Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future




НазваниеEnvironmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future
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Martin Rees

OUR FINAL HOUR

A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This CenturyOn Earth and Beyond




International Acclaim for Martin Rees's OUR FINAL HOUR


"[Rees's] cautionary tale comes as a useful counterbalance to some of the overly optimistic books recently penned by scientists . . . Our Final Hour neither worships nor condemns modern science, but it does offer a clear, concise account of what may be our most urgent concerns in the 21st century."

The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Doomsday books have appeared for centuries. But Rees' book is unique, and not only because of his fame as a Cambridge University professor who is not prone to making scary public statements."

San Francisco Chronicle

"One of the most provocative and unsettling books I have read for many years . . . That a scientist so distinguished as Rees should air these fierce anxieties is a sign that something is amiss."

—J. G. Ballard, The Daily Mail (London)

"Rees invites us to also consider developments that many of us probably never thought about, including: Could en­vironmental degradation lead to a "war for water"? Could machines-designed plants crowd natural plants out of the ecosystem? These ideas may inspire skepticism, but within Rees' logic, they seem far from impossible. But Rees does not simply outline his theories. Throughout, he repeatedly implies something else: We can do some­thing to help."

Associated Press


OTHER BOOKS BY MART.N REES INCLUDE

Graves Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Umverse with Mitchell Begelman

Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces

That Shape the Universe

Our Cosmic Habitat

BASIC

B

BOOKS

A Member of the Perseus Books Group

New York


Copyright © 2003 by Martin Rees

Published by Basic Books,

A Member of the Perseus Books Group

Hardback first published in 2003 by Basic Books Paperback first published in 2004 by Basic Books

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Basic Books, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016

Books published by Basic Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United States by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 11 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, or call (617) 252-5298, (800) 255-1514 or e-mail special.markets@perseusbooks.com.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rees, Martin J., 1942-

Our final hour: A scientist's warning: How terror, error, and

environmental disaster threaten humankind's future in this century—

on Earth and beyond / Martin Rees.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 0-465-0682-6 (he); isbn 0-465-06863-4 (pbk)

1. Twenty-first century—Forecasts. 2. Disasters—Forecasts.

3. End of the world. 1. Title.

CB161.R38 2003

3O3.49'oo'o5—dc21

2003000301

Design by Jane Raese Text set in 11 point Janson

04 05 06 / 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


CONTENTS


PROLOGUE 7

2. TECHNOLOGY SHOCK 15

A Human or Posthuman Future? 25

3. THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK 33

4. POST-2000 THREATS Terror and Error 49

5. PERPETRATORS AND PALLIATIVES 69

6. SLOWING SCIENCE DOWN? 79

7. BASELINE NATURAL HAZARDS 95

Asteroid Impacts 95

A Low Risk, but Not Negligible 98

Reducing the Risk? 100

8. HUMAN THREATS TO EARTH 104

9. EXTREME RISKS 116

Our "Final" Experiment? 120

11.THE END OF SCIENCE? 141

12. DOES OUR FATE HAVE COSMIC SIGNIFICANCE? 156

13. BEYOND EARTH 168

NOTES 185


PREFACE

Science is advancing faster than ever, and on a broader front: bio-, cyber- and nanotechnology all offer exhila­rating prospects; so does the exploration of space. But there is a dark side: new science can have unintended consequences; it empowers individuals to perpetrate acts of megaterror; even innocent errors could be catastrophic. The "downside" from twenty-first century technology could be graver and more in­tractable than the threat of nuclear devastation that we have faced for decades. And human-induced pressures on the global environment may engender higher risks than the age-old haz­ards of earthquakes, eruptions, and asteroid impacts.

This book, though short, ranges widely. Separate chapters can be read almost independently: they deal with the arms race, novel technologies, environmental crises, the scope and limits of scientific invention, and prospects for life beyond the Earth. I've benefited from discussions with many specialists; some of them will, however, find my cursory presentation differently slanted from their personal assessment. But these are contro­versial themes, as indeed are all "scenarios" for the long-term future.

If nothing else, I hope to stimulate discussion on how to

guard (as far as is feasible) against the worst risks, while deploy­ing new knowledge optimally for human benefit. Scientists and technologists have special obligations. But this perspective should strengthen everyone's concern, in our interlinked world, to focus public policies on communities who feel ag­grieved or are most vulnerable.

I thank John Brockman for encouraging me to write the book. I'm grateful to him and to Elizabeth Maguire for being so patient, and to Christine Marra and her colleagues for their efficient and expeditious efforts to get it into print.

OUR FINAL HOUR
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