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What If Global Warming Were A Giant Meteor?

After reading this post by Bill McKibben at TomDispatch, I found myself amazed anew at the global warming deniers and cautious incrementalists who would gamble with the health of the planet rather than risk any reduction in corporate profits or wasteful excess.  And I wondered, what would this resistance look like if the threat were something more obvious, like a giant meteor?

I’m talking about a really huge meteor – so big that it would take a massive international effort to accumulate enough firepower to deflect it, and the logistical and delivery capabilities to effectively deploy that firepower.  Every country would need to pull together and contribute manpower and resources – and quickly, because the closer the meteor got, the harder it would be to deflect safely (sharper angle and all that).

In the movies, our persistent hero would barge into the UN General Assembly and convince the world of the danger just in the nick of time.  Led by plucky American ingenuity, a crack team of international experts would spring into action, efficiently making use of whatever and whomever they need to complete The Most Important Enterprise In Human History.

They would successfully repel the meteor somewhere beyond the Moon’s orbit, using an elaborately choreographed detonation sequence of high-yield fusion warheads planted by a giant interplanetary spacecraft designed and built for that very purpose.

But in the real world, it might play out something like this…

o Astronomers discover giant meteor in the late 70s, warn that it may be on a collision course with Earth.  There is some scientific disagreement about whether such an impact would be apocalyptic or merely devastating.  Congress yawns.

o As the meteor draws closer and computer modeling becomes more powerful, it appears more and more likely that the meteor will hit the Earth within the next 20-30 years.  Astronomers’ warnings grow more and more frantic and unanimous, mindful that any project to deflect a body of that size will take many years to complete.  Congress continues to yawn.

o Scientific consensus on the need to deal with the meteor finally begins to bleed into the mainstream in the 2000s.  Citizen groups and a few politicians begin demanding drastic action before it’s too late; are mocked as treehugging internet-inventing hippies.

o President George W. Bush is presented with a memo titled “Giant Meteor Determined To Strike In The U.S.”  He tells the briefer “All right, you’ve covered your ass” and goes out to clear some brush.

o A cottage industry of giant meteor deniers springs up, claiming that astrophysics is an inexact science and no one can really be sure that the meteor is really going to hit the Earth, and anyway it’d probably just burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere like most meteors do.  More pessimistic deniers argue that it’s too late to do anything now so why bother, and more optimistic ones argue that humanity is flexible enough to adapt to a post-impact world.

o The Chamber Of Commerce argues that any diversion of money or resources to anti-meteor countermeasures would have a huge negative effect on profits jobs, which we simply cannot afford during a time of war/recession/swine flu.

o Republicans and Blue Dogs use CBO cost estimates to denounce the anti-meteor bill as a fiscally irresponsible socialist boondoggle.  Despite huge majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats are unable to pass a robust anti-meteor bill, and are forced to compromise to win the votes of Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and Olympia Snowe (so they can call it bipartisan).  The new plan involves tax cuts, entitlement reform, and a small tactical nuke strapped to a souped-up Voyager replica.

o At a major International Giant Meteor Summit, President Obama is able to persuade several other countries to send explosive-bearing unmanned probes of their own against the onrushing space juggernaut.  The scientific community agrees that this might alter the meteor’s course by a few yards, but hey, at least we’re doing something, right?

Note: With only minor modifications, the giant meteor scenario can be re-used for both the financial crisis and the health care crisis.  The only difference is that not only would the meteor be heading towards us because some asshats stuck rockets on it, but those same asshats would be in charge of deflecting it.

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