Sunday, November 18, 2007

Science Fiction, UN feature

Posted by goatchurch at 3:57 AM
I divide my time between a number of thankless tasks -- for which I have by definition not been thanked -- such as a Web 2.0 webpage for the United Nations.

Consequently, I know where to look when I hear odd things on the news; stuff which for most people washes straight down the memory hole into a pit known as "gut feeling" where it is largely responsible for the fact that elections seem to consistently deliver the worst of all worlds. We are not abstract perfect intelligences. We are thinking animals that, like the Microsoft Operating System, are riddled with weaknesses which can be systematically exploited by evil virus writers.

Anyways, that's a different matter. On 17 November 2007 - The Secretary-General said:
I come to you humbled after seeing some of the most precious treasures of our planet -- treasures that are being threatened by humanity's own hand... In Antarctica, the message was chillingly simple: the continent's glaciers are melting... I was told that if large quantities of Antarctica's ice were to melt, sea levels could rise catastrophically... If the IPCC's most severe projection comes true, much of the Amazon rainforest will transform into savannah. In Punta Arenas, Chile, near the centre of the famous ozone hole in the earth's atmosphere, children wore protective clothing against ultraviolet radiation. There are days when parents don't let them play outside, or even go to school.

These scenes are as frightening as a science fiction movie. But they are even more terrifying, because they are real.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Slowing -- and reversing -- these threats are the defining challenge of our age. The world looks to our climate brain trust to educate, inform and guide us.
He actually means a Mundane-SF movie, because in a Sci-Fi movie none of this would be frightening at all because space tourism would have funded our emigration to Mars, and thence the stars, and aliens would have given us nanotechnology to rebuild the glaciers crystal by crystal.

This isn't the first time science fiction has been referred to in vain by a Secretary-General. At the previous annual Climate Change conference on 15 November 2006, Kofi Annan said:
All of us in this hall are devoted to the betterment of the human condition... That vision, which has always faced long odds, is now being placed in deeper jeopardy by climate change... Climate change is not just an environmental issue, as too many people still believe. It is an all-encompassing threat...

This is not science fiction. These are plausible scenarios, based on clear and rigorous scientific modelling. A few diehard sceptics continue to deny global warming is taking place and trying to sow doubt. They should be seen for what they are: out of step, out of arguments and out of time. In fact, the scientific consensus is becoming not only more complete, but also more alarming. Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that global warming trends are perilously close to a point of no return.
It's not only Climate Change scenarios which are perceived to be emerging from Science Fiction into reality (quite unfairly, since such realistic stories don't get written and don't get published), there are other topics.

Secretary-General, 10 March 2005:
Nuclear terrorism is still often treated as science fiction. I wish it were. But unfortunately we live in a world of excess hazardous materials and abundant technological know-how, in which some terrorists clearly state their intention to inflict catastrophic casualties.
The UN senior Influenza Coordinator, 10 July 2006:
Bird flu is "not science fiction, but a very real and dangerous threat that was not restricted to H5N1 as there are a variety of pathogens stemming from the animal kingdom that can threaten human security."
Joy Kennedy of the Ecumenical Team, 19 March 2002
[The idea] that a free market system would effectively address society's woes was pure science fiction.
Press Release, 1 March 2002
Despite the enormous attention the subject had received, the ethical issues remained obscure and misunderstood due, in large part, to the fact that human cloning occupied a pre-eminent place in the annals of science fiction and the popular media.
Fighting terrorism through disarmament:
The current anthrax attacks in the United States have made the world aware that biological weapons are horribly real, not just science fiction. Yet these attacks are just the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of the potential deadly power of bio-terror.
Post 9/11 Missile threats and responses, 3 October 2002:
At the moment, there is a tendency for governments to rely on military force for defence and if that fails to keep piling on the force and pouring in more money and technology to try to plug the vulnerabilities. By contrast, some governments apply completely different standards for political defence and security measures such as multilateral treaties and the building of cooperative security regimes. In the latter, any weakness in compliance or verification is treated as proof of vulnerability and justification for bailing out, rather than reason for improving the implementation.

Such approaches are short-sighted, for a perfect force field that can repel all attacks exists nowhere but in science fiction, and the quest for perfect security based on military and technological dominance will merely give rise to new kinds of threats.
Millenium Report of the Secretary-General:
Indeed, when the United Nations was founded... [t]he planet hosted a total population of fewer than 2.5 billion, compared to 6 billion today. Trade barriers were high, trade flows minuscule and capital controls firmly in place. Most big companies operated within a single country and produced for their home market. The cost of transoceanic telephone calls was prohibitive for the average person and limited even business use to exceptional circumstances. The annual output of steel was a prized symbol of national economic prowess. The world’s first computer had just been constructed; it filled a large room, bristled with 18,000 electron tubes and half a million solder joints, and had to be physically rewired for each new task. Ecology was a subject confined to the study of biology, and references to cyberspace would not have been found even in science fiction.

2 February 2004:
A senior Serbian government official had described the Chief Prosecutor’s aspersions that Karadzic was in Belgrade as "science fiction"
Judge Yankov of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, 9 December 2002:
I am pleased to have this opportunity also, in submitting this statement, to say on a personal note, that this commemorative meeting is to me an important point in my professional career. I am among these young veterans that the President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas referred to, who started in 1967 in this place with the initial discussions in the First Committee of the General Assembly on a very long-worded agenda item entitled "The exploration and exploitation of the seabed and the ocean floor and the subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction for peaceful purposes". That was the title of the statement made by the late Ambassador Arvid Pardo. As far as I know, his statement set a precedent in the practice of the General Assembly, because it covered the entire day and appeared in the verbatim records of both the morning and afternoon meetings. Most of the representatives were taken by surprise and considered the topic to be in the realm of science fiction. It evolved from there and went to an ad hoc committee to study this problem with the very long title. I had the opportunity, and perhaps a real chance in my career, to be Vice-Chairman of the Legal Subcommittee of the Committee on the Seabed. From 1968 until the very last day of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay, I served as Chairman of the Third Committee, whose mandate was the protection and preservation of the marine environment, the regime of marine scientific research and the development and transfer of marine technology. There may be an emotional or nostalgic touch to what I have said but this was the most important, and perhaps the greatest, period of my professional activities.
And I'm told this UN stuff is boring-- especially for the majority of people who can't be bothered to look around for more than two minutes and prefer to read spy thrillers where the main character succeeds in cracking the case by being capable of looking for secrets in important documents for more than two minutes. You'd like to think that people who seek to write such fiction would be similarly disposed, but apparently not. Did you know that next year will be the International Year of Sanitation?

Didn't think so.

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10/01/2009 01:51:00 PM  

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