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Category — Terrorism

Climate change stokes violent reaction

Tim Radford


Street fighting in Mosul: Rising temperatures are always linked with violence. Image: The US Army via Wikimedia Commons

An exhaustive study of a wide range of conflicts over thousands of years has found that rising temperatures are inevitably linked to an increase in violence.

Stand by for more violence. As planetary temperatures rise, so does the likelihood of murder, rape and domestic violence, as well as civil war, ethnic bloodshed and invasion, the collapse of government and even the collapse of civilisation.

Three US scientists report today that they analysed 60 studies by 190 scholars published in 26 journals of 45 different conflicts around the world, and spanning thousands of years of human history, and came to one grim, clear conclusion.

With every significant shift in temperature there was an increased risk of social or societal violence, they report in the journal Science.

The studies they analysed were drawn from climatology, archaeology, economics, political science and psychology: once they had examined the data and used a common statistical framework to look at the pattern of outcomes, they found increased temperature or extended drought as significant factors.

They found spikes of violence as the thermometer soared in India and in Australia; increased assaults in the US and in Tanzania; ethnic violence in Europe and South Asia, land invasions in Brazil, and civil conflict throughout the tropics. Temperatures even played a role in the collapse of the Chinese empire and of Mayan civilisation. [Read more →]

August 1, 2013   No Comments

Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction

Jason G. Matheny

Space Station

Excerpted from Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction,
Risk Analysis, Vol. 27, No. 5, 2007

In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future human lives. We review the challenges to studying human extinction risks and, by way of example, estimate the cost effectiveness of preventing extinction-level asteroid impacts.

It is possible for humanity (or its descendents) to survive a million years or more, but we could succumb to extinction as soon as this century. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. President Kennedy estimated the probability of a nuclear holocaust as “somewhere between one out of three and even.” John von Neumann, as Chairman of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee, predicted that it was “absolutely certain that there would be a nuclear war; and that everyone would die in it.”

More recent predictions of human extinction are little more optimistic. In their catalogs of extinction risks, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees (2003), gives humanity 50-50 odds on surviving the 21st century; philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that it would be “misguided” to assume that the probability of extinction is less than 25%; and philosopher John Leslie (1996) assigns a 30% probability to extinction during the nex tfive centuries. The “Stern Review ”for the U.K. Treasury (2006) assumes that the probability of human extinction during the next century is 10%. And some explanations of the “Fermi Paradox” imply a high probability (close to 100%) of extinction among technological civilizations.

Estimating the probabilities of unprecedented events is subjective, so we should treat these numbers skeptically. Still, even if the probability of extinction is several orders lower, because the stakes are high, it could be wise to invest in extinction countermeasures. [Read more →]

April 7, 2013   No Comments

Newly-declassified study says U.S. electric grid ‘inherently vulnerable’ to terrorist attack

A recently-declassified report says the U.S. electric power delivery system is vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could cause more damage to the system than natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

The report, released on Nov. 14 by the National Research Council (NRC), said such an attack could black out large regions of the country for weeks or months and cost billions of dollars.

The electric power delivery system that carries electricity from large central generators to customers could be severely damaged by a small number of well-informed attackers. The system is inherently vulnerable because transmission lines may span hundreds of miles, and many key facilities are unguarded. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that the power grid, most of which was originally designed to meet the needs of individual vertically integrated utilities, is now being used to move power between regions to support the needs of new competitive markets for power generation. Primarily because of ambiguities introduced as a result of recent restructuring of the industry and cost pressures from consumers and regulators, investment to strengthen and upgrade the grid has lagged, with the result that many parts of the bulk high-voltage system are heavily stressed.

A terrorist attack on the power system would lack the dramatic impact of the attacks in New York, Madrid, or London. It would not immediately kill many people or make for spectacular television footage of bloody destruction. But if it were carried out in a carefully planned way, by people who knew what they were doing, it could deny large regions of the country access to bulk system power for weeks or even months. An event of this magnitude and duration could lead to turmoil, widespread public fear, and an image of helplessness that would play directly into the hands of the terrorists. If such large extended outages were to occur during times of extreme weather, they could also result in hundreds or even thousands of deaths due to heat stress or extended exposure to extreme cold.

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December 4, 2012   No Comments