Killer Impact

In the 1997 movie thriller Asteroid, an extinction-level impact is predicted as an asteroid is aimed at Earth by a passing comet. Three aircraft with lasers are scrambled and succeed in breaking up the asteroid though smaller fragments still cause significant damage. Kansas City is evacuated as impact nears. A piece of the asteroid hits Montana, and a big piece levels Dallas. The full impact could have wiped out life on Earth, if no defensive action was taken.

Suppose a real asteroid is aimed at us. Would we not do everything possible to avert disaster, like trying to destroy or divert the killer asteroid and evacuating areas where impact was predicted? Wouldn’t we spend whatever was necessary, rally whatever resources we could, to blow it to smithereens?

Now imagine that asteroid killing hundreds of thousands of people when it hit the US, because the President termed it a “hoax.” The media picked up on the President’s message, causing people to doubt the asteroid was real, and refusing to leave the impact area. After all, no one could see the asteroid. Sure, some geeky scientists supposedly photographed it, but photos are easily faked. This was just an attempt to control us.

Who would you believe? Would you be willing to take a chance that the asteroid would miss, or that it was fake?

We are currently dealing with a slow motion asteroid called Covid 19. It is killing tens of thousands of people. It may ultimately kill millions. There are plenty of people out there who think this particular asteroid is a hoax. In fact President Trump called it a hoax. And it is hitting us much harder because here in the US, we failed to do much to prevent it. We failed to scramble the laser jets.

Now imagine that asteroid is climate change. This massive threat has also been branded as a hoax by Trump. Yet experts tell us that large parts of the globe will become uninhabitable due to extreme heat and drought. Many coastal cities, from Miami to Mumbai to New York to Bangkok to Jakarta, will be inundated by the sea. Weather will become more and more unstable and destructive, and tens of millions will die from mega storms, heat, floods, famine, disease, fires and drought. Hundreds of millions will become refugees. This asteroid is no hoax.

Unlike an impending asteroid impact, we have some time to figure out how to prevent climate change. Not a lot, but some, since it does not happen all at once. We know it is happening, and we know why – human-produced carbon dioxide and methane are turning the atmosphere to a giant greenhouse. We even know how to prevent at least some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Shouldn’t we throw everything we have at it? Enlist and employ and trust experts in alternative fuels, drought mitigation, water conservation, weather prediction, population growth, urban planning, reforestation, alternative transportation, etc. Use our massive military might to help. Seek and fund new ideas and solutions. Find large scale ways to reduce our impacts. Double down on reducing our carbon footprint. Do our level best to avert or alleviate what is already an ongoing mega disaster.

Or, we can sit and wait for the asteroid to hit. Believe our lazy and corrupt political leaders. Deny that the asteroid exists, protest because we have to move out of the way, consume as much as possible, and scoff at the scientists. Make fun of the hysterical teenagers. Shop ‘til we drop. What the hell, it’s the end of the world as we know it, but we feel fine.



Phil Knight is an environmental activist in Bozeman, Montana. He is a board member of the Gallatin-Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance.