What would be worse: Asteroid or Global warming?


Asteroids… a far bigger, more menacing threat than global warming.

Asteroid spotted on collision course with Earth

A different risk, and different in a way that illustrates the problems in assessing risk.

Risk is often defined as a factor of two quantities: likelihood, and seriousness of consequences. The highest risks are those that are both likely to happen and very damaging in their consequences. An example, if you are looking at risk over the next few years, is hard drive failure. It’s quite likely to happen over that time span, and absent any precautions would have serious consequences. That’s why most of us (hopefully!) have some sort of backup process in place (external drive, RAID, cloud storage etc.)

An asteroid strike is a low-probabilty, serious-conseqences event. Estimates suggest that Earth experiences megaton-yield impacts (well, that includes airbursts) several times a century, and about a year ago Chelyabinsk had a very near miss. Perhaps once every million years there’s an impact that causes global effects, such that it might kill a billion people if it hit today. Does that mean that an average of 1,000 people a year die from asteroid impact? No - because that’s a statistically misleading measure. What it does mean is that asteroid impacts fall, by some arguments, into the category of risks that are worth considering how to mitigate.

Global warming is in a different category. There is at least a medium probability that there will be climate change with serious consequences in the next few decades. (If you don’t believe there is at least a significant possibility of this, you are beholden to a dogmatic position that neither I nor anyone can argue you out of, because, to be frank, you weren’t argued into it - you hold it as a matter of faith.) As such there is a very significant risk from climate change, and it is a much more concrete risk than the risk from asteroid impact.

It amazes me that some people can competently discuss the risk of asteroid impact and at the same time dismiss climate modelling. To do this requires that you pick and choose which parts of physics you believe and/or when you believe them, and that is not the behaviour of an objectively rational person.


Global warming is a hipster way of saying “pollution”. It’s like calling your Chevrolet your “wheels” - there’s more to the car than just the wheels, and if you took the wheels off and put on Armstead screw drives, it’s still be a Chevrolet, despite having no wheels.

Pollution is a root problem; a cause that people can individually address, and “global warming” is a metric, an average of globally distributed symptoms that is useful to climatologists and polemicists who want to manipulate you.

By contrast, celestial objects threatening the Earth are a real issue - not just an attenuated metric - but also not something individuals can do something about. But y’know, it occurs to me that if we could all come together enough to actually beat pollution, maybe we’d be co-operating well enough to start trying to avert incoming meteors.


While I appreciate the sentiment, the majority of pollution - including CO2 emissions - attributable to my actions are not within my individual capacity to prevent. They are the result of collective decisions made by society about things like urban planning, scientific and industrial research,


Do what you can, and hope it’s enough to save your grandchildren.


Considering that in no time in Earth’s history, according to the geologic record, has warming been identified as the reason for mass extinctions, but cooling as well as asteroid strikes have been shown to lead to mass extinctions, the seriousness and likelihood weighs far greater in favor of the next glaciation cycle or an asteroid strike being the cause for a serious climatic event that leads to mass deaths; not warming.

This is something you simply cannot know, because we’ve only begun to take a serious account of near Earth asteroids. We’re finding new asteroid all the time, and we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what we know on this front. Slate, certainly not a bastion of global warming denial, just ran such an article yesterday, which was the impetus for this conversation. If that’s not proof of our continued ignorance about the risk of asteroids, I don’t know what is.

Actually, sir, it’s you who is doing what you’re accusing me of. Unlike you, I haven’t deemed the sum total of effects of warming to be negative, where as you have, even though you nor anyone else can actually say for sure if that sum total will be positive or negative. Categorically declaring those effects to be summarily negative isn’t science, it’s fortunetelling.

I can prove great risk of an asteroid strike via the geologic record. Can you do the same for “global warming”?

Someone below attempted to retort this by stating…

That’s pure sophistry, as the Azolla Event demonstrates.

I’m going to assume your knowledge of physics is more limited than you imply, because if it were more extensive, you’d realize that the one field of science where “global warming” has its least tenacious hold, it has been amongst physicist.


oh. there it is then.


By the same geologic record I can tell you the climate was not hospitable for the current diversity of life the last time carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gas’ concentrations were elevated to the concentrations we are projected to achieve. Hope you enjoy mass extinctions, which that very same geologic record indicates happen when massive climate change occurs.

Welcome to the anthropocene era, as geologists already describe this era in the geologic record.

Categorically declaring those effects to be summarily equal isn’t science either, its sophistry.


More dangerous if it were to happen? Giant asteroid. It would be catastrophic damage that would immediately be felt world wide. Little to nothing could be done on a personal level.

Global warming, in comparison, is almost a non-issue. It’s rate of change will allow the creatures of earth to adapt and find niches to thrive. There will still be casualties along the way (you may want to stop moving to the middle of the fucking desert and planting lawns, and something like the polar bear may die off) but it will happen via a slow decline. On a personal level, one can make choices to help keep you and yours in relative comfort.


So, you’ve picked one report, by part of one group of physicists, from more than five years ago, and linked to a paper by a conservative politician. If you’re going to resort to cherry-picking your evidence and relying on assertions by non-specialists, you are hardly going to persuade anyone of your views.


In comparison to a giant asteroid, yes. The effects of those are somewhat well established, and if we’re willing to suppose something even bigger from interstellar space, you could probably destroy most of the biosphere. But I hope you don’t think the description of life having time to adapt and relative comfort is a good way to put it without such a comparison.

The whole problem of global warming is that it happens on a timescale of centuries, which is faster than what ecosystems can keep up with. Sure, some things can find new niches, but then other things may not adapt well to them; an easy example is the crisis of pine beetles, which are destroying large sections of the boreal forest now that they don’t freeze.

Yes, over millions of years things will start finding a new equilibrium, but expecting only a few casualties along the way is entirely wishful thinking. kehvan is being sophistic to point out that prehistoric mass extinctions aren’t generally from warming, because we already have everything disrupted for other reasons, and warming this fast is unusual.

And this applies to people too. It’s long been noted that global warming is expected to cause all sorts of problems and wars for resources. Realistically this doesn’t mean civil war in Norway, but would start in places that are unstable; not creating but exacerbating existing conflicts. Reading up on Syria, it seems this has been an important contribution to its civil war.

Global warming is not a hipster way of saying pollution, but rather it is something like acid rain or ozone depletion, recognizing the peculiarly distant effects of one particular sort of pollution. Recall both acid rain and ozone depletion were only staved off because people took them seriously and took measures against the specific pollutants responsible. It’s not manipulative to hope people might do the same here.


An Asteroid that accelerates global warming?


Ooh ooh, Stegosaurus mauling or Werewolf piledriver?


Uhm… Shouldn’t the right answer be “it depends on the asteroid and where it hits, and it depends on what we do in the meantime about global warming?”

In other words: Mu. That is not a question.


Did you really use the I know you are but what am I route?

That does not make sense. If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit.

–insert raspberry sound–


[quote=“chenille, post:12, topic:18337”]
Global warming is not a hipster way of saying pollution, but rather it is something like acid rain or ozone depletion, recognizing the peculiarly distant effects of one particular sort of pollution.[/quote]

No, I have to disagree. Acid rain is not an averaged metric, it is literally sulphuric acid that falls from the sky. Right here, right now I can measure the acidity of the snow that just fell. The buildings around here that are made of stone which is vulnerable to the acid are literally rotting away. Ozone’s a better comparison, but it’s still not really an averaged metric representing no particular exact place and having little applicability to everyday life - the phrase “ozone depletion” refers to actual ozone that’s physically gone (so your personal chance of skin cancer is higher, because there’s measurably more UV hitting you).

I don’t think acid rain and ozone depletion have been in any sense “staved off”. Last I checked they were both still going strong.

I do hope people will someday take climate change and pollution very seriously; I certainly do. But I don’t think the politicized buzzphrase “global warming” is of any real use to anyone but climatologists and right-wing rabble-rousers.


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