Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×
Earth

Global Catastrophe, Even Human Extinction, Isn't All That Unlikely (theatlantic.com) 349

HughPickens.com writes: Robinson Meyer writes in The Atlantic that in its annual report on "global catastrophic risk," the Global Challenges Foundation estimates the risk of human extinction due to climate change -- or an accidental nuclear war at 0.1 percent every year. That may sound low, but when extrapolated to century-scale it comes to a 9.5 percent chance of human extinction within the next hundred years. The report holds catastrophic climate change and nuclear war far above other potential causes, and for good reason citing multiple occasions when the world stood on the brink of atomic annihilation. While most of these occurred during the Cold War, another took place during the 1990s, the most peaceful decade in recent memory. The closest may have been on September 26, 1983, when a bug in the U.S.S.R. early-warning system reported that five NATO nuclear missiles had been launched and were bound for Russian targets. The officer watching the system, Stanislav Petrov, had also designed the system, and he decided that any real NATO first-strike would involve hundreds of I.C.B.M.s. Therefore, he resolved the computers must be malfunctioning. He did not fire a response.

Climate change also poses its own risks. [PDF] According to Meyer, serious veterans of climate science now suggest that global warming will spawn continent-sized superstorms by the end of the century. Sebastian Farquhar says that even more conservative estimates can be alarming: UN-approved climate models estimate that the risk of six to ten degrees Celsius of warming exceeds 3 percent, even if the world tamps down carbon emissions at a fast pace... Any year, there's always some chance of a super-volcano erupting or an asteroid careening into the planet. Both would of course devastate the areas around ground zero -- but they would also kick up dust into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and sending global temperatures plunging.

Natural pandemics may pose the most serious risks of all. In fact, in the past two millennia, the only two events that experts can certify as global catastrophes of this scale were plagues. The Black Death of the 1340s felled more than 10 percent of the world population. Another epidemic of the Yersinia pestis bacterium -- the "Great Plague of Justinian" in 541 and 542 -- killed between 25 and 33 million people, or between 13 and 17 percent of the global population at that time. The report briefly explores other possible risks: a genetically engineered pandemic, geo-engineering gone awry, an all-seeing artificial intelligence. "We do not expect these risks to materialize tomorrow, or even this year, but we should not ignore them," says Farquhar. "Although many risks are addressed by specific groups, we need to build a community around global catastrophic risk. Cooperation is the only way for global leaders to manage the risks that threaten humanity."

Biotech

Rogue Biohacking Is Not a Problem 43

Lasrick writes: Although biosecurity experts have long warned that biohackers will eventually engineer pathogens in the same way that computer enthusiasts in the 1970s developed viruses and adware, UC Berkeley's Zian Liu thinks fears about 'rogue biohackers' are overblown. He lists the five barriers that make it much more difficult to bioengineer in your garage than people think, but also suggests some important chokeholds regulators can take to prevent a would-be bioweaponeer from getting lucky.
Programming

IT Job Hiring Slumps 250

snydeq writes The IT job hiring bump earlier this year wasn't sustained in July and August, when numbers slumped considerably, InfoWorld reports. 'So much for the light at the end of the IT jobs tunnel. According to job data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as analyzed by Janco Associates, the IT professional job market has all but lost the head of steam it built up earlier this year. A mere 3,400 IT jobs were added in August, down from 4,600 added for July and way down from the 13,800 added in April of this year. Overall, IT hiring in 2014 got off to a weak start, then surged, only to stumble again.' Anybody out there finding the IT job market discouraging of late and care to share their experiences?
NASA

NASA Satellite Measurements Show Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Melt 411

NASA reports that measurements taken from orbiting satellites indicate the Greenland ice sheet underwent melting over a larger area than they've seen in 30 years of observations. On July 8, the satellites found evidence that about 40% of the ice sheet's surface had melted. Observations just four days later showed 97% of the surface had melted. "This extreme melt event coincided with an unusually strong ridge of warm air, or a heat dome, over Greenland. The ridge was one of a series that has dominated Greenland's weather since the end of May. 'Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one,' said Mote. This latest heat dome started to move over Greenland on July 8, and then parked itself over the ice sheet about three days later. By July 16, it had begun to dissipate. Even the area around Summit Station in central Greenland, which at 2 miles above sea level is near the highest point of the ice sheet, showed signs of melting. Such pronounced melting at Summit and across the ice sheet has not occurred since 1889, according to ice cores analyzed by Kaitlin Keegan at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station at Summit confirmed air temperatures hovered above or within a degree of freezing for several hours July 11-12." Photos also surfaced last week showing the Petermann Glacier in Greenland 'calving' — some very large chunks of it broke off and started to drift away.
Earth

Methane-Trapping Ice May Have Triggered Gulf Spill 341

sciencehabit writes with an excerpt from Science that begins: "Methane-trapping ice of the kind that has frustrated the first attempt to contain oil gushing offshore of Louisiana may have been a root cause of the blowout that started the spill in the first place, according to [UC Berkeley] professor Robert Bea, who has extensive access to BP p.l.c. documents on the incident. If methane hydrates are eventually implicated, the US oil and gas industry would have to tread even more lightly as it pushes farther and farther offshore in search of energy."
Science

First Collisions At the LHC 256

An anonymous reader writes "At 1:06 p.m. Central European Summer Time (CEST) today, the first protons collided at 7 TeV in the Large Hadron Collider. These first collisions, recorded by the LHC experiments, mark the start of the LHC's research program."

Slashdot Top Deals

Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward.

Working...