Saturday, January 19, 2013

What Should We Worry About?

This year's question that Edge put to their roster of scientists and the like is, "What should we be worried about?" For those of you who were feeling a bit to safe and happy, here is part of the answer given by evolutionary psychologist John Tooby:
The universe is relentlessly, catastrophically dangerous, on scales that menace not just communities, but civilizations and our species as well. A freakish chain of improbable accidents produced the bubble of conditions that was necessary for the rise of life, our species, and technological civilization. If we continue to drift obliviously inside this bubble, taking its continuation for granted, then inevitably—sooner or later—physical or human-triggered events will push us outside, and we will be snuffed like a candle in a hurricane.

We are menaced by gamma ray bursts (that scrub major regions of their galaxies free of life); nearby supernovae; asteroids and cometary impacts (which strike Jupiter every year or two); Yellowstone-like supereruptions (the Toba supereruption was a near extinction-event for humans), civilization-collapsing coronal mass ejections (which would take down the electrical grids and electronics underlying technological civilization in a way that they couldn't recover from, since their repair requires electricity supplied by the grid; this is just one example of the more general danger posed by the complex, fragile interdependence inherent in our current technology); and many other phenomena including those unknown to us. Here is one that no one talks about: The average G-type star shows a variability in energy output of around 4%. Our sun is a typical G-type star, yet its observed variability in our brief historical sample is only 1/40th of this. When or if the Sun returns to more typical variation in energy output, this will dwarf any other climate concerns. . . .
Feeling chipper?

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