In the meantime, a friend of mine (who is a climate scientist at a major U.S. research facility) turned me on to an interesting find, a paper addressed to the European Office of Aerospace Research and development, dated June 4, 1996, entitled: "The Hazard to Civilization from Fireballs and Comets" by S.V.M. Clube. (For the uninitiated, Clube is an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford).
In this short (4 pages) letter and summary statement, Clube writes (emphases in the original, make of them what you will):
Asteroids which pass close to the Earth have been fully recognized by mankind for only about 20 years. Previously, the idea that substantial unobserved objects might be close enough to be a potential hazard to the Earth was treated with as much derision as the unobserved aether. Scientists of course are in business to establish broad principles (eg relativity) and the Earth's supposedly uneventful, uniformitarian environment was already very much in place. The result was that scientists who paid more than lip service to objects close enough to encounter the Earth did so in an atmosphere of barely disguised contempt. Even now, it is difficult for laymen to appreciate the enormity of the intellectual blow with which most of the Body Scientific has recently been struck and from which it is now seeking to recover.I stopped right there and asked myself: Hmmm... just what intellectual blow is he talking about here? After a bit of thought, it occurred to me that he must be talking about the Comet Shoemaker-Levy fragment impacts on Jupiter which produced a huge amount of excitement at the time which was just two years before the date of this letter. To return to Clube's report, he continues:
The present report, then, is concerned with those other celestial bodies recorded by mankind since the dawn of civilization which either miss or impinge upon the Earth and which have also been despised. Now known respectively as comets (>1 kilometre in size) and meteoroids (<10m)That he immediately switched from asteroids to comets seems to confirm my speculation that he was talking about Shoemaker-Levy. But it gets more interesting:
Confronted on many occasions in the past by the prospect of world-end, national elites have often found themselves having to suppress public panic - only to discover, too late, that the usual means of control commonly fail. Thus an institutionalized science is expected to withhold knowledge of the threat; a self-regulated press is expected to make light of any disaster; while an institutionalized religion is expected to oppose predestination and to secure such general belief in a fundamentally benevolent deity as can be mustered. [...]Clube then thanks the USAF for "its generous and timely injection of funds" and we note that the letter was cc'd to, among others, Edward Teller at the Hoover Institute, S. Fred Singer at Fairfax VA, and Jack A. Goldstone, Davis, CA.
(B) The present report based on the above grant addresses a variety of issues within the broad context of the hazard to civilization due to fireballs and comets. It consists of:
It is emphasized here that the present report expresses a viewpoint which is contrary to the mainstream scientific theme currently reinforced through various US agencies in the wake of recent major findings under US leadership...
- A brief statement of conclusions arising from a narrative report (3 copies);
- A narrative report (with appendix) linking the results of three scientific studies described in papers submitted to mainstream journals (3 copies)
- The relevant papers detailing the results which arise through the granted funds due to (a) Clube; (b) Clube & Napier; and (c) Clube, Holye, Napier & Wickramasinghe (3 copies);
- A co-authored foundation paper by Asher & Clube detailing the results from which items 3 and 2 progressed.
Despite the importance of this mainstream theme, it is recognized here that the cometary signatures in the terrestrial record are generally stronger than the asteroidal signatures in the case of both long term and short term effects i.e. those affecting biological and geological evolution on the one hand and mankind and civilization on the other [...]
There are fundamental paradoxes to be assimilated as a result of this unexpected situation. Thus the perceived culture of enterprise and enlightenment which underpins the two centuries culminating with the Space Age and which led mankind to spurn comets and fireballs may now be seen as the prelude to a profound paradigm shift: the restoration of an environmental outlook more in keeping with that which preceded American Independence and which paid serious heed to comets and fireballs.
The summary of conclusions accompanying this letter is equally interesting, but that will have to wait for tomorrow. If you can't wait, you can read a pdf here: The Hazard to Civilization from Fireballs and Comets.
I should add that, yes, I obtained the whole report and the papers it refers to (and more besides). The report makes one startling remark that I'm going to drop just to whet your appetite:
...the Christian, Islamic and Judaic cultures have all moved since the European Renaissance to adopt an unreasoning anti-apocalyptic stance, apparently unaware of the burgeoning science of catastrophes. History, it now seems, is repeating itself: it has taken the Space Age to revive the Platonist voice of reason but it emerges this time within a modern anti-fundamentalist, anti-apocalyptic tradition over which governments may, as before, be unable to exercise control. ... Cynics (or modern sophists), in other words, would say that we do not need the celestial threat to disguise Cold War intentions; rather we need the Cold War to disguise celestial intentions! (emphasis in the original)Just think about what this might mean, considering when it was written and all that has happened since. One might think the War on Terror was actually a planned cover-up...
With that happy thought, have a look at this: Majesterium and the Tipping Point
Makes one wonder where the REAL hazard to civilization is coming from...