Why the Democrats might lose in 2014 and 2016

A recent study conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics suggests a worrying trend amongst 18-29 year-olds, and one that Democrats most of all should be very concerned by. Voting intentions of 18-29 year-oldsPolling in April shows that less than a quarter (23%) of Americans in this age bracket are definitely sure they will be voting come November 4th this year – a drop of some 11% since the same question was asked back in November 2013.

More importantly, for President Obama and the Democrats, is the finding by the same survey that Republicans seem to be much more enthused about voting this November; 44% of those who identified as Romney-voters say they are definitely voting in the Midterms as opposed to only 35% of Obama’s supporters. This is bad news if the Democrats wish to retain control of the Senate, and disastrous if they even have a hope of taking control of the House as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer predicts they might this year. For those who think this is a long shot which – given the number of uncompetitive seats up for election – it might be, Hoyer points to a fundraising advantage for Democrats, lower poll numbers for congressional Republicans, divisions inside the GOP ranks, and a good recruiting class of Democratic challengers. Indeed, the Democrats need only to win 17 House seats to take overall control of Congress.

Voters in this 18-29 year-old age bracket, the ‘Millennials’, take much more liberal positions than older generations on the major policy issues of the day and are at the forefront of the recent surge in public support for equality in marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority say that abortion should be legal across the country in all or most cases, are supportive of immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and tend to express support for a more ‘activist government’ with a large social safety net. 68% of 18-29 year-olds favour same-sex marriage, compared to only 38% of those aged 65 and over. The gap on marijuana legalization is even larger; 69% of those born between 1981 and 1995 support such initiatives whereas less than 30% of those born before the Second World War would be in favour. There are twice as many old folks (31%) who think that illegal immigrants should not be allowed to stay legally as opposed to the youth vote (16%).

The defining issue, however, for young voters is clearly emerging as action on climate change. A bipartisan study last year, commissioned by the League of Conservative Voters, shows that politicians – particularly those within the GOP – need to make some quick decisions about which mast they are going to pin their colours to. An overwhelming majority of voters under 30 understand the threat of climate change and already see the harmful effects of it, or expect to in their lifetime. 66% of young voters say climate change is a problem to address, while just 27% say climate change is a natural event that humans can’t affect, and only 3% don’t believe climate change is really happening. Around 80% of this demographic of voters support the action President Obama is taking to address climate change:

  • 79% say they are more likely to vote for someone who supported these steps;
  • 73% say they are less likely to vote for someone who opposed these steps;
  • Notably, over half of young Republican voters (52%) would be less likely to vote for someone who opposed the president’s plan.

However, none of this disguises a growing political disquiet amongst young voters; many Millennials seem to be gripped by a combination of angst and apathy when it comes to American politics. During the past year, trust in the president to “do the right thing” all or most of the time has decreased to 32% from 39%; the U.S. military has seen its level of trust drop from 54% to 47%, and the U.S. Supreme Court has fallen to 36% from 40%. Wall Street is trusted by around 12% of young Americans, roughly the same levels as in previous Harvard polls.

Why does this matter to Democrats, specifically? Using the excellent site 270towin, I plotted two electoral maps which highlight very clearly the threat of leaving 18-29 year-olds at home come election day. With the help of state-by-state exit polls from presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, and the swing between the two parties amongst different demographics, I was able to show what might happen to the electoral college in 2016 if only 18-29 year-olds voted (in the first map), and the result (in the second map) if only those aged 65 and over were allowed to vote.

2016 Electoral College Map (18-29 year-olds)

2016 Electoral College Map (18-29 year-olds)

2016 Electoral College (65 year-olds and over)

2016 Electoral College (65 year-olds and over)

If ever the Democrats needed a ‘get out the vote’ push, it was right now. Congressional candidates must find policy platforms to stand on which will attract the youth vote to them, and must ensure that this base of voters is as energised and “fired up, ready to go” as they were for Barack Obama’s inaugural election year. If not, then Hillary Clinton’s job in 2016 will be all that much harder.. and President Obama will be left as a lame duck for the remainder of his presidency.

Forget UKIP, what about Swindon?

With UKIP making a couple of seat gains already, it’s easy to get distracted by what appears to be the surge of UKIP support. Sunderland has given the party some 24% of the vote, mostly in line with last year’s local elections support nationally, but the question remains as to whether this is mostly a protest vote in safe Labour wards.

More interesting is what is happening between the two national parties who stand a chance of forming the next government in the May 2015 General Election.

One area to consider is Swindon. Swindon Borough CouncilThis borough, centred on the town centre and parts of the ceremonial county of Wiltshire, is the top of the Labour target list to wrest overall control away from the Conservatives.  The current make-up of the Borough Council is 29 Conservative councillors, 23 Labour, 4 Liberal Democrats and 1 councillor sitting as an independent. This gives the Conservative Party an overall majority of 1 councillor.

Now, early signs from Swindon are looking very very good for the Conservatives. Not only have the Tories picked up another seat so far – projecting them to have an increased majority overall on Swindon Borough Council – but Councillor Emma Faramarzi, of Priory Vale ward, has apparently achieved the highest ever majority for the Conservatives.

Obviously this is still early into the early hours and the London results are just beginning to come through, but these are interesting and positive trends for the Conservatives. Let’s see how this develops. My own eyes are on Hammersmith & Fulham, where I campaigned on the doorsteps for the Conservative-led council, and whether the party can translate low council tax bills (third lowest in Britain), support for a “flyunder” to replace the Hammersmith flyover, and other local issues into an increased majority on the council. Currently 31 out of 46 councillors are Conservative; 15 are Labour.

This is not, so far, proving to be such a good night for Labour, and does not bode well for Ed Miliband in 2015.

The Republican problem

Everyone's favourite racist

Everyone’s favourite racist

The Republican Party has an image problem. It’s not a new thing, and it’s the same problem the Democrats struggled with for many years. Whereas the Democrats had officially abandoned it as policy by the early 1960s, continuing a trend that had started under FDR’s New Deal coalition and was cemented by Truman’s desegregation plank at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, some strands of Republicanism are still beating the war-drum loudly and clearly.

I’m talking, of course, about racism. Since Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon began espousing the Southern strategy of politically supporting Republican candidates in the Southern United States, by appealing to those white Southerners who had left the Democratic Party to form the Dixiecrats in order to defend states’ rights to oppose racial integration, the GOP have called – openly or from behind closed doors – the racist community their own.

The "loss" of the Solid South

The “loss” of the Solid South

Before those reading this from within the Republican community call “foul!” and say that the Democratic Party used to be the platform of racist bigots, let me say that you have just made your point clearly already. Yes, the Democrats used to be the party of white supremacy and disenfranchisement of African-Americans, and I don’t think any right-minded person can defend those intolerable beliefs. However, the coalescing of “radical” liberal free-thinkers, progressives, and supporters of universal equal rights into the Democratic Party allowed for an amelioration of some of the party’s more historically despicable attributes. The New Deal, the series of domestic policies enacted by the Roosevelt administrations during the 1930s, was one of the early key elements in moving political support towards the Democratic Party from amongst a wide coalition of voting blocs including, perversely, both African-Americans and white Southerners.

The true beginnings of the Democrats’ anti-racism stance comes from the 1948 Democratic National Convention. Hubert Humphrey, then-Mayor of Minneapolis, gave a keynote speech in which he said “the time has arrived in America for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights“; this was the year that Humphrey was first elected to the United States Senate and the year that his proposal to end racial segregation was officially added to the Democrat’s party platform by President Truman.

Many white Southerners, including all of the Mississippi and one-half of the Alabama delegates who walked out of the Convention in abject disgust, were so repulsed by the thought of giving African-Americans an equal-footing that they formed the Dixiecrat party with the goal of taking the Southern states away from Truman and causing his defeat. Whilst the civil rights plank adopted at the 1948 Convention cost Truman the support of the Dixiecrats, it gained him unprecedented numbers of votes from the black community, especially in large northern cities. Truman’s stunning (and surprise) victory over his Republican opponent Dewey showed decisively that Democrats could win presidential elections without the “Solid South”, and thus weakened Southern Democrats instead of strengthening their position.

The situation continued to deteriorate for white Southerners who fled the Democratic Party en masse during the 1960s, under LBJ’s support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the 1964 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater ran a conservative campaign which broadly opposed strong action by the federal government including the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Goldwater’s position was rooted in his opinion that the Civil Rights Act was an unwarranted intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and, second, that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do business, or not, with whomever they chose, even if the choice is based on racial discrimination. All this appealed to white Southern Democrats, and Goldwater was the first Republican to win the electoral votes of the Deep South states since Reconstruction.

Enter Nixon..

Enter Nixon..

In the 1968 election, the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, saw this trend and capitalized on it with his “Southern strategy“. The new method of campaigning was designed to appeal to white Southerners who were more conservative than the leaders of the national Democratic Party. As a result of the strategy and conservative Southerners reactions against Democratic leaders, Hubert Humphrey was almost shut out in the South; he carried only Texas for the Democrats, the rest of the region being divided between Nixon and the American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace, the governor of Alabama, who had gained fame for opposing integration. Nixon’s campaign in 1968 played on Southern whites’ anger over the success of civil rights, but since you couldn’t get away with supporting segregation by that point, his “Southern strategy” disguised an essentially racist policy through terms like “law and order” and the old “states’ rights” excuse.

We’ll look next time at what this “Republican problem” means in the context of the 21st-century, why racists like Cliven Bundy somehow seem to keep rearing their heads, and how it is all tied into “states’ rights” and the opposition to the federal government.

Twitter and the NYPD; a match made in hell..


As a (British) Conservative, I must admit to having a natural respect for the authority vested into the police by the citizenry through the Peelian Principles of policing by consent. Whilst far from perfect, and with many flaws (including institutional racism), the police exist by and large to protect the public and keep them safe from harm.. or at least this is the case in the UK where, unlike in the States, our police have a duty of care (known as an Osman duty) to respond timely and effectively to emergencies.

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton is a subscriber to these Peelian Principles, claiming in his blog to “have often drawn inspiration” from his great hero, and founder of the London Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peel. And yet, in a press briefing this week following the disastrous foray into social networking by the NYPD via their official Twitter account @NYPDnews, Commissioner Bratton seemed wilfully ignorant of even the most basic of core tenets of Sir Robert Peel’s beliefs: above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel’s most often quoted principle that “the police are the public and the public are the police“.

With well over 100,000 tweets having been sent since the NYPD posted their request via Twitter for members of the public to tweet photos of the police force using the hashtag #myNYPD, and with some 750 tweets per hour still being sent according to social media analytics site Twazzup, the community engagement project backfired spectacularly. Whilst a couple of positive images of smiling cops were retweeted by the NYPD’s official feed, the overwhelming majority of the thousands of pictures tweeted via the hashtag were of a similar vein: police brutality, aggressive acts of violence, and other negative photos critical of a police force that is rarely out of the spotlight, including one of Minnie Mouse being arrested in Times Square and another of a cop in uniform napping on the subway.


Calling the photos “old news” and dismissing the social media bash-tag as nothing more than a “brouhaha“, Commissioner Bratton said that the NYPD would continue to expand its online outreach campaign regardless of the potential for further negativity. Whilst this is certainly commendable, and what we should be looking for from a police force in the 21st century, the lack of reflection and engagement with the issues raised is worrying. “Was that particular reaction from some of the police adversaries anticipated?” Mr Bratton asked. “To be quite frank, it was not, but at the same time it’s not going to cause us to change any of our efforts to be very active on social media”.

Going further in his comments to the press corps at a briefing on Wednesday, Commissioner Bratton remarked that “the reality of policing is that often-times our actions are lawful but they look awful“.

This is somewhat missing the point. Referring back to the nine Peelian Principles that Bratton holds so dear, there are a few that perhaps the Commissioner should look more closely at:

  • To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  • To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; [..] by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  • To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  • To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

As Robert Peel, a man who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, knew full well, effective policing relied on the consent and approval of the public-at-large. This legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public, and general consensus of support, can only be achieved through transparency of police powers, demonstration of integrity in exercising those powers and the accountability to the public for doing so. Populist measures on social networks, however well-intentioned by whichever intern was in charge that day, do not sit well with a public who have first-hand experience with the very police brutality being sent back to @NYPDnews via Twitter.

It’s all well and good for Commissioner Bratton to dismiss the backlash out of hand as photos from a long time before he took charge of the department, or as a small minority of people harping on at the police over actions that are – in his eyes – both legitimate and necessary.. but the deeper problem lies in the failure to understand that there is a continuing, and pervasive, mistrust of the NYPD in New York (and further afield). Clearly a large number of people feel that there are problems within the NYPD that go against what they think is appropriate action for a police force made up of their fellow citizens.

At the end of all of this, it is important to remember that there are many fine men and women in uniform who serve the great city of New York with grace, humour and fairness.. but it is arrogantly presumptuous to ignore this backlash against what started as an innocent attempt to engage with the public. There’s been some comment about the emergency workers who died in the September 11th attacks and that the misuse of #myNYPD somehow belittles their memory. Without wanting to tread on the graves of those brave police officers, the 23 officers from the New York City Police Department and the 37 officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department who were killed that day, 9/11 was some 4550 days ago and the number of people killed since (accidentally or otherwise) by the NYPD is staggering. The New York Police Department cannot rely on goodwill towards them because of a tragedy some 12-and-a-half years ago; the events in the intervening time have eroded much of that.

The NYPD, and Commissioner Bratton in particular, need to look seriously at their public image and what is happening in the day-to-day interactions between members of the public and their officers. Issues like racial profiling, stop-and-search frisking, quota targets, and overly aggressive behaviour need to be addressed head-on; criminal possession in the fifth degree is one of the most-oft cited problems in this area. Burying their collective heads in the sand, without taking steps to have a more positive engagement at all levels with members of the public, is not going to win them any friends.. and their next step into social media might well be just as combustible as their last.

Appreciating asteroid risks..

Adapted from Effects of an impact event: an analysis of asteroid 1989FC

It is said that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery, under constant threat of orbital bombardment by the many objects that hurtle through the Solar System at breathtaking speeds each and every day. Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) have collided with our planet throughout its existence; more frequently during some time periods than others. Astronomers have discovered over 10,000 NEAs of all sizes, including nearly 1,000 NEAs with a diameter greater than 1 km – the so-called extinction level event asteroids. The consequences of an impact for our civilization cannot be overstated, yet, as encounters with NEAs are so rare, no government strategy exists to deal with one.

Dinosaur ELE

The impact of a relatively modestly sized stony asteroid (~300-500 m in diameter) would not likely result in an Extinction Level Event (ELE) such as those portrayed in two well-known ‘disaster’ movies of the last decade. Defined as the extinction of all or part of life on Earth, ELE’s have occurred at the K-T boundary (the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event) 65 million years ago and during the Great Dying of the P-Tr (Permian-Triassic extinction event) 251 million years ago – in both events, upwards of 50% of all species extant at the time die out. Too often public perception, fuelled by the media, focuses on the effects of these large-scale impacts involving objects over 1 km in diameter. All too familiar are the story-lines; debris ejected into the stratosphere, global heat pulses forcing planetary biomass to burn for weeks on end, day turning to one endless night as dust and soot shroud the planet, and photosynthesis grinding to a halt causing food chains to collapse as average temperatures plummet. These events, depicted in Hollywood, only occur with asteroids of much larger proportions – a breach of a threshold diameter barrier of 1 km is required for this kind of global devastation. However, it is certain that a large impact event would severely stress the environment and would lead to drastic population reductions of both terrestrial and marine life.

Oceanic Impact

Oceanic Impact of an Asteroid

The most devastating type of collision would be oceanic. This is also the statistically most probable as just over 70% of the Earth is covered by oceans. The principle effect, after several million tonnes of seawater had been flash-boiled, would be the generation of a tsunami that would wreak catastrophic destruction upon coastal cities and generate human casualties all along the affected coastlines. It has been calculated than an asteroid of roughly 300 m in diameter would generate waves carrying more than 300 times the energy of the 2004 Asian Tsunami. A 2006 paper by Chesley and Ward, entitled ‘A Quantitative Assessment of the Human and Economic Hazard from Impact-generated Tsunami’, goes further to state that such an impact in the Atlantic ocean would create a deep water wave, upon penetration of the impactor into the sea floor, of between 2-3 m high travelling at speeds of above 450 km h -1. Upon hitting the continental shelf on both sea-boards the accentuation of deep-water amplitude (due to a retardation of the leading edge over shallow water causing shortening of wavelength and growth in height) will run up a wave height of between 10-15 m depending upon coastal and ocean floor topography. About half the world’s population lives within 200 km of the oceans, and in excess of 650 million people living within 5 m of the high-tide mark along coastal regions globally would be vulnerable to such tsunami waves, although as Chesley and Ward state no single impact could affect them all. The predicted damage cost would be measured in the billions of dollars in terms of property damage and economic losses, perhaps much higher. As of 2010 the global insurance industry held just over $300 billion in reserves to cover catastrophic losses brought about by natural disasters; consider the vulnerability of $2 trillion of insured assets along the Florida coastline, and the threat posed to the insurance industry that keeps less than $½ trillion to cover all disaster losses everywhere globally in any one year. Jeremy Leggett notes all of this, and goes further to state that the global reserve could easily be entirely wiped out by one or two “mega-cats” – catastrophes striking large metropolis or economic centres – or by a series of rapid-fire smaller catastrophes. More significantly, additional recent studies show that an asteroid-induced tsunami exceeding 100 m in height would cause massive damage to low-lying areas along the US east coast and could totally submerge vast areas of Europe such as Holland and Denmark. A 100 m tsunami would travel around 22 km inland, and a 200 m tsunami would travel up to 55 km inland. Worryingly, the same study suggests that such impacts occur every few thousand years and that we are now overdue.

Terrestrial Impact

Terrestrial Impact of an Asteroid

A land impact for a similarly sized asteroid would likely result in only localised to regional damage, less widespread than an ocean impact, but equally as devastating for the affected area. Upon impact with a land surface a characteristic bowl-form crater several kilometres across and bounded by a structurally elevated rim would be excavated. The blast-wave would obliterate the immediate area, up to a radius of 75 km, and probably severely devastate a much larger area up to 200 km in diameter (the size of a small US state such as West Virginia). The energy released would probably equal or surpass the total equivalent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, and eject some millions of tons of rock and dust into the lower atmosphere. As both the impactor and target area become fragmented and vaporized, the sun would be clouded for a length of time measured in days and weeks, not months and years. If the asteroid made landfall in an area of high population density, such as the north-east corridor of the US, Los Angeles, or Tokyo millions would die instantly. Indeed, even an impact outside of an urban area but within a 75 km radius of an urban conurbation would likely result in damage and fatalities on a currently unprecedented scale of natural disasters, particularly if there was little or no warning. The associated impact hazard, known as an ‘urban fire-storm’, where ignition of combustible materials occurs spontaneously if enough heat energy is applied, would only add to the catastrophe. It is postulated that this would be similar to the effects experienced by survivors of Hiroshima. The greatest harm though would be caused if sub-micrometer dust was able to reach the stratosphere; due to its long residence time in the atmosphere it could cause a fall in global temperatures. This could begin to threaten worldwide agricultural production and supply in the short-term although, due to the small nature of this impact event, not to such an extent as to begin to seriously endanger global populations. Localised acid rain may be induced due to the reaction of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere; acidifying lakes, soils, streams, and perhaps even the surface layer of the oceans for a short period. Again, however, this would not be a global event due to the size of the asteroid considered but affecting an area some hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of square kilometres around the impact site. It is important to consider that an impactor of a diameter around 300 m is going to only affect local to regional scales. Beyond a radius of around 200 km from the impact site, the event would merely be mostly a frightening experience rather than a fatal one, and would not be expected to lead to long-term climatic effects.

Atmospheric Impact

The third impact possibility is that of the ‘non-impact event’; a bolide exploding violently in the atmosphere above the surface of the Earth. Such episodes have been recorded in recent history, such as the 1908 bolide that exploded above Tunguska, Siberia and are traceable only through the tell-tale iridium anomaly (an unusual abundance of an element rarely found in the Earth’s crust) on the ground as no fragmentary evidence is left. Indeed – some bolide impacts remain contentious due to the lack of any remnants from the asteroid/comet that exploded and alternative theories are frequently espoused. A bolide event typically requires a significantly different asteroid composition; that of carbonaceous chondrite. Volatiles – compounds with low boiling points – under the asteroid surface would heat up as the asteroid grazed the Earth’s atmosphere, forcing any hydrogen and carbon contained within to ignite. This would vaporize the asteroid into dust and gas in the lower atmosphere, leaving a layer of carbonaceous dust, melted metal silicates, and elements not typically found in the crust. The effects would be dependent upon the overpressure of the blast but likely to be relatively wide-ranging. Potentially, these could include blast-wave acceleration of window glass, radiant ignition of fires, structural failure of buildings, eardrum rupture, and injury from the blast wave itself. The combined effects of which are highly similar to those of a nuclear detonation at a similar altitude without the associated gamma rays or neutron bursts. There is also the perception within the scientific community that there would be the associated production of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) with bolide explosions, with an example of such a pulse as recently as 18th January 2000 in the Yukon Territory of Canada. This raises the unthinkable related hazard of a bolide blast being misinterpreted as the explosion of a nuclear weapon and the possibility of an auto-response by global powers before clarification is possible.

Current threat?

Although the probability of an impact, even by a medium-sized asteroid, is actually relatively small, the consequences of such an impact are enormous. It can be said that the risk to the individual is average and comparable to the risk taken when flying in an aeroplane (due to the product of the extremely low impact occurrence probability and the extremely high casualty expectancy). There is therefore a finite risk to the population of the Earth. The greatest challenge is intellectual; reconciling the exceptionally low annual probability of being killed by an asteroid impact against the almost unparalleled consequences of such an impact; it was the gradual hazard awareness of the late 80s and early 90s that prompted action to improve and expand detection of Near-Earth Objects. This was specifically outlined by Congressional reports submitted by the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology – advocating that NASA engage in workshops to detect and intercept NEOs. The paper commissioned in 1990 by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) that looked at dealing with the threat of an asteroid striking the Earth put forward two disquieting points. The first was that the PCAS (Planet Crossing Asteroid Search; initiated in 1973, this was the first of two surveys by Eugene Shoemaker using the telescopes situated atop Palomar Mountain in California – now defunctand PACS (Palomar Asteroid and Comet Survey; the second of Shoemaker’s surveys using the Palomar telescopes, this program started in 1982 – like PCAS, it was terminated in 1994) projects are estimated to have discovered half of the known Earth-crossing asteroids; the second was that they project that an object this size comes by undetected once every 2-3 years. The saying goes that 300 m asteroids are a “dime a dozen” in the Solar System.

To reiterate, the probability that a dangerous asteroid will impact by the close of this decade is negligible, as is the probability that this asteroid will impact the Earth at any point within the next century. Yet, if such an impact were to occur – there are four key potential hazard targets that would either exacerbate the effects of the actual impact or prevent effective handling of the disaster. These include (i) sensitive national security sites such as national capitols or command centres, the total destruction of which (and associated decapitation of a highly centralized government) would contribute disproportionately to the chaos; (ii) sites with hazardous materials that may be released by impact such as nuclear power plants or weapons depots, chemical plants and oilfields; (iii) geologically sensitive sites such as volcanoes and earthquake regions; (iv) sites with essential roles for food production, storage, or distribution – food interruption generates the threat of starvation and societal disorder. Whilst an international response may be effective for regional-scale impacts, there would be no recovery for a devastating larger impact; the question of just how resilient our agriculture, commerce, economy, and societal organisation might prove in the face of an unprecedented catastrophe remains unanswered. As of now, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) have no hazard mitigation or contingency plans in place to deal with the threat of an asteroid impact and the associated dangers. Equally, the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM, which absorbed the U.S. Space Command in 2002) makes no mention of planetary defence in its Long-Term Vision, although the ability to detect Earth-crossing objects is listed amongst its deficiencies.


Events of the size described are expected, on average, once every 100,000 years or so; whilst most astronomers would say that we are “over-due” for such a sizeable impact, we can be by no means certain when that impact will occur. There are still untold numbers of asteroids (estimates range up to some hundred thousand) that remain either undiscovered or uncharted, many of which will be of a similar size or larger. It is perhaps recklessly irresponsible that the findings and reports of the organizations whose very remit is space exploration – agencies with such spine-tingling titles as the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) – are widely ignored by the elected officials, committees, and public bodies with oversight on planetary defence. There have been continued cuts in funding since the late 1990s for both civil and government space programs like the NEAT (Near Earth Asteroid Tracking; a program begun in 1995 by Eleanor Helin as part of the Spaceguard Survey, aimed at taking over and consolidating the studies of PCAS and PACS) system under Administrations with other agendas. With intense competition between more traditional recipients of what little NASA funding is available, those bodies responsible for detection have found it harder year-on-year to continue progressively scanning the skies above for potential asteroid threats. It is more and more likely that the events of Tunguska in 1908 will be repeated, only next time with potentially devastating results. We, as a species, could find ourselves learning of an impact event only after it has occurred.