Humanity isn't likely to extinguish itself, writes SETI scientist

Climate change. Pandemics. Nuclear war. While these are undoubtedly devastating realities or possibilities, could they wipe out humanity entirely? Highly unlikely, writes Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. From Quartz:

A century ago, the Spanish flu caused a staggering 20-50 million deaths, more than WWI. Still, the toll amounted to less than 3% of the world population. As ghastly as it was, the Spanish flu didn’t even rise to the level of decimation; viruses can slay, but they can’t annihilate. If past mortality is prologue, a millennial has less chance of succumbing to a new pandemic than dying in an auto accident.

OK, well what about climate change, now recognized as a non-hoax by 75% of Americans? It’s not the heat per se that will waste us, but the knock-on effects. Low-lying nations will turn into aquariums and Caribbean countries will be pummeled and pelted by savage storms....

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, 5 million people will perish due to the consequences of climate change. Nonetheless, if aliens visit Earth in 2050, they’ll still find billions of humans. Indeed, probably more than walk the planet today...

However, there’s at least one lethal bullet we might never be able to dodge: a gamma ray burst. This cosmic phenomenon could sterilize our planet in short order. Such bursts are not frequent—they’re thought to be the final gasps of collapsing, massive stars—but if one were to occur in our own galaxy, the results could be truly catastrophic, resulting in destruction of our protective atmosphere.

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Ebola keeps on keeping on

Hey gang, let's talk Ebola: Everyone's favorite viral boogeyman.

Over the weekend, the AFP News Agency reported that health professionals in the Democratic Republic of Congo have uncovered five new confirmed cases of Ebola: three cases in the Bikoro area and two in Wangata. This most recent outbreak of the disease in the country’s northwest has resulted in more than 50 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. These numbers, of course, only reflect the incidents of the disease that health agencies such as the World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres and DR Congo’s healthcare system are aware of.

As such, the push to track everyone who has come into contact with the disease and take appropriate precautions continues, albeit slowly. One of the biggest hurtles in tracking and containing Ebola is that, logistically, the rural regions of DR Congo are a pain in the ass. The roads are often so pocketed with potholes that the only way to reliable traverse them is with a motorcycle—and that’s if there are any roads at all. Many of the smaller villages surrounding Bikoro are packed away by dense jungle. Additionally, cellular coverage in the country’s northwestern region comes with massive holes. This makes doing important work, such as sending field operatives into areas of infection, shipping vaccines or sending collected data back for processing extremely difficult.

According to the New York Times, because of these difficulties, researchers are having a hard time piecing together how the current strain of the virus was transmitted. This, in turn, makes vaccinating the right people in the hopes of stopping the spread of the disease an uphill battle. Read the rest