Curtain Raiser

A Warning Shot From Above, Colltalers

The world was stunned last week by the kind of rare global event capable of bringing its frenzy and carnage to an eerie and sobering halt. We’re talking, of course, about the realization that Michael Jordan is, sad reminder of our own finality, 50 years of age.
In fact, the pictures that flooded every news coverage of his stunning leaps and dunks and magical performances, when he seemed to stand still on the air, are truly capable to fool anyone into thinking they’re watching a CGI-enhanced Hollywood production. Amazing.
But enough of that. By now, you’ve probably realized that we’ve used a gimmick only to draw you in, so together we can take a look at the truly shock of the past week: the meteor explosion above the skies of Russia.
That it caught us all by surprise, distracted by another planetary event that, let’s face it, was lacking the two most thrilling elements that made the event in Chelyabinsk so frightening: the surprise factor and its destructive power, it’s only part of the deal.
For it was also a picture-perfect reminder of what may have happened 65 million years ago, or even much more recently and not too far from there: the likely meteor explosion in 1908, over the margins of the Tunguska river, which flatten several hundred miles of forest.
It surely served as a warning of how ill prepared we are for such a possibility, even though the angle of the object’s entry into our atmosphere would have to be much sharper for it to cause the kind of destruction sci-fi literature has been envisioning for years.
Despite a few very smart people, and the network of volunteers associated with the budget-challenged NASA, tracking and studying ways of diverting deadly fireballs from causing much more damage than last Friday, including ending our civilization, has been consigned to the back burner of our priorities.
Whether this literally out-of-the-blue blast will be able to change all that is the kind of similar guess that many a Pompeii citizen may have wondered during his or her time, about the Vesuvius. Then, as now, there were no lacking of warning shots.
That catastrophe in the first century of common era, which caught people left and right, mid-sentence and gesture, also shares a vague reference with the meteor crash that’s believed to have caused the end of the dinosaur rule on Earth.
That’s because a competing, or concurring theory, depending on who you ask, about that long ago catastrophe also indicates that volcanoes had a role in the whole collapse of an estimated hundreds of thousands of species.
The silver lining then was that the demise of the big birds, so to speak, opened the doors to a species radically different and considerably more fragile than them: mammalians, like us. In other words, a much smaller event would do us all in, nicely.
So one would think that such a possibility would be enough to ‘stop the world’ on its tracks, and get all nations to finally work together towards a common goal, something we have so far failed to do in every aspect, including in the present climate change.
One would be a complete fool also to expect that the drones of war, to stay with the theme of bad things raining over us from above, would take a break and stop exacting their malevolent, and relentless, sorties over innocents all over the world.
That just shows how screwed up our priorities are in our self-appointed role of managers of the planet: neither we’re investing time and resources in ways to protect it, nor we’re stopping from coming up with our own ways to contribute to its demise.
So, fireballs be damned, we’re likely to continue doing what we do best: which is pretty much anything, if it involves killing each other to survive, but close to nothing, if it means that we have to pool efforts and work together.
It’s may sound like a whiny complaint, in the face of an event with the potential to actually shake us out of complacency, and move us towards a new era of global harmony, and cooperation, and all that.
Which is a shame, really. Even when we try to feign optimism about the redemptive qualities of a frightening worldwide event, we fall into the same cynical trap, practically in the next sentence. We just have a hard time believing, that’s all.
But you shouldn’t. And neither should we and everyone else, old enough to remember what happened to Jupiter, in 1994. A comet broke up and crashed on the gas giant, and through successive impacts lasting a whole week, created a dark spot over 12,000 km across.
The impact released an estimated 6,000,000 megatons of TNT of energy, or 600 times the world’s nuclear arsenal, in itself another sobering element, man-made for sure, capable of ending abruptly our time on this planet.
If we neglect to heed this powerful reminder, that Earth’s is constantly going through a bombardment of thousands of objects capable of doing us harm, then what hope do we have to expect any action to prevent the equally catastrophic effects of climate change?
Fortunately, we have a full week, and most of us, the rest of our lives, to figure out a way, as we did once nature had wiped out the main challenger to our hegemony on this planet, 65 million years ago. Is nature already preparing to boost another species to replace our poor management skills? Let hope we don’t have to find that out. Have a safe week. WC

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