Our Final Hour
Someone following the coverage of
the joint appearances of the
Issues of gay marriage, immigration, flag burning and the inerrancy of the Christian Bible deserve attention but do not rank as the most urgent issues of the day.
Great Britain’s top astrophysicist, Sir Martin Rees, has written a thought provoking book, Our Final Hour, A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century-On Earth and Beyond. According to Doctor Rees, “We are entering an era when a single person can, by one clandestine act, cause millions of deaths or render a city uninhabitable for years, and when a malfunction in cyberspace can cause havoc worldwide to a significant segment of the economy: air transport, power generation, or the financial system indeed, disaster could be causes by someone who is merely incompetent rather than malign.”
A network of terrorists is not required. Any disgruntled person with a scientific background will do. Since there are enough people manufacturing computer viruses, it is logical that there are others who will use bio- and cyber- technology to spread destruction These threats are growing for at least three reasons: 1) any individual familiar with genetics, bacteriology and computers has unrecognized power. Your home computer has more power than NASA did in the early space shots. 2) Our worldwide society is integrated and interdependent. Think of what would happen to the world oil market as a result of a terrorist strike in a Saudi Arabian oilfield. 3) With well wired news organizations, the psychological impact is almost immediate.
Construction of a missile with a nuclear warhead is currently beyond the capability of rebel or terrorist groups. This incapability will not endure. Anyone can use signals from GPS satellites. As long as nuclear weapons exist, they can be bought or stolen. A terrorist group will one day launch a cruise-type missile guided by a commercially available package.
Nuclear energy is itself a
menace. Terrorists could set fire to
spent fuel rods at a nuclear plant and release ten times more cesium-137 than
Carelessness can do us in as well. Experimental work on crashing atoms together with tremendous force may start a chain reaction that that erodes everything on earth. The experiments may tear the fabric of space itself that would spread at the speed of light to consume the entire universe.
The recklessness of individuals
is matched the irresponsibility of nation states. In the 1980s, the world’s nuclear stockpile
was equivalent to ten tons of TNT for every person in the Soviet Union, Europe
To this point, humankind has been lucky rather than smart on the nuclear issue. An international group (known as the Canberra Commission) convened by the Australian government in 1997 concluded, “The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used- accidentally or by decision- defies credibility.”
One of the desperate answers to these threats that Doctor Rees offers is intrusive comprehensive surveillance enforced by a police state. The abuses of the Bush Administration are small potatoes compared to this. The state would administer drugs to the entire population that would reduce the extremes of mood and behavior. Think of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Considering the lack of success in the war on drugs, my feeling is that this approach is futile.
I like other options. Make everybody happy or at least content. Start a worldwide anti-poverty program. If people had decent jobs, they would not
form terrorist groups nor crash the gates to get into the
Eliminate nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. Even spent fuel rods can be material for atomic weapons.
Initiate a 100% tax on incomes over $10,000,000. There are at least two objections. The rich would just put their money in tax shelters. My reply is to make obstacles for these types of tax shelters. The second objection is that this move would disrupt the financial markets. Good. That is what I had in mind.
Start an Apollo type investment
in alternative energy. With cheap
alternative energy available, there will be no more wars in the
Set up a Department of (Domestic)
Peace in every country. Identify
programs that are effective in dealing with domestic violence, gang activity
and criminal acts. Sponsor programs that
bring about reconciliation among neighbors, races and cultures. Since the
Stop bankrolling stadiums for professional sports and invest in neighborhood parks and sports programs for all ages.
Abolish the war on drugs. Legalize and license the drugs. Set up treatment programs for those who want off.
Where is the peace dividend? The
Cold War has been over for more than a decade but defense expenditures are
still high. Aircraft carriers and tanks will not protect us from
terrorists. If the Chinese want to do us
in, all they have to do is stop buying our debt and accept payment on all
future contracts in Euros only. Reduce
Adopt a one payer health care system that will replace the most expensive health care program in the world.
The rich countries will have to live on fewer resources. To support the predicted population and lifestyle of 2050, all we need are three planets. Look past the mindless consumerism and think of a three and four day work week. With city planning, people can live close to work and not need any new freeways.
All of my proposals will take a
lot of money. They are cheaper than the
two trillion dollar war in
Ed O’Rourke is an environmental
accountant in Houston, Texas USA. On
November 11, 2007, he was a speaker at the Quaker Peace Festival in