Saturday, September 26, 2009

Follow Leaders/Don't Watch Your Falling Meteors

Reviewing a book by Vaclav Smil which assesses the comparative likelihood of the full range of global catastrophes over the next half-century (the author's prediction: At least "a 'mega-war' and one or two pandemics such as influenza"), Joel E. Cohen cautions us to avoid worrying too much about interplanetary or even environment calamity. As always, war probably will be the most successful killer:

Among violent conflicts, Smil concentrates on what he calls transformational wars: the Napoleonic Wars (1796–1815), the Taiping War (1851–1864), the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. These wars added up to some forty-two years of conflict over two centuries and averaged seventeen million deaths of combatants and civilians per conflict. Smil estimates the probability of a transformational war during the next fifty years at "no less than about 15 percent and most likely around 20 percent." These estimates are ten to a hundred times higher than the probabilities of globally destructive natural catastrophes. As Pogo said, the enemy is us.

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