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Deep impacts

Although we are regularly told that man-made climate change is going to end life as we know it, we hear relatively little about the risk from a comet or asteroid impact on Earth. I am not about to go into the various statistical likelihoods involved, but unlike man-made climate change various cosmic impacts with the Earth have demonstrably taken place over the aeons; and these have had a significant impact on life on the planet—being implicated in several species going extinct. If you search Google News for “near-misses” you will find that encounters with space rocks are far from uncommon and that our capacity to predict these events is far from perfect or long-sighted. Yet there is no mass campaign to enhance our ability to detect distant ice-rock bodies from beyond the Sun. No pensioners lie down on damp roads to block the traffic to demand that the government spend £20bn on a “comet-buster missile”. Why? After all, the risk seems as credible—in many ways more so, since we know it has happened in the past—as climate change.

The answer is that the risk from comets implies a techno-industrial solution, whereas the climate change issue is used to leverage deindustrialisation. Indeed, this entire issue—the way it is ignored by the contemporary left—demonstrates that the environmental movement is not in the least concerned about mankind’s survival when it talks about climate change. The outer-space threat—the verifiable extraterrestrial threat, if you like—undoubtedly exists; and, in fact, for the first time in history we are in a position to do something about it. If a comet that could destroy civilisation appeared on the horizon in 1850 we would have been finished—or reduced to very primitive levels, anyway. At most we could have watched it with telescopes and dug some tunnels in the mountains—all very Jules Verne.

This is because, as everyone knows really, the whole climate change movement—environmentalism more generally—represents a blind by the left to dismantle private property and free markets, to dismantle “capitalism” as they call it; and, for some sections, to particularly disassemble techno-industrial civilisation—itself regarded as oppressive in its own way.

The conflict once again recapitulates the symbolic divide between masculine and feminine. The means to avoid cosmic death from above is a rocket—a very phallic symbol. If we want to stop the extraterrestrial threat we need rockets and nuclear weapons, and as a reserve the ability to tunnel deep into the earth. The best long-term solution is to get as many people off the planet as possible—to spread out across the solar system and beyond. This is all very right wing, very masculine: phallic rockets, colonisation, penetration of Mother Earth—it requires high explosives, or at least the ability to push a rock off course somehow. Meanwhile, the left wants us to protect Mother Earth from violation, to take away the technology that would penetrate her—although they would avoid such spiritual language.

Even the threat nature is different: a comet or asteroid is a very solid and concrete threat—a particular threat; and perhaps this is why it is not easy to mobilise people around this as an activist issue—we will find it and deal with it as a specific issue when it emerges. Climate change, on the other hand, remains a vague and non-specific threat—as with femininity itself it seems to encompass everything from hurricanes to floods to refugees to “fuel poverty”; it is the most diffuse and non-specific threat in history, whereas a comet, like a hanging, concentrates the mind excellently.

As with all these political issues, the right-wing issue—the real threat—remains occulted, possibly because it genuinely terrifies people to think about it. Instead, we natter about the maybe threat constituted by climate change, a threat that is so non-specific that there is nothing to really do about it—except give the government more money for programs. Debris from outer space implies specific actions, almost all of a techno-scientific nature, and so has very little activist appeal.

If a comet crops up on a sky survey that happens to be on a close swing in our general direction, no one will pause to ask for a clause to “mitigate comet-induced inequalities among indigenous peoples”; they will just want a rocket built that can blow up the comet or push it away. Consequently, there is no “Anti-Comet Action” and no lobby to meet the “Comet Threat”—activists prefer a “threat” that is somehow far more diffuse and vague, rather as with those farcical wars on drugs and terrorism we have been waging for decades now.


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