“The dinosaurs went extinct because they didn’t have a space program.”

– Larry Niven

This should probably go without saying, but the Space Party is officially against the extinction of the human race. We believe that as we work to lessen human suffering across the globe and elevate society to new heights, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced societies on Earth have a responsibility to anticipate and work to counteract potential human extinction events.

For the purposes of the modern public policy debate, we don’t need to limit ourselves to events that are sure to wipe out the entire human race. It’s safe to say that a catastrophe with a decent chance of causing a billion or more casualties would be really, really bad–destabilizing global markets and upsetting balances of power, resulting in heretofore-unimaginable amounts of human suffering, and potentially leading to such a horrible downward spiral as to leave human society basically unrecognizable by today’s standards.

So for now, let’s set a sort of flexible threshold of, “possible extinction, decent chance of 1 billion deaths, likely to set humanity back a couple generations or more.” We’ll need some Space Party science experts to join in on this exercise to help flesh out this list, but for starters, here are four of the things we’re most worried about:

  • A giant asteroid smashing into the planet. This is sort of the obvious one. If you’ve seen Armageddon or Deep Impact, or learned about how things turned out for the dinosaurs, you’re already read in on this one. NASA’s Near Earth Object program is tracking heavenly bodies that may be on a collision course with the Earth, but they’ll be the first to admit that it’s really tricky business, and their list in nowhere close to exhaustive. Depending on the size of the asteroid, we could be looking at giant ash clouds that block out the sun for years or decades (mass starvations, war, etc.), all the way on up to an impact so large that it would send our atmosphere and much of the Earth’s crust flying off into space.

    To counteract: a highly advanced space program with an emphasis on propulsion and radioastronomy. Mining near Earth asteroids, and learning to move them closer to Earth for easier harvesting, would be excellent practice. The sooner we can detect these things and the farther out we can get to them, the less we actually have to alter their course to ensure they miss our little blue dot.

  • Super bugs. Deadly bacteria that resist all known antibiotics and spread like wildfire. We’re getting really good at making new antibiotics; so good, in fact, that we’re making new bugs at an alarming rate. We are already seeing isolated instances of bacterial infections that resist all known antibiotic treatments; luckily they have not spread throughout the globe, leaving a multi-continent trail of pain and death in their wake. But imagine a meningitis-like infection that’s highly contagious and resistant to all antibiotics, with a tragically long post-contagious/pre-symptomatic period that follows a doctor to a medical conference and then spreads to major metropolitan hospitals across the globe.

    To counteract: A dramatic shift in the food production and distribution economy, banning the use of preventive antibiotics on factory farms, steep penalties for any antibiotic runoff into streams and rivers; advanced medical sanitation practices (like the very exciting UV-wielding robots that are learning to clean hospitals!); better diagnostic medicine allowing for more narrow-band antibiotics; eventually, non-antibiotic treatments for infections, such as immune-system boosters and nano-bots to identify bad bugs and fight them off.

  • Nuclear holocaust. Perhaps the most tragic member of this list, because it is entirely man-made, and entirely intentional. It’s right there in the name of the United States’s cold-war security strategy: Assured Mutual Mass Destruction. It’s actually a strategy for US politicians to convince themselves that if the bad guys hurt us, we’ll wipe out all the rest of human civilization. Thankfully, many Americans already take the threat of nuclear war seriously, and our current President, Barack Obama, has made it a priority to secure nuclear materials in former Soviet Republic states. And the President has put some substantial bit of political capital on the line to secure a deal that will require Iran to to cease its progress toward weaponized nuclear capabilities. Unfortunately, the response from the political right–and even some members of the president’s own party–has been a reactionary, knee-jerk sort of response, leaving one to wonder if their lust for domestic political influence–(to control the media narrative! That’s all that matter anymore, right?)–might lead them one day to full-scale nuclear war. 

    To counteract: Continue diplomatic efforts to account for and secure the world’s nuclear weapons stores (especially in the former Soviet Republic); ratchet down tensions between religious factions in the middle-east (especially Israel and Iran), and pursue regional partnerships–perhaps, in time, a mid-east Space program!–to tackle common problems without antagonist-victim roles involved; US political reforms to ensure that a few ultra-rich reactionary figures can’t put together a voting bloc in Congress that’s divorced from reality and hellbent on proving their appetite for war. (This is actually much more of an immediate threat than you might think.)

  • Global climate change: Okay, this one is maybe even more obvious than the giant asteroid, because it’s happening all around us, right now. Record-size hurricanes and typhoons, acidifying oceans, rising sea temperatures, melting ice caps, thawing permafrost, tornadoes in the wrong places at the wrong times, equatorial draughts causing migrations, war, and genocide. And that’s just what we’ve observed to date. Better writers than I have catalogued the many ways the warming Earth puts us all at risk. 

    To counteract: Phase out carbon emitting fuel sources immediately; begin a global carbon sequestration project; expand research and development into new energy production and delivery methods.

So now that we’re all sufficiently terrified about our impending doom, what have we learned? For starters, we’ve learned that it’s pretty easy for any scientifically-literate citizen with an internet connection to drum up at least four plausible scenarios for near-extinction events. Second, when you look at how little of our public discourse and how few of our common resources are dedicated to preventing these occurrences, it becomes clear just how scientifically illiterate our nation’s political apparatus is.

The future of humanity may very well depend on the ability of the American populace to propel our political system into the future–before super-bugs, global warming, nuclear war, or a big giant asteroid comes and ends it all. There are scientists, visionary people doing amazing work, toiling day in and day out to tackle these problems. The Space Party’s goal must be to elevate these scientists voices, to fund their work and multiply it, to invite them to speak to policy-makers and ensure that their words are backed by a political movement which wields actual power. In this sense, the Space Party’s mission is not just to help our species thrive in a new era of advanced technology, but to ensure its continued survival, not just for another hundred years, but for thousands to come.

Edit: removed a geoengineering reference. Scientific consensus is pretty clear that it’s a bad idea to put too much stock in that, and that our only good “Plan A” for climate change is eliminating the use of fossil fuels. 

 

Filed December 1st, 2013 under Uncategorized

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