Lerner Book Review Appears in American Spectator

The May 2009 issue of The American Spectator features a book review by Professor and Associate Dean Craig Lerner in which he offers his assessment of Global Catastrophic Risks, edited by Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic (Oxford University Press).

The book is a collection of two dozen essays addressing catastrophe of the highest magnitude, and its editors argue that global risks should be assessed collectively in order to make comparative judgments about where best to allocate financial and other resources.

"Accepting a certain amount of risk, even catastrophic risk, is preferable to pursuing quixotic—or worse—plans to secure our species forever," says Lerner, who fears it likely that "man himself, without the intervention of comets or supervolcanoes, will be the author of his own demise."

Risky Business, The American Spectator, May 2009. By Craig S. Lerner.

"It is telling that the only authors so confident of their place in the catastrophe pantheon that they are emboldened to propose taxes-styled as price controls on carbon dioxide emissions-are the global warming experts. However ill advised this might be, far scarier ideas have been floated in recent years to prevent global warming. Some have suggested that we launch balloons fitted with adjustable mirrors, still others that we scatter billions of refractors to dim the sun. Reading of such proposals, one cannot help but think of such triumphs of human ingenuity as the introduction of cane toads in Australia in 1935. Intended to combat a troublesome species of beetle, the cane toad, without any natural predators, is now an unchecked marauder far more of a nuisance than the beetle ever was. Which makes me wonder: how will we retrieve all those refractors if, more effectively than planned, they blot out the light of the sun?

"With such harebrained ideas in the works, it is likely that man himself, without the intervention of comets or supervolcanos, will be the author of his own demise. And our preparations for catastrophic risks might propel us down the road to extinction, or to one of those even darker destinations. Aldous Huxley in Brave New World imagined a cataclysmic war in the 21st century, in the aftermath of which people submitted to a world state as the only perceived safeguard against future horrors. In Global Catastrophic Risks' final chapter, Bryan Caplan suggests that 'extreme pessimism about the environment could become the rationale for a Green totalitarianism.' Those who trumpet looming catastrophes often end up calling for, or acquiescing in, power transfers to global governments or entities, which are said to be best able to address the gravest of threats faced by a common humanity. Several of the 20th century's greatest scientists, starting with Albert Einstein and Linus Pauling, have argued that a world government is necessary to prevent nuclear war. One wonders if such scientists have abandoned their famed method; it would be nice if they considered the actual data-how have the United Nations or even the European Union managed the most minor of crises?-before investing transnational bodies with vast authority."

Read the review