The greenhouse effect

Greenhouse gases let thr ough sunlight but tend to stop energy escaping into space when it has been changed to lower-frequency heat radiation. While water vapour is the main such gas, there are growing contributions from over thirty others, especially CO (carbon dioxide), nitrogen oxides, methane, fluorocarbons (CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs), and lower-atmosphere ozone. Humans produce over thirty billion tons of CO annually, two-thirds of it by burning fossil fuels at a rate which has increased...

Not Striking Second The Rights And Wrongs Of Nuclear Revenge

When a nation has carried out a nuclear first strike with thousands of bombs, what could be the point of retaliating As a utilitarian I see moral point in actions only when they stand a chance of doing some good. Those who follow Kant might well have little difficulty in viewing nuclear revenge as 'avenging justice'. Kant speaks of the need to execute murderers even though the heavens fall. But I don't admire Kant's approach. How could you have a duty to do something which would harm some...

Threats To The Survival Of The Human Race

Estimating the probability that the human race will soon become extinct has become quite a popular activity. Many writers have considered such things as the dangers of nuclear war or of pollution. This book will make few claims to expertise about the details of such highly complex matters. What it will claim instead is that even non-experts can see that the risks aren't negligible. In view of how much is at stake, we have no right to disregard them.2 Besides, even if the 'total risk' (obtained...

The population crisis

Malthus, writing in 1825, when Earth's population had just risen rapidly to nearly one billion, predicted that it would very soon reach the limit which the planet could support, after which it would fall sharply because of famines, epidemics and wars. In fact it proceeded to double in a century, doubling yet again in the subsequent halfcentury. It is now about twenty-five times greater than at the time of Christ, and growing at a quarter of a million people per day. The doubling time is down to...

Naturally Occurring Diseases

Infectious diseases cause roughly half of all deaths today. The organisms producing them fall into four main groups bacteria, viruses, the rickettsiae, which lie between bacteria and viruses in complexity, and parasites such as the protozoa of malaria and the tiny worms of schistosomiasis. Malaria and tuberculosis are the biggest killers at present, the second slightly in the lead with its roughly three million fatalities per year. However, the 'Spanish influenza' virus of the 1918-19 pandemic...

Determinism Indeterminism And The Doomsday Argument

Although Carter's argument gives grounds for re-evaluating the danger of imminent human extinction, these grounds would (as the Introduction noted) necessarily be weakened in an indeterministic world. Indeterminism would mean that there wasn't yet any suitable 'firm fact of the matter', in theory available to anybody who knew the present situation and the laws of physics in sufficient detail, concerning how many humans remained to be born before humankind became extinct compare the fact that...

Group II

These objections concern the fact that you and I can be sure that we (and maybe also all others like us) are in existence now, regardless of what will come later. (Ila) The far future cannot kill us. That's an obvious truth. Unfortunately (for it would be a great relief to find that the doomsday argument didn't work) this truth could undermine the Carter-Leslie position only if it were assumed, ridiculously, that present-day evidence for future events must be evidence caused by those events....

Creating Quark Matter

We now come to two possible sources of risk which I take much less seriously, although it might be wrong to disregard them entirely. When physicists considered performing experiments at very high energies, fears of vacuum metastability were by no means the first to be voiced. As R.Ruthen writes,110 'Since the beginning of the nuclear age, researchers have met many times to discuss whether there was any chance that a proposed experiment might initiate a catastrophe.' Probably the earliest such...

Exhaustion of foodproducing land and water

Using heavy irrigation and fertilization, modern agriculture sows the same crop again and again land is seldom left to recover ('lie fallow') or planted with nitrogen-fixing clovers. If the soil gives signs of exhaustion, more and more fertilizer is applied until not even this can help. Constant watering leads to salt accumulation, but that too is disregarded until crops fail. Because of enthusiastic pesticiding of the weeds which would hold it together and reduce evaporation, topsoil is more...

Bayesian reasoning

It says that the probability, in view of evidence e, that hypothesis h is correct, grows or shrinks in proportion to any extra or lesser likelihood that you'd have got such evidence if the hypothesis were indeed correct. This is common sense, very widely applicable. The evidence can be that you have won a lottery or have been hit by an arrow or bitten by a dog, or that an observed car is red, or evidence in virtually any other field. The hypothesis, too, can...

Computercaused Disasters And Computer Replacements For Humans

While placing nuclear missiles under computer control could quickly prove disastrous, it is just one example of how catastrophe could come from the computer revolution. Here are some other possibilities (a) As well as being open to sabotage, for instance by a terrorist's bomb whose electromagnetic pulse fries computer circuits throughout a city, complex electrical or electronic networks are subject to largely unpredictable collapse. In 1965 failure of a relay device in an electricity generating...

Is The Doomsday Argument Easily Refuted

Already embattled on other fronts, Carter has presented the doomsday argument only in lectures and seminars, never in print. However, I published it on p. 214 of Universes in a long foot-note. Since then I have investigated it in several articles. The argument is certainly controversial. So far, however, I have managed to find only one good ground for doubting it. Suppose that the cosmos is radically indeterministic, perhaps for reasons of quantum physics. Suppose also that the indeterminism is...

Doomsday And The Anthropic Principle

Carter is particularly well known for his 'anthropic principle'. The principle reminds us that observers, for instance humans, can find themselves only at places and times where intelligent life is possible. Observers couldn't be at the center of the sun, presumably, or in the earliest few seconds of an immensely hot Big Bang. They might even be very unlikely to live before the universe had lasted for many billion years. Many billion years of evolution could be needed before intelligent life...

Bibliography

Adamson, D. 1990 Defending the World, London Tauris. Albert, D.Z. 1994 'Bohm's alternative to quantum mechanics', Scientific American, May, 58-67. Alper, J. 1994 'Earth's near-death experience', Earth, January, 42-51. Alvarez, L.W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. and Michel, H. 1980 'Extraterrestrial cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction', Science, June 6, 1095-1108. Alvarez, W. and Asaro, F. 1992 'The extinction of the dinosaurs', pp. 2856 of J.Bourriau ed. Understanding Catastrophe, Cambridge...

Some opponents of utilitarianism

As indicated, I defend 'utilitarianism' in a fairly strong sense. I accept a fairly firm link between the praiseworthiness of any action and the goodness of its probable results, although bearing in mind such things as a that even a minor risk of producing a very unfortunate result, for instance the extinction of the human race, could justify very major sacrifices, and b that an agent may simultaneously deserve a pat on the back for following the guidance of conscience, and a kick in the pants...

Pollution by chemicals or nuclear radiation

Air, water and soil are threatened by pollution. For a start, there is domestic sewage and garbage. In many places raw sewage enters river, lake or sea. In industrialized countries, people each produce about half a ton of garbage annually. It accumulates in landfill sites which poison groundwaters, or it is burned in ways adding pollutants to the air and concentrating others in the ash. Many elements of the garbage count as hazardous waste, yet much more of this is produced by industry. In the...

Disaster Caused By Nanotechnology

'Nanotechnology' means the use of complex machines whose components are of about a nanometer, a millionth of a millimeter. Building them involves manipulating individual atoms and molecules with great precision. The science involved can be a mixture of chemistry, liquid physics and engineering. In 'There's plenty of room at the bottom',63 R.P.Feynman suggested using machines to construct tinier machines, which would then make yet tinier ones, and so on. Another approach is that of the...

Black Hole Explosions Black Hole Mergers

Black holes, gravitationally collapsed regions from which light finds it very difficult to escape, are in fact not entirely black. As S.W. Hawking showed, they 'evaporate' because of quantum effects, losing energy at first extremely slowly but in the end explosively fast. Many miniature black holes, relics of the Big Bang which started with masses up to that of a mountain, may now be entering their explosive stage. The total energy output during such a black hole's last second could equal that...

Chemical And Biological Warfare

In the First World War, above a million soldiers were casualties of chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas, over ninety thousand dying. The nerve gases tabun, sarin and soman, discovered but not used during the Second World War, were deadly in far smaller quantities, while the yet more effective VX the United States had four thousand tons of it in 1967 killed when just a few milligrams reached one's skin. Still, an amount sufficient to destroy all the people in China, supposing that they lined up...