Odds for apocalypse
put at 50-50
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - This is the way the world might end:
genetically engineered pathogen is released, debris from an
"supervolcano" blocks the sun or scientists in the biggest
them all accidentally trigger a matter-squeezing "big
The demise of civilisation has been predicted since it began, but
odds of keeping Planet Earth alive and well are getting worse amid
break-neck pace of scientific advances, according to Martin
Britain`s honorary astronomer royal.
Rees calculates that the
odds of an apocalyptic disaster striking Earth
have risen to about 50 percent
from 20 percent 100 years ago.
The 60-year-old scientist, author of the
recently published "Our Final
Hour," says science is advancing in a far more
potentially dangerous pattern than ever before.
lists as mankind`s biggest threats: nuclear terrorism, deadly
viruses, rogue machines and genetic engineering that could
character. All of those could result from innocent error or
the action of a
single malevolent individual.
By 2020, an instance of bioterror or
bioerror will have killed a million
people, Rees contends.
"There is a
growing gap between doors that are open and doors that
should be open," Rees,
a professor at Britain`s Cambridge University,
said in an
The cosmologist concedes that natural disasters have always
so-called supervolanoes could explode at any time and asteroids
into the planet, causing massive climate changes -- but says the
frightening risks are probably man made.
"A hundred years ago,
the nuclear threat wasn`t even predicted...but
that threat still hasn`t gone
away," he said.
The arms race, after all, was fuelled by science, and the
field has a
responsibility to inform a wide public of the risks in deciding
apply scientific breakthroughs, he added.
CHANGE HUMAN NATURE
"For the first time ever, human nature itself isn`t
fixed. Biotech drugs
and genetic engineering are empowering individuals more
before," Rees said.
With rapidly advancing DNA technology,
"even a single person could cause
a disaster," Rees warned, noting that the
United States, after the
September 11, 2001, attacks and anthrax scare, is
well aware of this
Thousands of people have the ability to
engineer viruses and bacteria to
cause deadly plagues. Even if one such
"weirdo" didn`t kill many people,
that type of biological terrorism would
profoundly change daily life,
the scientist said.
the subject of a recent Michael Crichton thriller
about the havoc caused by
runaway microscopic machines -- is also a
potent threat, he said.
the field advances far enough, rogue self-replicating nanotechnology
-- feeding on organic material and spreading like pollen --
could devastate a
continent within a few days, Rees said.
The dangers of global warming are
also addressed in the book, subtitled
"A scientist`s warning: How terror,
error, and environmental disaster
threaten humankind`s future in this century
-- on Earth and beyond."
Rees does not discount the possibility of
disaster caused by scientific
experiments involving particle accelerators.
"Perhaps a back hole could
form, and then suck in everything around it," he
So what`s to be done?
Rees calls for better regulation
and inspection of sensitive data and
"We need to keep
track of those who have potentially lethal knowledge,"
also suggested better efforts to "reduce the number of people who
excluded or otherwise motivated to cause harm."