In his book, Our Final Hour, Cambridge professor and Britain’s “Astronomer Royal” Martin Rees predicts humanity has no more than a 50/50 chance of survival into next century and that by 2020 a million people will perish due to scientific error or terror. Some would call him prescient, while others would interpret his words as alarmist, resembling a layer cake with environmental fears on top of nuclear fears on top of chemical and biological threats, ad infinitum. With a sci-fi flare, he warns of runaway technology, human clones and an ability to insert memory chips into brain.
Doomsday predictors get much same respect as “toxic fumes” sign at local service station; they impart their wisdom, yet we yawn. Situations which seem grim and overwhelming, even potentially lethal, tend to be ignored. Attention on more immediate and “American” concerns, such as consumer goods and personal advancement, monopolize our daily thoughts. This is arguably foolhardy and indicative of “another doomsday, another dollar” mentality.
Rees is not a lone voice on scientific stage. The “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” reports we have seven minutes until our final bow at midnight. Other reputable experts surmise that a “gray goo” or nanotechnological catastrophe poses greatest threat. This involves invention of miniature, self-replicating machines that gnaw away at environment until it is devoid of life. It need not be deliberate sabotage—as in technological warfare by one nation against another--but could result from a laboratory mishap.
Astronomers speak of fugitive asteroids that could destroy major sections of our planet within next 30 years. Others point to atom-crashing tests and their potential for a lethal strangelet scenario. Strangelets are malformed subatomic matter, which could distort all normal matter and dissolve earth in seconds.
There are streams of alerts from environmental experts who tell us natural disasters are on rise. They warn of climatic change and tell us world's species die at a rate 1000 times greater than they did prior to human existence due to habitat destruction and introduction of non-indigenous species into ecosystem. Their conclusion? If we do not reverse damaging trend, Earth itself will be extinct.
Should we open our minds to doomsday predictions? And if we accept them, what is next step to insure or increase our chance of planetary survival?
In his book, Science, Money and Politics, Daniel Greenberg follows a trail of suspicion. He condemns what he believes to be self-serving, greedy scientific community with its bungled research, conflicts of interest and findings that never see light of day due to suppression by corporate sponsors. But this seems to be an overly cynical, embellished perspective; there are surely many scientists dedicated to discovery and social responsibility, apart from any personal gain. And we should not forget that offering controversial insights can be at a cost; proponents of “radical” theories often expose themselves to public and professional ridicule.