Note to readers: I am not North Korean. I’m not even South Korean. I’m Chinese. Cool? Okay cool.
A summary about the status quo of North Korea
North Korea is commonly believed to have the most oppressive dictatorship on the planet. If you question government legitimacy, you will be denied every basic right, and will either be sent to a prison camp or publicly executed. You are not allowed to leave the country without permission from the state.
These prison camps? They’ve been around for five times as long as Nazi camps and twice as long as Soviet camps. There are often no reasonable justifications for being sent to one of these camps; you might be sent simply because you are related to someone who committed a political crime.
The government has attempted to create an information blockade – no radios, no Internet access, no international calls. North Korea has been isolated from the rest of the world for decades.
The people are starving – the agricultural policies are sub par, the climate conditions are brutal, and food imports are limited. Malnutrition is a commonplace.
The refugee crisis
People leave North Korea for a myriad of reasons. They might be desperate for food, medicine, or money. They might hear from outsiders about the world that exists outside of North Korea – they might want to experience it for themselves. They will want to escape economic hardship, political and religious persecution, and the lack of basic, fundamental freedoms.
A scanty number of those who attempt to escape to China will actually make it. Over half of the women who succeed will become prostitutes. Those who get caught? Beatings, torture, prison camps, or execution. Take. Your. Pick.
Hope for the future?
A quote from the LiNK website that answers this question perfectly:
“North Korea is changing. Significant grassroots changes have been happening since the late 1990s, driven by the people themselves, and these developments and trends have the potential to lead, eventually, to a radically transformed and better North Korea.
However, there has not been enough focus on these changes happening at the people-level, and the issue of North Korea is not associated with dynamism or change. This is because, traditionally, the focus of the international community has been on the level of international politics and nuclear weapons.
If the world knew of the dynamism and resilience of the North Korean people in the face of extraordinary challenges, and could see that underneath this Cold War style stalemate, there is a far more interesting story of hope for change, we believe many more people would be motivated to help the North Korean people.”
What exactly is going on that we need to so badly encourage?
After a devastating famine, the North Korean people established illegal markets to obtain food. These markets are primarily female-dominated, and the regime has failed to break up these illegal activities. Simply put, “the markets are here to stay.”
There’s also more communication with the outside world. These illegal markets have triggered food imports from China, a country that is significantly more democratized and liberated than North Korea. Through these activities, the citizens realize that neighboring countries are very, very much advanced.
Even if trade with China were to stop, a leap in access to outside information has truly impacted the mentality of the North Korean people. We’ve got phones, TV’s, radios, and foreign media to help them learn about the reality of the outside world.
“All signs are that this ‘education in reality’ will only continue, and will further empower the North Korean people to push for the change they want inside the country.”
That means that the people are growing increasingly suspicious of the government. No longer are they completely oblivious and brainwashed about reality; there has been less tattletaling on people who are questioning regime legitimacy.
“Ultimately this could result in the emergence of a growing civil space for the people, who are breaking off from the state not just at an individual level but increasingly at a community level.”
And like all social movements, no matter where they originate, the driving force behind this sort of progressive change is young people. I’m talking, people in their 20s and 30s, who have not yet accepted the traditional ideologies of the past, who have not yet condoned the omniscient supremacy. These are the people who will be the make-or-break factors in the push for change.
We don’t want your pity
I don’t want you (the reader) to fall prey to compassion fatigue. I know that we see desolate pictures of North Koreans suffering very often. At first, it seems like something to pity, something that you, as an ethical human being, should do something about. But then you see pictures of starving African children, and then women in the Middle East who have been raped, as well as homeless children in upstate New York, and then you hesitate to take action. The media constantly bombards us with images that attempt to call us to action, to make a change, raise awareness, or donate money to some cause. The result of this is compassion fatigue, when we can no longer put up with all these ethical obligations. Only then do funny memes get created and the idea which originally was intended to arouse guilt and compassion starts to mock the subject of the photos, which backfires on the point of these images.
I don’t intend this to happen with this post. The point of my writing about this is not to evoke pity in you. It is to shed light on the flawed lens through which we have been observing North Korea as a regime, a country, a military power, a nation led by a “madman,” and as a group of individuals – citizens that are starting to squirm under the oppression of a tyrannical ruler. We shouldn’t just realize the difference and feel bad about their unfortunate situation. Rather, we should raise awareness. Some sort of revolution/governmental overthrow might happen, and the success of such a movement largely depends on the support that the North Korean citizens could potentially receive from the outside world. We need to know about the humans rights crisis. We need to something about it. But this post is just the first of many others, to shed light on the inequality in North Korea, and to demonstrate how we might do something about it. This first post was just to illustrate what exactly is happening right now.
(quotes are from the LiNK website, linked above)
Hi readers! This is a formal essay I wrote for my sophomore English project at school. It’s a pleasant deviation from what I normally post on this blog; there are parenthetical citations and a bibliography included.
At even the suggestion of an asteroid hurtling towards earth that will wipe out all living creatures, people tend to giggle, a serious miscalculation of the nature of the threat of an asteroid collision. In reality, we, as the dominant species of earth, have become much more susceptible to “existential risks” than ever before. Yet, no one has stepped up; no one has brainstormed any sort of international framework for mitigating these threats. Biologically biased, we cannot calculate the severity of the collision because we have not experienced it in our lifetime, and so we have not become aware of the probability and magnitude of consequences like bioterrorism, resource depletion, unstable government transitions, and of course, asteroid collisions. Therefore, activities like policy debate or just research and rationalization can educate us so that we can accurately weigh such risks. In the case of a menacing NEO – Near Earth Object – not only does civilization today face a dire threat, but future generations do as well. While people generally disregard the risk of an asteroid collision, it indeed exists as the greatest natural disaster threat that humanity faces, mainly because of the public distortion of the threat, lack of government action, and the existential risk that it poses.
Initially, the media plays the biggest role of explaining the public’s ignorance of the risks of asteroids. Hollywood glamorizes an NEO impact, either portraying it as a measly threat that a heroic figure can easily fight off, or an event that only happens in the movies (National Academies of the United States 96). Thus, the public assumes that the government will protect them in the instance of an asteroid collision, but the government often does not have other nations’ interests at heart; it has not invested money or time to defend another country, rather, it assumes that another government will step up to defend the world (National Academies of the United States 27). The status quo reveals that the government has not sufficiently funded appropriate programs, actually cutting off funding for research and detection at the Arecibo Center – a key component in the detection of perilous asteroids – to a total of two million dollars each year, compared to the seventy four billion dollars that a program like the F-22 raptor fighting aircraft receives (NASA; Axe).
Equally important, the government only has three potentially feasible options for deflecting NEO’s. First, the nuclear reactor, a method of nuclear pulse propulsion, would explode on the surface of an asteroid, changing its momentum (National Academies of the United States 4). However, unstable rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan would easily perceive any sort of nuclear technology as an offensive measure from the United States. Easily provoked, they could potentially deploy their own offensive nuclear weapons, which would likely trigger a nuclear conflict, potentially snowballing into a nuclear war (David). In a second scenario, a kinetic impactor would send a heavy object like a spaceship to collide with the menacing asteroid, slowing down the velocity of the NEO. Finally, the gravitational tractor would land on the surface of the NEO and gravitationally oppose its direction, gradually slowing it down so that it would pass through Earth’s orbit after the Earth had already passed. However, none of these options will succeed; only the kinetic impactor has been tested, and the rest exist as solely hypothetical ideas (National Academies of the United States 4).
Furthermore, the most significant component for the success of an asteroid deflection remains early warning detection, acquired from an NEO detection telescope deployed specifically in a Venus orbit. Current day, earth orbiting telescopes have blind spots that prevent them from having one hundred percent accuracy; thus, with a telescope in a Venus orbit, the government could acquire decades of prior notice (Lu). In 1989, the NEO 4581 Asclepius missed Earth by only five hundred thousand miles, a comparatively small distance on the cosmic scale, which scientists discovered ten days after it had passed through Earth orbit. Had it collided with the earth, scientists predict it would have had the energy of twenty thousand hydrogen bombs (Marsden; United Press International).
Above all, the most important component of deciding the degree of risk remains existential risk calculation; Nick Bostrom – a philosopher of existential risk – defines it as “one [occurrence] where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential” (Bostrom). Having never actually encountered an NEO that has caused extinction in our lifetime, humanity faces an especially large danger because of our ignorance and biological bias; we tend to overlook and underestimate the dangers of an NEO (Posner). In terms of an NEO collision, while the odds of such an occurrence remain extremely low, its aperiodic timeframe and nearly infinite magnitude of consequences indicates that a large asteroid collision poses the greatest existential risk to humanity (Matheny).
Moreover, the probability of an asteroid exists as the most underestimated component in the risk calculus of an NEO threat. As Gerritt Verschuur – a radio astronomist specializing in NEO’s – puts it, “What is most important is how we react to the idea that extinction is literally inevitable. We will ignore it until we actually discover an asteroid hurtling toward us that will cause extinction, because the easiest way to confront the idea of extinction is through denial”; he believes that the magnitude of destruction should guide risk calculus, as opposed to the likelihood of it happening, which the general public uses to weigh risk (Verschuur 158). The chances of an asteroid collision become complicated because of its aperiodicity and its inevitability; no empirical logic can predict when an NEO will strike or any reason as to why it would not ever hit again (Brownfield). To depict an example, the government invests billions more for counterterrorism, than for NEO detection and deflection, regardless of the fact that statistically, death by asteroid remains far more likely than death by terrorist attack (Plait).
Despite the dangers, the US has done nothing to prepare for a dangerous NEO. Multiple ideas have been proposed; first, the US should raise more awareness about the threat by conducting more research on the location of potentially dangerous NEO’s (Bostrom). Current systems have detected solely ninety percent of dangerous asteroids so far, but this does not suffice; an extinction-causing asteroid looms in the remaining ten percent (National Academies of the United States 1). Second, the National Research Council has suggested that the US cooperate to create a framework for international action, with other countries such as China and the European Union, who have advanced space development systems, capable of asteroid detection (Space Daily; Vieru). Also, the government should arrange a last resort option, if an NEO gets detected without sufficient early warning time; as of now, the government has only prepared underground evacuation bunkers, initially prepared for important government officials, but later expanded to house millions of refugees. Construction of these underground safe havens continues today, and started decades ago (Bostrom; Slavo). Moreover, for general existential threats such as nuclear weapons, the US should prepare a pre-emptive strike option for rogue countries that have been predicted by the government to use offensive technologies like nuclear weapons (Bostrom). Finally, the government should attempt to limit technological development of certain concepts that could lead to an existential risk catastrophe, such as international relations disputes, nuclear war, and nanotechnology, which has dual-use capabilities (Bostrom; Center for Responsible Nanotechnology).
In contrast, to relate my personal life to the topic of extinction-causing asteroids, my experience in debate has taught me much about policymaking and decision-making. We debate the pros and cons of a specific occurrence, rationalizing about the likelihood and how long it would take to occur, and how badly it would affect the world. Especially in the case of existential threats like asteroids, if a catastrophe could potentially curtail the possibility of future development, and if there exists even the slightest possibility of its occurrence, that disaster would have the greatest risk. The public, when presented with the idea of an extinction-causing asteroid collision, will offer up statistics about the probability of its occurrence; these only provide a metric of hope, suggesting denial of the threat. After two years of debating such consequences, I have come to believe that considering the intensity of the consequences of an existential danger should precede weighing the probability or the timeframe, because if we base our decisions primarily off of the likelihood, we tend to miss the big picture threat. Making decisions based on the magnitude of the consequence will improve the world’s wellbeing over the long term.
Likewise, the aftermath of an asteroid collision exists as another big factor that contributes to its huge existential risk. The heat released had the energy of one million Hiroshima bombs, vaporizing the ocean and incinerating the world’s land through global wildfires that raged on for days. The actual impact of the blow intensified natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, literally flattened forests, and projected debris into space, creating a dust cloud that blocked the rays of the sun, which brought temperatures plunging, causing an Ice Age that killed most of the remaining animals. After potentially hundreds of thousands of years, when the dust finally settled, the trivial number of survivors on earth faced acid rain and rapid global warming from the deadly ultraviolet rays that shone through the remains of the ozone layer, destroyed when the NEO tore through the atmosphere. From the dust and hazardous nitrous oxides released from these catastrophes, photosynthesis stopped completely, destroying food sources and resulting in mass famines (McGuire).
Furthermore, an asteroid poses an even greater danger to today’s civilization because of our dangerous capabilities; with nuclear technology but not yet adequate nuclear weapons detection systems, the panic and confusion resulting from an impact would surely cause countries like India or Iraq to miscalculate a collision as a nuclear attack, fueling conflict, potentially sparking a nuclear war (McGuire; David). The wildfires, acid rain, and termination of the process of photosynthesis would destroy crops, causing, as Bill McGuire describes it, “widespread disruption of the social and economic fabric of developed nations.” Because of large building structures, the hyper-tornadoes and stronger-than-ever earthquakes would become even deadlier. With limited options consisting of solely hypothetical, never-been-tested asteroid deflection ideas, the world would have to live in underground bunkers, which have not been built to house the entire planet’s population (Slavo).
More importantly, the NEO threat should be our first priority, because the consequences of extinction by asteroid would encompass those of other disasters, permanently stopping the development of humans, plants, and animals. With humans extinct, future species would not evolve with the brain capacity of humans to avoid threats such as anthropogenic global warming, or genetically engineered diseases (The Daily Galaxy). Without humans, Earth would not have the ability to fend off a natural existential catastrophe, such as a super nova, a super volcano, or possibly, another dangerous asteroid (Matheny).
Generally, any sort of existential risk could result in a plethora of catastrophes, be it a natural event like an asteroid, or a human-caused consequence. After any extinction-risking event – including an asteroid collision – takes place, we face dangers such as a loss of ethical sense after a revolution; confusion and nuclear war could cause a shift to a dystopian government, leading to transitions from capitalism, to an unstable state of government, like communism, or maybe even to cannibalism. The consequences of an accidental nuclear war caused by an asteroid collision could create human mutated super viruses or genetically engineered disease, easily obliterating the world, no matter how low the probability. Faced with the threat of resource depletion from crop failures, many governments depend so highly on resources for survival and economic preeminence; thus an asteroid could cause a chain reaction that would collapse economies and global trade systems (Bostrom).
Indeed, although it exists as the largest existential threat, humanity in today’s world cannot easily perceive the intensity of a large asteroid collision; the public faces psychological biases due to inadequate education, and the government does not take appropriate action to mitigate the impact (Bostrom; Posner). Only hypothetical ideas exist to effectively combat NEO’s, and the government does not invest enough in early warning or asteroid mitigation in general. However, the greatest factor in proving an asteroid as the greatest existential threat remains the aftermath of a collision, and what the damage would inflict on evolution, impacting future generations (Matheny). Therefore, given the severity of the aftermath of such an NEO disaster, today’s generation should first become educated, learning efficient decision-making and risk calculating, realizing that the aperiodicity and magnitude of consequences should guide their actions and opinions, and finally make the choice to prepare themselves adequately for an asteroid collision. Yet, despite the infinite dangers, the government has yet to conduct enough research, come up with a backup plan involving international action, or even become conscious of limiting development of potential existential threats. Through my personal experience in debate I have become aware of dangerous threats like asteroids, rationally assessing them. Education about such impacts will help to make the public and government more aware, which will hopefully lead to diminishing the risk of the greatest existential threat out there today.
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