Steve's Reflections


In 1999 and 2000, Steve Kirsch outlined his thoughts on a variety of philanthropic and political reform topics. Please select from the list to find those of interest to you.

Reflection #5

Near Earth Objects (NEOs)

Based on current analysis, 90% of the asteroids that could devastate the Earth have not been identified. With an extra $1M/year in funding, we could identify all NEOs (as they are called) in ten years. Sure the chances are really slim that we are going to be hit soon. But they aren’t zero.

Although at present there is no asteroid KNOWN to be on a collision course with Earth, the probability of an unknown asteroid larger than one kilometer in diameter hitting in any one year is estimated by Dr. Paul Chodas of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as 1 in 100,000. That makes it more likely that you’ll be hit by an asteroid next year than it is that you'll win the lottery or be diagnosed with many deadly diseases.

The cost/benefit of such a donation is enormous. What’s the value of a human life? A New York jury recently awarded $150K to $215K each to 13 passengers for 28 seconds of turbulence on an American Airlines flight. Clearly a whole life must be worth a lot more than 28 seconds of inconvenience.

Let's assume a life is worth a cool $1M. There are six billion people on the planet and we’ll say that half will die shortly after impact. It won’t be a picnic for the other half who survive either, but we don't even have to go there. So a one-time $20 million investment saves three billion lives with a 1 in 100,000 chance every year.

In other words, a single $20 million grant saves a mathematically expected $30 billion each year. Not just the first year. But $30 billion each and every year for the next 100,000 years. That’s less than the price of one jet. I don’t know anything with that kind of return on investment.

And if we get hit without warning, it is literally "game over." One million dollars a year seems like a small price to pay for "collision insurance." Heck, it isn’t much more than I pay for collision on my NSX. If Congress won’t fund it, I’ll be assembling a group of private individuals who will. I really like this project because it’s one of the few things I can donate to that can literally "save the world."

Of course, I think it is unlikely Congress will fund it. If we don't get hit, Senators and Representatives will be criticized for wasting taxpayers’ money. And if we do get hit, it won’t matter since we’ll all probably be dead. So politically, it’s a stupid decision to vote for this since you can’t win either way.

In a recent issue,
Time Magazine featured a thought-provoking article on asteroids and their potential threat to Earth.

Back to top

home | who we are | how to apply for grants | what we've done
what we care about | why give