Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Planning for Future Disasters

Sooner or later, civilization is going to be disrupted by more natural events. Manipulating our natural and constructed environments is a prerequisite for surviving these disasters. Once we strip doomsday fears from the emerging spate of disaster-threat discoveries, a deep environmental challenge emerges: Nature's cycle includes periodic disruptions that could toss humanity backwards.

Besides planet-killing asteroids and calamities, other natural events may be serious threats in the future. They comprise floods, huge volcanoes, seismic disorders, equatorial drift, and repeated meteor cascade. They are sustained that might prompt loss of infrastructure, disorder of agriculture, or pollution caused by industrial debris.

Using the power of upcoming technologies we can overcome doomsday. Space telescopes, DNA analysis, sedimentary analysis, and application of engineering to archaeology are improving our ability to understand past and future planetary threats. Scientists have started interpreting old evidence in a new light.

To outlast future we need to transform our ecology. Even though we are not capable of unfolding, exposing, or protecting ruthless natural phenomena, it is crystal clear that ecologists need to take them unswervingly.

Ecologists oppose the use of biotech application for hindering the environmental equilibrium, causing danger to humanity, and playing God with natural systems. The opposing view is that organic farming is inherently inefficient and risky, and it forces the destruction of forests to put more land into production. If we consider the two positions from the standpoint of surviving mass natural changes, however, both sides take on a fundamentally different look.

To have a sustainable society we need a culture with enough staying power to endure and with the capacity to preserve its collective memory. The Egyptians did it for 3,000 years; no one else has come close. We are at the beginning rather than the end of that road.

Sustainable development is a controversial term with contradictory definitions. It is often interpreted to mean advancing economically without destroying the ecology we depend on. Enormous amounts are being spent for ensuring sustainable development, but somehow the importance of mega-disaster survival has been overlooked in our culture.

It is not likely that sustainable urban development could survive inundation by a once-in-5,000 years flood. Earthquakes, which produce tsunami and volcano fire in the US, and some countries of the Far East of Southeast Asia might tear down our technological foundation. A heliacal inclement weather would flatten many space stations in orbit. Moreover, if the Gulf Stream moves south, the agriculture in Europe can’t sustain.

Earthquake-resistant designs, flood canals, and wind resistance are part of modern cities now, but these innovations cannot handle the kind of super-threats referred to here. Food production and delivery systems need to be able to withstand enormous climatic stresses and recover in a few years. Genetic manipulation combined with microcomputers could help preserve our food supply in times of crisis.

The spiritual aspect of our futures is complex, yet basic to our ability to take the next steps. Science fiction and theological writers give us glimpses into that state of affairs, but have not yet paved the way between now and those futures.

Our understanding of pre-history requires far more investment. We need to find out more about natural events that occurred just prior to the beginning of modern history, 5,000-en-25,000 years ago. Theories about this period suggest that planetary disruptions may cause cyclical rather than linear evolution of civilizations. If true, this throws conventional understanding of history on its ear. Some physical clues exist, but we need to separate science from pseudo-science in this arena.

To carry each of these first steps forward will require institutions to take on the imminent danger of disastrous threats—by recognizing their existence, and by allocating much more resources to singling out their nature and where they will probably strike.

The good news is that the tools are emerging and we have the possibilities in our hands. We are nevertheless unwilling to see the time limit that we confront. Even though watching bright-hued live transmission of a planet striking the Jupiter only some years ago, a lot of even now turn down the probability that if it could happen to them at all.

It's healthy to be skeptical of doomsday fears. Yet the discovery of big natural risks may alter our perception of Armageddon. Adapting to those risks may be our greatest challenge.

It seems pointless for a human society to struggle 5,000 years only to have its accomplishments destroyed by a stray meteor storm, ice age, or inundation. For humanity to be truly sustainable we must protect ourselves from natural catastrophes that exterminated the dinosaurs and other species in the past. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation