Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Sky is Falling !

David Friedman over at "Ideas" discusses the vanity of fear relating to improbable events, like an asteroid strike. He points out that anyone can sit down with a cup of coffee as it were, and pull out an envelope or napkin and sketch out the danger associated with such things, provided they have only a few brain cells to rub together, and basic math skills. I agree with him that perhaps "back of the envelope" calculations should be taught, in school. Probably elementary school.

"How likely is a (meteor strike)? It is unlikely that one would have occurred in the past century without being observed, given the seismographic effect, which registered as far off as Washington D.C. How much farther back one can push that argument I don’t know, so I will assume that such events happen at a rate of one a century. If so, the average mortality from such events is about 200 deaths/year. Every death matters, but there are a lot of problems in the world that do a great deal more damage than that."

He continues;

"So far I have considered only things on the scale of the Tunguska event, but we know that there have been, at very long intervals, much larger meteor strikes. One famous one about sixty million years back is sometimes referred to as the Dinosaur Killer, on the theory that its effects killed off the dinosaurs. My geologist wife objects to that label on the grounds that lots of other things went extinct at the same time; the technical term is apparently the K-T event. The evidence for several earlier large strikes with less drastic consequences is preserved as astroblemes, geological structures believed to be the result of asteroids hitting the earth. So let’s guess that they occur at a rate of one every sixty million years. We don’t know how many people would be killed by a strike on that scale, but the upper limit is everyone, so use that for a very rough calculation. Dividing about six billion people by about sixty million years gives us a mortality rate of about a hundred people a year.

He concludes that the only thing worth worrying about, to any extent, would be an event that would wipe the world completely out, our civilization included. I think God of course, rules over that with planning, and it won't happen unless he says so, and we can't stop it if he says so.

It also brings up the more immediate debate of what to do with national treasure. Shouldn't we all sit down and do the "back of the envelope" math to see what all of this global warming silliness costs and means in terms of result? Shouldn't we more worry that we're wasting money on the fruitless "war on poverty?" The list of issues on the liberal agenda is long, and amount to in my view a pursuit of the low return.

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von said...

Dividing about six billion people by about sixty million years gives us a mortality rate of about a hundred people a year.

Of course, a little hard on the six billion :)

The Pharisee said...

Of course, with a YEC view, the death rate climbs a bit.