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Worst Case Scenarios

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Date: Saturday - September 24, 2005
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Joel Barker, James Chiles, Dr. Henry Niman

Celebrated business futurist, Joel Barker, who is credited with popularizing the term "paradigm shift," shared several worst case scenarios for planet Earth:

On the US Education System...
Barker commented on the decision by some states to reduce the number of school days in order to save gas. Children in other countries attend school for as much as 60 days longer each year than do American children, Barker said. This coupled with the lack of focus on math, science and technology, Barker explained, puts US students at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. According to Barker, new wealth is generated by technological innovation and if we do not embrace math and science, we'll lose the ability to create wealth.

On the Bird Flu...
Barker pointed out that despite a virus' tendency to become less deadly (in order to spread itself to a larger percentage of the population), hundreds of millions of people could die of bird flu given how long it would take to build a vaccine for the disease. This would lead to a "cascade of consequences," which would have economic, security and political implications. Barker even imagined the US launching pre-emptive strikes on infected bird populations in other countries. He also talked about Japanese Encephalitis, which he said has a 20% mortality rate and has killed 10,000 people so far.

On Unlikely (Highly Disruptive) Events...
Barker speculated that a large "methane burp" from the bottom of the ocean could trigger a runaway greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, increasing the planet's temperature by as much as five degrees. This would cause ice sheets to melt, sea levels to rise, and coastal towns around the world to be flooded. Barker also spoke about a hypothetical 'slippage' of the Canary Islands which could trigger a monster tidal wave hundreds of feet tall traveling at the speed of a jet airplane that would wipe out America's eastern seaboard.

Bird Flu Update

The first hour featured infectious disease expert Dr. Henry Niman, who discussed the current bird flu pandemic and what it could mean to the planet's human population. Though the H5N1 strain has yet to make it to North America, Niman explained, it has been found in long range migratory birds (like water fowl) which are capable of flying thousands of miles and spreading the disease to all parts of the world. Niman estimated if the bird flu takes off in humans, up to one billion people could die.

Landing Gear Failure

In the second half hour, James Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster, briefly talked about Jet Blue's recent landing gear failure and the pilot who successfully landed the troubled plane.

Bumper Music

Bumper music from Saturday September 24, 2005