Maggie Koerth-Baker at 12:38 pm Fri, Mar 29, 2013
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Well, let’s be fair here. On the one hand, it’s true that our priorities as a whole are ridiculously illogical. As the article points out, the amount we pay on homeland security alone is incredibly out of proportion to what it should be. On the other hand, there are many things that would come before “asteroid prevention” on our national to-do list. We should worry about all the imminent disasters we CAN prevent before we start worrying about all the ones that work better as fodder for bad Hollywood blockbusters.
So, yeah, let’s get our priorities straight, and let’s put asteroids down around line #35, behind “change our entire oil-dependent system,” “stop producing and buying 90% of the useless crap we generate” and “clean up our skies and oceans”.
Is it preventable? If your technology detects 99%, you still have 1% undetected. If you ramp that up to 99.9%, you still have 0.1% undetected. If you ramp it up to 99.999999%, you still have 0.000001% undetected.
If our civilization has an infinite value, then there is no reason whatsoever not to spend every cent on the planet looking for asteroids. If our civilization’s value isn’t infinite, then there is some threshold where we should spend more resources and some threshold where we shouldn’t. What point is that? This article, and every article that talks about asteroids always omit this essential point. How much should we spend? What is a reasonable number and how was that logically determined? And could that value be zero?
I feel the value system breaks down when extinction becomes an issue. I think civilizations could potentially have a value, but in a extinction case, the users who imagine and perceive the value cease to exist, thus cancelling out the value. I suppose that means that the value of stopping extinction is 0 if the attempt fails, or the entire value of everything in, on, and of Earth, if prevented.
Though that seems too binary; what if the cost of such an event was arguably worse?
We have no ability to rationally budget prevention in proportion to risk of loss, we do it either living for the moment, or with expensive emotional responses like the “war on terror”. Living on the shores of NY Harbor at 11 ft above sea level, I’ve known for many years a “sandy” event was coming, and that 20 billion spent on surge gates for prevention would save many times that in damage. Two 100 year storms in 2 years is apparently not enough of a warning to motivate a real response, why should anyone be surprised a couple of meteor events have no effect?
[Joke about Bruce Willis]
This reminds me of a novel I just read, THE MYOSHI EFFECT. Fiction, meet fact.
10 to 20 years of preparation and that’s IF you already managed to sell the detection program to an arena wherein significantly regressive arguments have been so often repeated that they are ground into the fabric of the discussion.
To my mind a great program that may very well gain support from the prevailing, military-industrial fund source would be to detonate a very large array of nuclear weapons on the far side of the sun and record the echoes from the resultant radiation pulse.
You could probably map the position vector of a significant number of large and medium sized objects in one very ‘shock and awe’-inspiring stunt.
The risk of an extinction event in the next century is minuscule. The likelihood of such technology costing a much, much smaller percentage of global productivity in a hundred years is very high. Heck, the asteroid mining companies might already have all the mapping done in 30 years, completely with private money.
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Who will be eaten first?