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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Denier weirdness: The biggest threat to humanity? Lord save us!

Sou | 12:38 PM Go to the first of 23 comments. Add a comment

Oh my! Anthony Watts has picked up a press release and decided he's found the biggest threat to humanity.

Is it global warming - not on your life!

Is it a supervolcanic eruption? Not a chance!

A global pandemic? Nope, not at all!

A nuclear war? Nope, not that either.

What he says (archived here) is:
The biggest threat to humanity, far bigger than global warming/climate change, is about to get bigger, much bigger.
A press release from some former NASA astronauts on the current asteroid impact threat to earth, based on data on in-atmosphere detonations since 2001, gleaned from a nuclear weapon detonation detection system has yielded some startling numbers.
The threat is 3 to 10 times higher than previously predicted. The data will be presented at the Seattle Flight Museum, Tuesday April 22, at 6:00pm PDT.

Oh. We're about to get clobbered by an asteroid? Really? That's a much, much bigger threat than the virtual certainty that by 2100 Earth will have a surface temperature 3 or 4 degrees higher than a century ago? With seas anything from one to two metres higher? Let's take Anthony's alarmism point by point.

Anthony has based his alarmism on a press release from the B612 Foundation. Here is what he copied:
This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… three to ten times more, in fact. A new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, to be unveiled by B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu during the evening event at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, shows that “the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck.” 

So first of all, they are not talking about a "threat to humanity" at all. They are talking about a "city-sized" threat. Like an earthquake or massive tidal wave (precipitated by an earthquake) or intense cyclone.

Secondly although the press release doesn't say so, I doubt the risk has got "any bigger", it's just that the risk has been reassessed. The actual risk is the same, it's just that in the past it was underestimated by "three to ten" times.  (How does that "three to ten times" rate in comparison with the range of estimates for TCR? Anyone?)  Here are the close encounters picked up by JPL/NASA - and here is the impact risk, looking ahead. The B612 Foundation doesn't seem to have it's own list - or if they do they aren't sharing it.

The hazards - NASA has a near earth object hazard website, and recently removed the previously nearest object from the list, writing:
Recent observations have removed from NASA's asteroid impact hazard list the near-Earth object (NEO) known to pose the most significant risk of Earth impact over the next 100 years.
2007 VK184, an asteroid estimated to be roughly 130 meters in size, has been on NASA's Impact Risk Page maintained by the NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for several years, with an estimated 1-in-1800 chance of impacting Earth in June 2048. This predicted risk translates to a rating of 1 on the 10-point Torino Impact Hazard Scale. In recent months, 2007 VK184 has been the only known NEO with a non-zero Torino Scale rating
Okay, so that's bigger than the incoming stuff that the B612 Foundation is talking about, but for an object of 130 m in size, if it hit Earth it would make a nice dent.  And the predicted risk, given a 1-1800 chance of impacting Earth, was a rating 1 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale.

So let's compare what else is on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, where 10 is the highest risk.  A rating of 10 means:
A collision is certain, capable of causing global climatic catastrophe that may threaten the future of civilization as we know it, whether impacting land or ocean. Such events occur on average once per 100,000 years, or less often.  

According to Wikipedia, the "2013 Chelyabinsk meteor had a total kinetic energy prior to impact of about 0.4 megatons, corresponding to Torino Scale 0."  Not even a 1. (10 is highest risk)  You've got to earn a rating of 3 to get to "a collision capable of localised destruction":
A close encounter, meriting attention by astronomers. Current calculations give a 1% or greater chance of collision capable of localized destruction. Most likely, new telescopic observations will lead to re-assignment to Level 0. Attention by public and by public officials is merited if the encounter is less than a decade away.

What about a supervolcano? How often do they erupt?  The biggest volcanoes recorded on Wikipedia (yes, I know - but it's handy) happened  26,500 74,000 254,000 640,000 2,100,000  2,500,000 4,000,000  4,500,000  6,000,000 and 27,800,000  years ago.  I expect the further you go back, the more you'll miss.  So they don't happen all that often.  Then again, neither do asteroids of the size that could wipe out civilisation. Some of these supervolanos could destroy life as we know it.  To illustrate, Mt Tambora, which is not one of the previous earth-changing magnitude, is thought to be the cause of "the year without a summer".

Anyway, the point I want to make is that if these events are now viewed as three to ten times more common than previously thought - and no-one noticed them - then the risk is hardly "biggest threat to humanity, far bigger than global warming/climate change" let alone "about to get bigger, much bigger".

From the WUWT comments

To Anthony's chagrin, nobody at WUWT is rushing out to build underground shelters and stock up on ten years supply of rice and lentils.   In fact most of the WUWT-ers aren't buying Anthony's alarmism. (I checked, there was no "satire" or "humour" tag. Anthony really meant what he wrote.  He's done it before, too.)

charles nelson is sensible (for a change, and in part) and says:
April 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm
No seriously though…these little fellas have been doing this since for ever. We mustn’t confuse the ubiquity of camera phones etc etc with increasing frequency, we’ll be seeing lots more of this type of thing.
As for tracking big ones then doing something about them before they hit…I think this is what you might call a ‘Hollywood’ type solution to the problem. i.e. fantasy.
When a commercial jet the size of several houses can disappear radar controlled, satellite monitored air-space. I don’t hold out much hope for our technology being able to track smaller faster objects approaching our spherical planet from the corners of the cosmos!
Good to know that we’re thickening up the atmosphere with added CO2 though, most of those bad boys will burst and burn up long before they ever hit the ground!
And what about the weather in Murmansk…?

Eric Worrall seems to have bought it and says:
April 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm
How much Asteroid deflection capability would the annual global warming mitigation budget buy?
Time to stop that fantasy, and spend money where it is really needed.

Paul Penrose is talking about something completely different and says:
April 19, 2014 at 3:50 pm
I’m sorry Charles Nelson, but you don’t know what you are talking about. Comparing an aircraft that can change course to evade detection and an unguided rock that must follow the rules of orbital mechanics is just silly. Plus the rocks we are really concerned about are a bit bigger than even a 777. We can find and track these objects with the technology that we have now. And if we work at it, we could have the resources in place to deflect one within a few decades. And since a large meteor is a REAL civilization ending event, we must do it.

YouSoWould asks for a reality check and says:
April 19, 2014 at 4:04 pm
“actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck”
Given that the last extinction level event from one was 65 million years ago, I’m not going to lose much sleep over the infinitesimally small probability of one occurring within my comparative eye-blink of a lifespan.
And really – does anyone think we’d stand a chance of deflecting several hundred thousand tons of metal hurtling towards us, as this stage of our technological advancement? “Armageddon” it ain’t.

Even Ric Werme sees the flaw in Anthony's article and says:
April 19, 2014 at 4:12 pm
> The biggest threat to humanity, far bigger than global warming/climate change, is about to get bigger, much bigger
No, no – the threat remains the same (per capita), It’s merely the perception of the risk that has narrowed and gone up.
It does make me wish that we had spent a little more time getting some of us off this basket. A planet is a great place to evolve, but it’s a lousy place to preserve a species.

Rud Istvan doesn't like the direction Anthony is taking (too much like prisonplanet?) and says:
April 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm
See Judith Curry yesterday, or the add on wrap she says she will post soon.
Some things are so improbable they are not worth insuring against. The 2014 March Madness perfect bracket is a great example where Warren Buffet made money at ‘asteroid’ expense.
Please do not take this bog in that direction.

mjmsprt40 talks about the long odds of it happening and, with a wistful analogy, says:
April 19, 2014 at 4:43 pm
A city killer might strike, but since Sodom and Gomorrah we haven’t seen one. As far as “End of the world as we know it” sized asteroids– I’m more likely to get a date tonight with this month’s Playmate of the Month than we are to get hit with one of those things. 65 million years, and Jupiter helping to clean up the place… don’t lose sleep over a “planet killer”.


  1. You laugh at the threats posed by asteroids pretty much the same way that I laugh at the threats posed by global warming. The only real difference is that nobody is suggesting that a tax can stop an asteroid... so I guess that I've got more to laugh at than you.

    1. "The only real difference is that nobody is suggesting that a tax can stop an asteroid... so I guess that I've got more to laugh at than you."

      Its pretty clear that we can get some extra laughs from that little line of yours. You should try actually reading what your climate change denier buddies are writing before you put your foot in your mouth:

      "Eric Worrall
      April 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm
      How much Asteroid deflection capability would the annual global warming mitigation budget buy?"

    2. Ha ha. Skeptical claims the only real difference is that "nobody" is suggesting a tax can stop an asteroid. And as Millicent shows, he can't even get that right!

      It's not just Eric, the WUWT article has a quote from the B612 people:

      "The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them.”

      What does he think - we call get out our tennis rackets and start smashing?

      (Of course, Skeptical missed the point entirely. It was mocking Anthony's lack of any risk assessment skill.)

    3. Yeah. There have always been asteroid strikes they are natural and we haven't had a major asteroid strike in 17 years and 6 months and counting anyway what about the MSP? (Medieval Strike Period) not one asteroid struck Greenland then and the Vikings grew oranges and avocados and everything just because there was a strike in Russia does not mean there is a global threat look at this graph showing a baseball bat - that must prove something. Al Gore is fat.

    4. I can't see where Eric said that a tax would stop an asteroid, but I can see his point that the money squandered on the IPCC and its objectives would be better spent on an "Asteroid Deflection Capability".

      Millicent, while we're all having a giggle at your loose interpretation of what Eric said, why don't you go find someone who actually says that "a tax can stop an asteroid".

    5. Skeptikal, while your waiting for Millicent why don't you go and find someone who actually says that "a tax will stop global warming".

      By the way, are you going to donate to B612's fund to deflect an asteroid or do you expect the government to pay for it?

    6. I was hoping that when the IPCC gets shut down, the left over money in their slush fund would pay for it.

    7. "Millicent, while we're all having a giggle at your loose interpretation of what Eric said, why don't you go find someone who actually says that "a tax can stop an asteroid"."

      I'm sorry, my post assumed that you had the ability to join dots together. So ... what do you think Eric wants to use that tax money for when he talks about deflecting asteroids ... playing asteroid ping pong maybe?

      Thanks for the extra chuckles btw. Its even funnier when you try defend your original blunder with sheer bluster.

    8. Millicent, thanks for showing us that you couldn't find a single person who said that "a tax can stop an asteroid".

      Ha Ha, join the dots... I forgot about those little books to entertain children.

      You go ahead and keep on joining those dots. ;)

    9. "Millicent, thanks for showing us that you couldn't find a single person who said that "a tax can stop an asteroid"."

      My first post showed you poor Eric who wants to divert taxes to stop asteroids. What I can't find - apparently - is a climate change denier who understands the English language.

    10. Give it a rest, Skeptikal. Eric quite clearly stated that he wanted money from global warming mitigation (mostly government funds) to be directed to diversion of asteroids. Governments get a lot of their funds from taxation. And a fair bit of that taxation comes from individual taxpayers.

      NASA itself would use taxpayer funds to divert an asteroid if the near earth objects program detected a danger and it was a feasible option.

      I see you haven't been able to find anyone saying that "a tax will stop global warming".

    11. Skeptical, a slush fund would come in handy when the last Arctic ice is just melting;)

    12. Of course I have.

      The title reads.... "How a carbon tax can stop global warming"

      Of course it won't, but the title is attention getting.

      If you know that a tax won't stop global warming, then why do you support it?

    13. Catmando, only if you are Santa Claus.

    14. I support a price on carbon for three main reasons:

      as an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby reduce the amount of global warming (and eventually stop it)

      to use the funds to develop more renewable energy production and make the transition to clean energy sooner rather than later.

      To limit the amount we'll all have to pay to adapt to global warming and recover from drought, floods, fire and heat waves. Those things are already costing taxpayers an arm and a leg. Seems silly to just keep pouring more money in to that without doing anything to mitigate the problem.

      A price on carbon of one type or another (either a direct tax or a market based mechanism) is the best option. Unfortunately here in Australia the current prime minister is planning to use consolidated revenue for this, instead of a market based mechanism. That means he'll be diverting taxpayer funds from things like health and education. If he kept the current system it would be all open and transparent and lower and middle income earners wouldn't be wearing so much of the cost.

    15. That doesn't make sense. You want a market based mechanism (carbon trading on an open market) to prop up renewables which would never survive in an open market without lavish subsidies. You want low and middle income earners to pay income tax AND a carbon tax, presumably so they'll be better off than just paying income tax. You really believe that carbon trading is open and transparent, despite what's already happened in europe. Are you serious?

    16. Skeptikal wrote
      "You want a market based mechanism (carbon trading on an open market) to prop up renewables which would never survive in an open market without lavish subsidies."

      You want to talk about lavish subsidies , take a look at the fossil fuel industry.

      Around 10B just in Australia.

      And globally, over 0.5 Trillion per year.

      What do you think would happen if the fossil fuel subsidies was transferred to the renewable energy industry? Remember also that the fossil fuel industry has been propped up with generous subsidies for decades now. So who is an ignorant hypocrite now?

    17. Wind doesn't need subsidies. Coal gets subsidies here in Australia. And in the current system (that our PM wants to remove) taxpayers don't pay the carbon price, they get reimbursed by tax cuts (or pension increase).

      I didn't talk about carbon trading. I only mentioned a carbon tax and carbon price. You seem to be mixing up a few different concepts. Do some reading on the different mechanisms.

      Taxpayers did get hit with a flood levy on top of taxation. That's the price of adaptation and it's only going to get more expensive. That was for Queensland. We didn't get any handouts for the floods in Victoria - so taxpayers down south got a doubly whammy - paying for our own floods plus paying for Queensland floods. And paying for fires and droughts.

      I take it you don't care about that because you don't thinks about where your tax dollar goes. Insurance premiums are rising because of global warming too. More and more of it is going to go into adaptation and recovery from weather disasters. I'd rather some of that went into mitigation.

      BTW I don't expect you to be able to figure any of this out. You haven't even twigged that global warming is real and costly. Public policy is not the simplest of things to work through.

    18. Okay, educate me. If we're not talking about carbon trading, then what exactly is a market based mechanism for a 'carbon price'?

    19. Well, it's not my area either. Here in Australia the plan was to move to trading. Initially though, the top polluters pay a price to emit, if they choose to. Or they can substitute clean for dirty. (There are different things that can be done in trading too. Setting a floor price for example. Different mechanisms have been used in all sorts of markets.)

      Whatever is done via a price or a tax or an ETS, it won't be enough on its own. There will need to be other policies brought into play. The longer we leave the fewer options we'll have. Especially here in Australia where we have ample renewable energy we could tap into (wind and sun and possibly tidal too) but are addicted to coal. South Australia's doing okay and Tasmania's alright. Vic, NSW, Qld and WA not so much.

      The main thing with whatever system it has to result in a shift to clean energy. It won't work if all it does is shift the cost burden to the wrong part of the economy and leaves coal as it is.

      If you're interested there is a lot of material on the internet outlining different approaches. (As you can probably tell I prefer whatever system to be segmented out of consolidated revenue and separately accounted for. It's too easy to fudge the books one way or another when it's hidden in the recurrent budget with all the normal taxpayer funded services. That's why I call the Direct Action Plan Abbott's Big Con.)

    20. I'm not particularly interested in different approaches to a carbon tax or an ETS. I was only interested in what would constitute a market based mechanism that's not carbon trading... but you've failed to answer that.

      I prefer Abbott's Direct Action Plan. I'm not a big fan of lining the pockets of carbon traders for a problem that ultimately may not exist. Adaptation to any effects of warming is a far more sensible approach... especially since China and India are still ramping up their emissions.

      Your vision of a clean energy world isn't going to happen anytime soon.

    21. A carbon tax is a market-based mechanism. Perhaps Skeptikal misunderstands its purpose. To, forestall the obvious "a market-based tax, huh?", let me explain.

      The issue here is that the energy market currently acts very inefficiently, making renewables less competitive than they would otherwise be, and fossil producers more competitve. A market-based mechanism is something that will assist the market to operate more efficiently. The carbon tax, by virtue of it's Pigovian nature, seeks to redress the existing market inefficiency. Whether it incentivises decarbonisation, or creates a slush-fund for renewable development is irrelevant up to a point. In a market-oriented approach it exists only to correct a market failing (the others are just fringe benefits, as it were), and to restore a properly competitive arena for the market to find the most efficient energy solutions.

      IF a carbon tax levelled the energy playing field, THEN we could talk about whether subsidy-free coal was cheaper than subsidy-free wind. The market could operate free from distortion and market-based mechanisms would quickly determine which energy sources (it will always be a mix) will operate most efficiently in what circumstances. The current landscape precludes a market based solution, full stop.

      It should be noted that a well-delivered carbon tax adds exactly nothing to the cost of energy across the whole market. Don't get me wrong, it adds to the price, but not the cost. The cost includes the environmental impacts, health impacts, marginal costs of water etc, all of which we already pay or will do in time.

      The DAP OTOH will only increase this distortion - effectively paying people to stop emitting something they have previously been able to do for free, but for which they should have been paying. We go from them not paying to do something to them being paid to not do something, another distortion to a twisted field. This sort of system contributes to the unrecognisable distortion of the primary agriculture sector in Europe, where farmers are paid not to produce something to as to maintain a high price level, ensuring the survival of inefficient producers. DAP, from the "free-market party", is simply a bad joke.

  2. Dammit, why do you have to ruin a perfect good fairy tail, wrapped up in the twisted imagination of Anthony Watts and spewed out with his typical pseudoscience, by invoking reality and scientific literacy?

    Now what am I going to do with all the useless Anderson shelters and pamphlets on "duck and cover", that I was going to flog to the gullible?


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