CHAPTER 13
THE NEXT IMPACT — A NEW WORLD VIEW

   

After all of this talk of impacts and antipodal impact effects, some readers may be wondering about the effect of the next significant impact.

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 scientists).

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 … and fast.

In the 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 … those 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.

Wrong.

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 … but 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.

As 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

The geological history of the planet teaches us that there will be more of these significant impact objects headed our way in the future.

However, man's 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 want them:

"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 themselves … but in the process, they serve others.

A strange, 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.

Rocketry competition 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 destruction.

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 objects.

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.

In some ways, man's existence and his technology will act almost like 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.

Although new 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.26

Eruptions of this magnitude can continue at active hotspots, even though the hotspots are millions of years old. The hotspot at Lake Toba is 65 million years old.

So, what 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 super-volcanoes?

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.

But what 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.

Once 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 Hawaii do.

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.

This 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 … with the 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 individual activity.

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.

VHEMT states:

"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 … the idea that the world would be better off without modern society.

However, as 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 happen … 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 technology.


SPREADING THE WORD

There is 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.

Most 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.