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Celebrating Apophis Day

12/27/2012 10:31 am 10:31:53 | Updated Feb 26, 2013

Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Apophis is coming. As Phil Plait narrated in his engaging and funny 2011 TEDx talk "How to defend Earth from asteroids," current best guess estimates say Apophis will likely miss the Earth in April of 2029. But it will be a cosmic near death experience, something like a bullet that passes so closely it singes the hairs on the ear. But this metaphorical bullet is caught in a gravitational elliptical and will swing back around, perhaps even closer, in 2036. And we know that we don't know what else is out there.

Who should care about Apophis or any Near Earth Object that may or may not bring with it destruction of the life as we know it? Is it NASA's job to protect us? USAF Space Command? Skynet? Roscosmos? The China National Space Administration? Do we expect bankers and private investors to fund a maverick asteroid deflection team headed by Richard Branson, James Cameron and Bruce Willis? Will scientists skip the politics and band together to exploit the military, intelligence and government forces that are too shallow and slow to understand the threats, like the characters in Sir Fred Hoyle's classic sci-fi tale The Black Cloud or Chase Brandon's 2012 apocalyptic spy novel Cryptos Conundrum?

The real question is this: who cares if life as we know it can continue on the planet Earth? This is not a rhetorical question. Who, specifically, cares? As importantly, why should those of us who read this today, who happily enjoy a biofilm not-disrupted by Apophis, give Near Earth Object detection and deflection any of our precious time, money, or attention? Particularly when there we have such exciting things as Batman movies to watch and geopolitics to get caught up in.

In one of the most unique books I've seen, futurist and dedicated Earthian R. Buckminster Fuller collaborated with ex-CIA officer E. J. Applewhite and attempted to answer this and many other questions about the relationship of the human world to the universe:

000.124 Why does not the public itself demand realization of its option for a revolution by design? Less than one percent of humanity now knows that the option exists; 99 percent of humanity cannot understand the mathematical language of science...They think of technology as something new; they regard it as threatening both in terms of modern weaponry and job-eliminating competition for their life-sustaining opportunities to 'earn a living.' Ergo, humanity thinks it is against technology and thinks itself averse to exercising its option.


Bucky spent his life furiously spreading confidence in his vision of Spaceship Earth. Nuclear weapons and global warming provide two detailed case studies of how old systems of thinking approached global challenges to life on Earth. Both prove humankind's ability to survive, but both also show little of what could be called wisdom.

If Apophis were approaching next year, we would have to ask who cares to do about it. But because Apophis approaches in the future, humanity has a chance to prepare itself to care. In a world populated by science-literate-citizens, our problem would be to choose between solutions to the problem, rather than choosing to even recognize a threat to our life on the Earth as a problem that needs solving.

Solving the education problem is a problem at least as large as Apophis. Without a revolution in science education for all of humankind, we leave our destiny in the hands of chance. A better fate would be to engage in what H.G. Wells called the "Open Conspiracy":

It seemed to me that all over the world intelligent people were waking up to the indignity and absurdity of being endangered, restrained, and impoverished, by a mere uncritical adhesion to traditional governments, traditional ideas of economic life, and traditional forms of behaviour, and that these awaking intelligent people must constitute first a protest and then a creative resistance to the inertia that was stifling and threatening us. These people I imagined would say first, "We are drifting; we are doing nothing worth while with our lives. Our lives are dull and stupid and not good enough."

Then they would say, "What are we to do with our lives?"

And then, "Let us get together with other people of our sort and make over the world into a great world-civilization that will enable us to realize the promises and avoid the dangers of this new time." [12]

A realization of our collective investment in life on the Earth could be called the birth of a new civilization. I prefer to think of such a gestalt shift in human priorities as the starting point of the first human civilization. A civilized, educated, scientifically literate human population will then greet and celebrate Apophis for the cosmic wonder which it expresses.

The path of the first human civilization will be long and unpredictable. But the first step is this simple statement: "I care. We care."

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