Sunday, March 29, 2020

CBRN: Surviving Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Events

The English-language edition of this very important book by Piero San Giorgio and Chris Millenium has just been released. Below is the preface to it, which I was happy to provide. Please spread the word of this book far and wide. It is a book that can save many lives.

We live in a dangerous world, and it is constantly being made even more dangerous by technological developments, many of which bring with them unintended consequences which technology is often powerless to remedy. It is made even more dangerous by our inability to sense the dangers: our senses are poorly adapted to detecting chemical contaminants, and we are utterly helpless when it comes to sensing radioactivity or radioactive contamination. As far as the threat of microscopic pathogens, the ability of our immune systems to fight them off has been compromised, paradoxically, by good hygiene and the use of antibacterial soaps and antibiotics.

These dangers are multiplied by other risks our world faces, now and in the future. The continued safety of a great many of our industrial technologies—the ones that handle radioactive, toxic and virulent substances and organisms—rests on the presupposition of continued social stability. In the case of long-lived radionuclides such as uranium and plutonium, the period of social stability that would be required to keep them secure and isolated from the environment needs to span thousands of years, yet history teaches us that human civilizations don't ever last that long. When a civilization collapses, what normally follows is a dark age, during which populations crash, learning and even basic literacy become rare, population centers are abandoned and the few survivors discover for themselves how to subsist at a much more primitive level that does not include high technology.

When will this happen? Well, don't look now, but we are living through a time when nation-states are becoming defunct at an ever-increasing rate, when millions of refugees are roaming the planet, and when the financial systems that underpin the continued existence of the entire project of global industrial civilization are in such a state of disrepair that central banks are forced to resort to truly bizarre tricks, such as the imposition of negative interest rates coupled with boundless emission of money. What cannot continue forever generally doesn't, and we should not ignore the distinct possibility that we or our children will have to live through a period of great uncertainty, confusion and chaos.

But whatever should happen, all of us wish to lead happy, healthy, sane, fulfilling lives, and wish the same for our children. None of this will be possible unless we have peace of mind. But knowing that the prospects for our continued well-being are uncertain, we are filled with anxiety. Some of this anxiety results from learned helplessness and willful ignorance: we have been trained to trust the experts with ensuring our well-being and not try to second-guess them too much. But where will these experts be if the cities succumb to mob rule and become too unsafe to go near? To overcome our anxiety, we need to learn what the risks are, and be prepared to address them.

This book describes those risks which we are the least able to address using our commonsense, our perceptions and our instincts. They are the domain of technical experts, and without some special know-how and some specialized equipment we are completely helpless before them. Never mind being able to address them, in most cases we are not even able to detect their presence! But by working through this book, and by making a small investment in safety and detection equipment—which may be too much for a family, but is quite possible at the scale of even a small community—we can conquer our anxiety and regain the ability to lead fulfilling lives.

The threats are many, but perhaps the largest threat of all is simple human panic. When people are falling ill and nobody knows the reason, society can fall apart quite suddenly. But panic can be prevented if a few people have the information and can tell the others what is happening and what they should do or not do. You too can become one of these few people.

And so, don't panic—read this book!