Point of View: Even to the Edge

“Don’t forget asteroids and comets.”

At the end of a scary article about freelance genetic engineering, raising the possibility that someone might one day not all that far in the future release a killer virus that would wipe out a lot of us, Lawrence O. Gostin, an adviser on pandemic influenza preparedness for the World Health Organization, said, “There are really only two things that could wipe 30 million people off of the planet: a nuclear weapon, or a biological one.”

“There’s a third,” I said as Mary was recounting what Mr. Gostin had said. “Don’t forget asteroids and comets.”

At least if Neil DeGrasse Tyson, whom I’ve been reading lately (and with no little trepidation), is to be believed. 

Yes, it might not happen for a very, very, very long time, “but when it [an asteroid] hits,” he wrote in “Death by Black Hole,” “it will take out hundreds of millions of people instantaneously and many more hundreds of millions in the wake of global climatic upheaval. . . . And here’s one for your calendar: On Friday the 13th of April, 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup, will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communications satellites.”

“All of which is to say that we’re in a very tentative situation on this planet when it comes to man-made or natural disasters,” I said. (I was, of course, preaching to the choir.) “There are a lot of big rocks out there and a lot of crazies down here, but, for the moment, we’re tilting toward the sun, all is a-bloom, your birthday looms, and even to the edge of doom I’ll plight my troth (however neurotic), and strive never no more to char the chicken.”