6-19 Is Doomsday Near?
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Is Doomsday near? Recently we talked about the WIPP effort to warn future civilizations not to dig in the nuclear waste repository.
This column was amused that most scenarios prepared by experts in various science fields envision events that nearly annihilate our species in the next 10,000 years. But maybe I shouldn't have been so disbelieving.
NBC has produced a special for the Sci Fi Channel, which it owns, detailing scenarios the WIPP panel had imagined. It foresees 10 doomsday situations for our planet.
The two scientific panels may not have been the same and they may not have even known of each other's work. But their conclusions were strikingly similar.
Two hours of explanation by Matt Lauer and his talking heads made conclusions by the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant panel seem much more believable.
The following is some fleshing out of the WIPP doomsday scenarios about which I made light a few weeks ago. Half of them have happened before and almost certainly will take place again. The only question is when.
Supervolcanoes, such as those that formed huge calderas in the Western United States, would blot out the sun with toxic ash, wipe out most of the planet's vegetation and poison its water.
Asteroid impacts, similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, could do it again. Many asteroids as big as that one pass in our vicinity from time to time. Arizona's Meteor Crater is a more recent example.
Global pandemics, such as "bird flu" that currently has us so worried, may kill millions as they have before, or could eradicate the entire human race.
Mass extinctions have occurred five times in the planet's history, When the dinosaurs disappeared, two-thirds of all plant and animal species went also. A majority of scientists think we are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction, with nearly 20 percent of our species expected to be extinct within 30 years. As we pollute air and water and destroy the rainforest, we are signing our death warrant.
Giant solar flares could destroy Earth's entire electric and electronic infrastructure, leaving humanity without communications or power and creating a new Dark Age.
Gamma-ray bursts occur when stars collide or collapse. Such a burst within a few light years of our solar system would bathe the Earth in rays thousands of times hotter and brighter than our sun and blast away our atmosphere.
Alien invasions aren't something most scientists are particularly concerned about. Nearly all acknowledge that conditions are right in the universe for many planets similar to Earth and that contact from an alien civilization is possible. They also feel that if alien intent is to dominate our planet, it will be far easier for them than science fiction writers have envisioned.
The remainder of possibilities are very much manmade. The first is nuclear terrorism. Unaccounted Soviet nukes are sure to show up in terrorist hands eventually. So are biological weapons of mass destruction. The only question is what will happen next.
Global warming is becoming more difficult to deny, whether one believes it is manmade or not. Glaciers are receding rapidly. Polar ice caps are melting. Increases in the severity and frequency of hurricanes and tornadoes is next, followed by permanent flooding of coastal areas and inland droughts.
Revenge of the cyborgs. Not being a fan of the Terminator, this is the prediction I had found most difficult to believe. But the Sci Fi program interviewed Kevin Warwick, who already is experimenting with cybernetic organisms that are part human, part machine. He has no doubt this is the most likely of all possibilities.
So there you have it. The WIPP warning system may have to be more complex than I had envisioned.
And I'm going to start being nicer to my vacuum cleaner.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com