Surviving armageddon: solutions for a threatened planet

Surviving armageddon: solutions for a threatened planet 
Bill McGuire 
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press | 2005 | 238pp | ?14.99 (HB) | ISBN 0192805711 
Reviewed by David Thompson 

There are too many doom-laden books around telling us how the world is going to be destroyed by a supervolcano, asteroid impact or global warning. Having lived all my life feeling threatened by various forms of Armageddon, I feel immune to any attempt at further scaremongering. Bill McGuire, a professor of geophysical hazards (is this a unique chair?) who frightened his readers witless with his previous title A guide to the end of the world: everything you never wanted to know (2002), now serves up another look at possible endgames, but at least, as the subtitle claims, this volume is more positive and suggests some possible solutions.  

Global geophysical events (GGEs or gee-gees), such as supervolcanoes, asteroid or comet impacts, and mega-tsunamis, are thankfully extremely infrequent but their nature is so potentially devastating that it is incumbent on serious-thinking people to consider their implications and plan accordingly. 

Global climate change and its secondary effects is the first gee-gee to hit us and how we approach it will determine how successfully we will cope with future gee-gees. McGuire suggests that there are two approaches to global warming - either seek to reduce greenhouse gases, combined with a more sustainable lifestyle, or go for planetary engineering where we go on living as wastefully as ever but throw the latest technology at the problem. The author favours the former approach, but admits that he is an optimistic pessimist. He hopes that the December 2004 tsunami will galvanise governments to look beyond their next general election into the centuries ahead. We all hope so, but most of us can only pray and keep our fingers crossed. 

Other future gee-gees could prove an even greater challenge, for example a comet or asteroid impact or a mega-tsunami resulting from the collapse of the Cumbre Vieji landslide on La Palma, but a cooler planet and a closer-knit global community would be better placed to take on such challenges. A chapter of the book is devoted to ways of defending the Earth from such asteroid or comet impacts, which range from the Nasa comet/asteroid protection system which detects threatening objects and uses pulsed laser to divert them into safe orbits to the bizarre idea of nano-robots designed to ’eat’ collision-course objects! 

This book is short and very readable. It has a strong message and hopefully will be taken seriously as a wake-up call.