Catastrophe: Risk and Responseby Richard A. Posner
Catastrophes, whether natural or man-made, that could destroy the human race are often dismissed as alarmist or fanciful, the stuff of science fiction. In fact the risk of such disasters is real, and growing. A collision with an asteroid that might kill a quarter of humanity in 24 hours and the rest soon after; irreversible global warming that might flip,… See more details below
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Catastrophes, whether natural or man-made, that could destroy the human race are often dismissed as alarmist or fanciful, the stuff of science fiction. In fact the risk of such disasters is real, and growing. A collision with an asteroid that might kill a quarter of humanity in 24 hours and the rest soon after; irreversible global warming that might flip, precipitating "snowball earth;" voraciously replicating nanomachines; a catastrophic accident in a particle accelerator that might reduce the earth to a hyperdense sphere 100 meters across; a pandemic of gene-spliced smallpox launched by bioterrorists; even conquest by superintelligent robots-all these potential extinction events, and others, are within the realm of the possible and warrant serious thought about assessment and prevention. They are attracting the concern of reputable scientists--but not of the general public or the nation's policymakers.
How should the nation and the world respond to disaster possibilities that, for a variety of psychological and cultural reasons, people find it hard to wrap their minds around? Richard Posner shows that what is needed is a fresh, thoroughly interdisciplinary perspective that will meld the insights of lawyers, economists, psychologists, and other social scientists with those of the physical sciences. Responsibility for averting catastrophe cannot be left either to scientists or to politicians and other policymakers ignorant of science.
As in many of his previous books, Posner brings law and the social sciences to bear on a contemporary problem-in this case one of particular urgency. Weighing the risk and the possible responses in each case, Posner shows us what to worry about and what to dismiss, and discusses concrete ways of minimizing the most dangerous risks. Must we yield a degree of national sovereignty in order to deal effectively with global warming? Are limitations on our civil liberties a necessary and proper response to the danger of bioterror attacks? Would investing more heavily in detection and interception systems for menacing asteroids be money well-spent? How far can we press cost-benefit analysis in the design of responses to world-threatening events? Should the institutional framework of science policy be altered? we need educational reform? Is the interface of law and science awry? These are but a few of the issues canvassed in this fascinating, disturbing, and necessary book.
"[Posner] addresses what can be done to improve the assessment of...catastrophic risks and of the possible responses to them. [Catastrophe] examines a number of possible institutional reforms at the law-science interface that may aid in coping with [these] risks."Journal of Economic Literature
"Catastrophe is worth the price of the book simply for Posner's lively and readable summary of the apocalyptic dystopias that serious scientists judge to be possible." Graham Allison, The Washington Post Book World
"Interesting and provocative...it is well worth reading."The Federal Lawyer
"A fine lawyerly analysis.... Posner's perspective, very different from those held by most scientists, is a welcome addition to considerations of catastrophic risks."Science
"Will likely spark controversy.... subtle insights...[and] thoughtful analysis."Publishers Weekly
"Once again, Judge Posner has added to our cultural dialogue in a useful and interesting way."Law and Politics Book Review
"A valuable contribution to the study of risk control and management."Natural Resources Journal
- Oxford University Press, USA
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