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Wednesday Topsight, January 24, 2007

clock.jpgLet's see, lots of apocaphilia lately...

Five Minutes to Midnight: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a well-known icon, shown here: the ticking clock, counting down to midnight. Throughout the Cold War, as tensions between the superpowers rose and waned, the Bulletin would move the minute hand closer or further away from the 12 o'clock mark. The closest it ever got was 2 minutes to midnight, in 1953 (after the first H-bomb test), and it has reached 3 minutes to midnight twice. In 1991, as the Cold War ended, the minute hand was moved to 17 minutes out as a demonstration of the more relaxed relationship between the superpowers. But in the intervening 16 years, the minute hand has crept back, reaching 7 minutes to midnight in 2002; this month, the hand was moved to 5 minutes to midnight. What's notable about this isn't simply the move, but why it moved: the threats arising from global warming, and the potential for weapons derived from biotechnology and molecular nanotechnology, have joined nuclear proliferation as a cause for concern about our fate.

These are familiar issues to readers of OtF and WorldChanging, but up until recently the discussion of civilization-level threats beyond nuclear war rarely made it out of think tanks and futurist websites. With the Bulletin adding climate and bio/nanotech to its concerns, it's starting to look like efforts to push for greater mainstream awareness of major threats -- and their possible solutions -- may finally be paying off.

Carbon Info at the Supermarket: Given the reaction to the cheeseburger footprint story, it should come as no surprise that the notion of identifying the greenhouse impact of food is gaining currency. The idea hasn't peaked; in fact, it looks like it's only going to get bigger. The UK supermarket chain Tesco announced late last week that it would put carbon labels on the products that it carries.

...the UK's biggest retailer, which produces 2m tonnes of carbon a year in the UK, said it would put new labels on every one of the 70,000 products it sells so that shoppers can compare carbon costs in the same way they can compare salt content and calorie counts. [...] The new carbon labelling programme will not be immediate. Tesco said it would first have to develop a "universally accepted and commonly understood" measuring system.

If Tesco wants this to work, they need to make the carbon label available to other retailers, so that it truly does become a universal system.

Into the Gap: The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology published a press release today that's worth checking out. A project on the "Software Control of Matter" has come up with a series of molecular manufacturing development projects that could well launch the era of the nanofactory far sooner than most expected.

CRN's concern, and it's one that I share, is that there are as of now no real plans for handling the emergence of a technology this powerful. As Mike Treder puts it, "Existing nanotechnology policies, and most proposed policies, do not address huge new areas of concern raised by tomorrow's revolutionary manufacturing potential. That gap could be calamitous."

Two Tickets for Apocalypse II: Electric Boogloo, Please: This rocks -- the website A Futurist at the Movies, which examines the plausibility of speculative fiction on film, has used my Eschatological Taxonomy to grade the level of threat in a variety of science fiction movies. Some examples: The Road Warrior (Class 1); The Matrix (Class 2); Children of Men (Class 3a); Star Wars (Class X -- the destruction of Alderaan).

A couple of the apocalypse classes have no example movies. Any ideas what would fit in Classes 3B and 4?


Here are my additions to fictional depictions

3b - In the movie AI (spielberg) it is implied that humans are extinct at the end of the movie. 2000 years in the future.
It might have been 3a or 3b.

extended the wikipedia entry

I have not seen the movie but the description of
“The Day the Earth Caught Fire” (1964) Implies biosphere extinction (which might have come just before planetary elimination). Of course it is fairy tail physic. Nuclear testing knocks the earth from orbit. There was a book (I bleive weapons of 2080
which calculated out the energy needed to knock the earth from orbit. It is far beyond our nuclear weapons. Same goes for Star Wars of course.

Babylon 5 showed other planetary eliminations by the Vorlon and the Shadows.

Star Trek has had universe eliminations and planetary eliminations. The doomsday machine from the old series. Pickard travelling through time to prevent the earth and a good chunk of the galaxy from being destroyed (All good things). Spacetime events that would have destroyed the universe.
Enterprise had an alternate timeline where the earth was destroyed. (planetary elimination)

Star trek had biosphere elimination for other races. The race of Sargon in Return to Tomorrow.

Other fiction have had universe or galaxy eliminations.
—But thats not realistic…none of the movies are.

EE Doc Smith Books
Lensmen, Skylark series for galaxy eliminations

Andromeda TV series had destruction of earth by the Abyss. Not sure about extent of destruction

Had the destruction of a planet

A group online actually apparently seriously calling for 3b

They are expousing the have no procreative sex method.

This was depicted in an episode of South Park. Alien fugitives from the future come to work in our time. Put men of south Park out of work. They respond by having man on man sex to prevent the future people from being born.

By the way that South Park episode would be a threat (not a serious threat) but a threat of 3b

This is a challenge I cannot resist.

Setting aside any television examples (because of course, in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of sci fi on tv, you're going to find an example of just about anything apocalypse you can think up), my suggestions are:

Class 3b, human extinction-natural:

Children of Men could just as easily qualify for this as for the engineered category, as we never learn what's caused the global sterility.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire doesn't meet the criteria, since the crisis is precipitated by the detonations of nuclear bombs by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. However, When Worlds Collide is perfect: humanity's demise (except for a remnant that escapes in a rocket ship along with some useful animals) is brought on by "runaway planets" passing close enough to cause disastrous weather, volcanic eruptions, earthquates etc. on Earth. It's a big scale, but it's "natural."

Class 4, biosphere extinction: In Silent Running, hippie nature boy Bruce Dern hijacks the forested biodome that he's tending, after all the orbiting domes holding the last of the Earth's forests get orders from Mission Control to blow this thing and come home. Strongly implied that these are the last of the earth's biota.

And, the dying biosphere is the motivating factor in the space flights depicted in othe movie version of Lost in Space, and also Red Mars.

Not that I've seen it all the way through but Robert Altman's "Quintet" is an ice ball earth scenario with humanity slowly dying out.


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