (there won't be any additional
significant cosmic impacts), the old hotspots are far from tame.
Michael Rampino and Stephen Self (among others) have suggested that the
super-volcano explosion at Lake Toba on Sumatra in Indonesia (which is the
current location of the Chicxulub impact's antipodal hotspot) just 70,000 years
ago created a six to ten year volcanic winter and may have created the "genetic
bottleneck" that is indicated in the mitochondrial DNA of humans.
Eruptions of this magnitude can continue at active hotspots,
even though the hotspots are millions of years old. The hotspot that is
currently located at Lake Toba is now 65 million years old.
good is it going to do us to conquer cosmic impacts if we are just going to be
destroyed by hotspot disasters at Lake Toba, Yellowstone and other hotspot
First, let's remember that we no longer have to worry
about "rare mantle plumes" causing hotspots. Ben's Antipodal Impact Theory says
that these plumes are caused by cosmic impacts and they occur at the antipode
as a hotspot.
If we have solved the impact problem, then we have also
solved any future mantle plume or hotspot creation problems.
do we do about the hotspots that already exist? The Chicxulub antipodal hotspot
at Lake Toba (and many others) isn't going away anytime soon.
again, the probable answer is technology. This time the technological answer
probably lies with oil drillers.
The problem with the hotspot volcanoes
is the incredible pressure that can build up. When the pressure reaches the
breaking point, the volcano explodes and creates havoc.
The answer will
likely deal with the relief of this pressure
gradually reducing the
pressure through non-catastrophic means, creating a way for the volcano to
discharge its lava in the relatively quiet, peaceful way that the volcanoes on
How do we do this?
In the past few decades, oil
drilling companies have become adept at a new kind of drilling
horizontal (or directional) drilling. Rather than being limited to the old kind
of drilling where the oil rig had to sit right on top of the site of the oil,
drillers can now drill sideways as they drill down.
Developed in the
1980s, horizontal drilling has now developed to such a degree that BP was able
to horizontally drill a kill well to plug the oil disaster in the Gulf of
Mexico in 2010. This kill well precisely intersected the original bore hole
deep in the Earth so that it could be sealed with a final plug.
horizontal drilling technique and its new precision was unthinkable just 40
years ago. 27,28
What kind of modifications would need to be
developed to drill sideways below Lake Toba to relieve the magma pressure
gradually into a nearby, unused area (i.e. the Sunda Trench)? Probably not more
modification than motivated drillers could handle, given a little time. Perhaps
they would have to combine their technologies with that of tunnel drillers in
order to create a large enough tube.
Although this technology may not
be ready right this minute, it is clearly close to what drillers are already
doing. Obviously, it would make sense to try out new pressure relief drilling
on minor volcanoes in sparsely populated areas first.
But if I were a
politician in Italy who represented the people in Naples, I would be pushing
for development of this technology so that it could be used to halt the
otherwise-inevitable next deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius
potential loss of all those lovely Neapolitan constituents.
A NEW LOOK AT ENVIRONMENTALISM
Most modern day environmentalism is focused on fixing identified
environmental problems that are perceived to have been caused by human
activity. Often the culprit in the human activity picture turns out to be
industrial activity. Sometimes it is government activity. Sometimes it is
But almost always it is human activity. This focus
on the environmental cost of human activity has led some people to question
whether modern industrial society is the right path for humanity. They question
the focus on material wealth, technological advancement and the economic engine
that makes it all happen. They wonder if we would be better off without all the
trappings of modern society.
And sometimes the environmental concern
goes even much farther. Some people even question whether the planet would be
better off without humans existing here at all. Hard Green, Deep Ecology, Earth
First! and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) all place the rights
of the rest of nature on an equal footing (or more!) with the rights of humans.
"As vhemt Volunteers know, the hopeful
alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is
the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens
us." 30 pg 1
Earth First! Has called for a return to the
Pleistocene, according to Murray Bookchin, author of "Green Perspectives".
31 pg 4
Although the philosophy of some of the fringe
environmental groups can seem rather silly, it often represents just a much
stronger version of some of the activist environmentalism today
that the world would be better off without modern society.
we have seen from the geological evidence, only the technology of a robust,
modern society can truly protect the planet from the otherwise-inevitable
environmental disaster of cosmic impacts and massive hotspot eruptions.
There is plenty of irony in the fact that true, realistic,
environmental protection is going to be generated from the actions of Nazi
scientists, the cold war arms race and profit-seeking oil drillers.
THE END OF UNAVOIDABLE THREATS
There is another philosophical difference that comes out of this new
look at the threats that face the human race. We come to the realization that
there are no more unavoidable threats.
Until recently, one could
realistically argue that civilization would end or our species would cease to
exist someday in the not too distant future anyway. All it would take would be
an arbitrary cosmic impact or a "rare mantle plume", as has happened in the
geological past many, many times. It was not a question of if it was going to
it was just a question of when it was going to happen.
Now these threats are controllable. Extinction threats like "rare
mantle plumes" or arbitrary glaciation or sea-level-lowering never really
existed. The only real extinction threats were impacts and the effects of
volcanism at the antipodal hotspots. And now we can control those problems.
People can still argue about the eventual lethality of gamma ray bursts,
locally close supernovae or the sun exploding.
However, these are:
1. Events that have never occurred in the 4.6
billion year history of our planet (at least there is no evidence of it).
2. Events that are not likely to occur until
billions of years from now, when our technology will be unimaginably more
capable than it is today
just as our technology today is unimaginably
more capable today than it was just 1,000 years ago.
Therefore, we can argue that man really does have control over his inevitable
fate. And that control is based upon the robust development of modern
SPREADING THE WORD
a danger in letting the Standard Theory proceed uncontested in shaping the
thoughts of our citizens. These citizens vote. If they do not understand the
importance of continuing down the path of developing a robustly energetic,
technologically modern society, they may be enchanted by lovely rhetoric about
blissful but impractical environmental nirvanas, where business, industry and
technology are legislated and regulated into a state of paralysis.
people have more sense than to fall for these utopian environmental schemes,
but they often lack a justification for the sensible position that they do
take. It is easy to paint modern technology as the villain. But, as we can see
by the evidence, it is modern technology and a robust modern society that are
the essential heroes.