31 August 2006


I am a bit of a sucker for “what if” alternate histories Perhaps this is why I love Harry Turtledove’s World War/Colonisation (lizard race sends a probe to mediaeval earth but leave it a few centuries before invasion, landing bang in the middle of WWII!) and Great War/Settling Accounts (Confederates win the civil war so two there is the USA and CSA which fight on opposing sides in WWI and WWII) , series and the Changing the Times website. I must get hold of the current issue of Focus, a popular science magazine, which sets out a fascinating series of counterfactual scenarios. Today’s Independent sets out a few of these scenarios, including these:

1348: The Black Death is averted

In the 14th century, the Black Death came out of the heart of Asia. It affected all of Europe within a few years. In cities such as London, half the population died. It was monstrous, but the plague had first appeared in Europe in Roman times, so populations had some resistance. In all, just (just!) a third of Europeans were killed by the Black Death. Compare that to 95 per cent of native North Americans killed during the European conquests by measles, smallpox and plague - diseases to which they had no prior exposure. But could the Black Death have been averted? Arabic doctors had an understanding of hygiene, for example, far in advance of western European medicine. What if the Death had been stopped or diluted?

In the emptied world after the Death, the feudal systems came under strain. Suddenly there were too few folk to do the work; a bad lord could not keep employees. Prices changed as the population drop meant there was more than enough food. There were revolts as the rulers tried to regain control. The relationship of rulers to ruled was transformed, and the slow opening-up of the medieval world began. Our modern freedoms came out of the vast charnel house that was the Black Death.

1962: The Cuban missile crisis blows up

In October 1962, the Cold War almost got very hot indeed. The Soviet Union was losing the arms race. The Russians had an overwhelming number of troops in central Europe but only 300 unreliable long-range missiles. The US had 5,000 nuclear weapons it could have deployed against Soviet targets. Premier Khrushchev saw that if he could plant bases for short-range missiles on the island of Cuba, where there was a friendly Communist government, he could even up the playing field at a stroke. Saturday 27 October, 'Black Saturday', was the most dangerous time of all. An American spy plane was shot down by the Cubans and the US Navy forced a Russian submarine to the surface. Communications were poor and there was a danger of soldiers on the ground opening fire on their own initiative. World war was a gunshot away.

What if that fateful trigger had been pulled? The bombs would have fallen on Sunday 28 October 1962, at 8am in Britain - 3am in Washington - the most difficult time to respond. The first targets would have been military. Civilian, economic and industrial targets - the cities - would have been next. By mid-November Britain would be dark and cold. Epidemics of cholera, typhoid and dysentery would hit.

Reconstruction, rescue and corpse disposal would be attempted, with the workers paid in food. Looters would be shot. December would have seen the peak of deaths from radiation sickness. In all, between 17 and 38 million in Britain would die from the blast, the fallout or the cold. By 1967, between four and eight million people would have been scraping for survival.


elasticwaistbandlady said...

Funny that you wrote that about The Black Death. I just read a story about a zoologist at the University of Texas who says that for the Earth to survive, 90% of us need to die. He also cited the fact that overpopulation is to blame for pestilence, war, and fighting for scarce natural resources, and that the future for us humans is bleak. So, if we had a modern day plague, we could essentially reverse the trend. Then, of course, statistically, you and I probably wouldn't be here to enjoy it anyway.

Not surprisingly, his nickname is, Dr.Doom.

jams o donnell said...

I will have to look closer at this guy. I see that he was accused of actively promoting this approach.

Population is a big problem except in Europe where we are dying out - the so called conservative cathilic states having some of the lowest birth rates of all. The UK population is growing (it just tipped 60m) but that is due to immigration. Some countries like Bangladesh will be in big trouble in years to come. It is rougly the size of the UK but with a bigger population. Global warming and rising sea levels will almost certainly destroy a lot of its food production capacity.. Sadly it is does not look as if it is a viable state in teh long run.

Resources will be a flashpoint in years to come, especially water. I reckon that the River Jordan and water rights may well be what precipitates armageddon in the Middle East - that or the Tigris/Euphrates.

Another thing to consider is resource consumption. The USA has avbout 5% of the world's population but consumes about a quarter of its resources. Western Europe is a bit better but not much better. Meanwhile China's consumption is massiely on the rise. I fear it will lead us to more and bloodier wars in the long run.

Interesting idea that it could be ebola that does for us. At present it is too virulent to become worldwide. If it mutated so that it had a longer incubation period then the consquences could be awful...

elasticwaistbandlady said...

*conspiracy alert! conspiracy theory alert*

This is not a test. Place your aluminum foil hat securely on your head......NOW!

Okay, seems funny how all these mysterious viruses are just suddenly cropping up all over the Globe, doesn't it? NOT funny, as in HAHA, mind you. A man in the next county over from us died yesterday from mosquito borne West Nile Virus, something that wasn't here a few years ago. There's a whole list in my mind, including avian flu, but I can't spell all of them and I'm too lazy to look it up. Point is, I think the elite powers that be are purposely extinguishing people and/or controlling them with fears of outbreak.

"Dr. Doom" is a hypocrite advocating sterilization while he himself fathered two kids. He champions China's one child policy while overlooking their barbaric abortion practices. God wouldn't send more Spirits to the Earth if we didn't have the resources. The problem here is unequal distribution due to the avarice of some. (countries and people)

There. I said it. Now, have you watched "V For Vendetta" yet? You need to. I ignored the obvious Bush slaps(hehe) to get the bigger picture. Superb movie.

jams o donnell said...

The appearance of new disease is part down to mutations of existing ones (eg BSE - which may have been a mutatin of a similar but less harmful sheep disease called Scrapei) and travel. With a much smaller worled so to speak it is a lot easier for diseases to move around and take hold outside their usual homes.

The disparity resource consumption could well be a pretext for future conflict (if we manage to survive all the other pretexts we find!) The issue of tiver the Jordan is already rumbling (nut in this case I think other causes for conflict will be found!. I shudder to think what will happen when China and India's oil and other requirements match the West's. Things look as if they can get a whole lot worse

As for this guy - a case of Do as I sa, not as I do??????