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Falling down

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Part of a 12-story condominium building in the north Miami area collapsed yesterday:

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says there are now 159 people unaccounted for after the partial building collapse in Surfside, Florida. This has increased from at least 99 people.

The number of accounted people has also gone up to 120.

“Unfortunately, this has been a tragic night. We do have 120 people now accounted for, which is very, very good news. But our unaccounted for number has gone up to 159. In addition, we can tragically report the death count is now four,” she said Friday.

“I want to be very clear about the numbers. They are very fluid. We’ll continue to update you as we have them … The search and rescue team worked throughout the night, and it was a very active scene,” she said.

When something like this happens now, it is or should be impossible not to wonder whether climate change might have played a factor. Miami is a city that, short of some presently unforeseeable technological breakthrough, pretty much won’t exist later in this century, because sea levels are rising that there’s no place for the water to go. So it’s natural to consider the possibility that something like this might be harbinger of future climate-related calamities.

Speaking of technological breakthroughs, I’ve been meaning to mention Charles Mann’s very thought-provoking book The Wizard and the Prophet. As my personal tribute to the 50th anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin IV I’m going to just copy somebody else’s review:

This is an outstanding book. It presents two outstanding scientists as two ‘ideal types’, in the sense of Max Weber, one a true believer in science and technology fixes (Norman Borlaug) and the second (William Vogt) exhorting humanity to be very careful not to disrupt nature.

Also presented, though not central to the text, is an important evolution researcher (Lynn Margulis), who was of the opinion that the human species is bound by evolution and sure to disappear, never mind what it does.

Still, the following questions arise:

One. Vogt is not a prophet, most of whom promised salvation after deserved suffering. Rather he is a Cassandra, who was cursed to know the future but not to be believed.

Two. The Wizard was careful. He did not engage in dangerous science, though he might have failed in his efforts to overcome the Malthusian loop. It is not clear at all whether he would support risky geoengineering.

Three. The book present very well two contrasting ideologies. Thus, it sharpens the question who shall decide on which one to base action. But it does not pose this critical question as needed.

These and other comments do not impair the quality of the book, which should be pondered by all who are concerned, or should be concerned, about the future of humanity, starting with political leaders.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

It really is a terrific and to put it mildly timely book, that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I stare at the weather forecast for the next few days in the Pacific Northwest.

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