Our Collision Course with Climate Change: a "10" on the Torino scale

Today (31 May 2013), Asteroid 1998 QE2 will come within 3.6  million miles of the earth, making it a “0” (No Hazard) on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale.  And what is a 10 on the Torino scale?  That would be a situation where:

“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.’

It sounds like the hazard we're facing after pushing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations beyond 400 parts per million (ppm). 

But there are at least three important differences. 

  1. The atmosphere has not seen 400 ppm for at least 800,000 years (most likely three to five million years ago).
  2. There is a lot more we can do about climate change (reduce our reliance on fossil energy while reducing our vulnerability to the impacts that already are emerging)
  3. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology takes the threat of asteroids more seriously than climate change. "Avoiding asteroid threats requires innovation, commitment and diligence," the committee says on its home page.  In contrast, in the case of climate change, committee chair Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas) says "we should take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us."

Above: Home page of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.


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