Get the rifles. boys! We'll lick that asteroid.

From the Nonchalance Department:

NASA has been tracking a 460-foot-wide asteroid with a slight chance of striking Earth. Scientists now believe an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs; the new one, which goes by the evocative name 2011 AG5, could do the same for some of us.

But probably not. A hit seems unlikely at this point, and fortunately NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program “will still be watchful and ready to take further action if additional observations indicate it is warranted.”

That’s according to NASA’s nonchalant Lindley Johnson, who no doubt has in mind the confident cookbook of anti-asteroid recipes summarized here, where the good folks at space.com assure us that we already possess some of the technologies we could bring to bear.

But while it’s nice to know NASA stands ready to “take further action.” could our civilization really get its act together to address a world-threatening emergency, even with a decade or more of warning?

I wonder this especially at a time when anti-government forces are energized and ascendant, forces that take inspiration from Ronald Reagan’s famous formulation, “Government is the problem.” Libertarians and right-wingers typically allow that a federal government should be in charge of national defense if nothing else. But how would that translate into planetary defense in a politically charged atmosphere where conspiracy theories undercutting world bodies like the United Nations run amok?

One likes to think governments of the world would pull together in the face of an impending catastrophe. There’s hope. Strong leadership drew the United States into World War II despite opposition. The governments of Europe pulled together after that war, preventing further bloodshed by forming a peaceful union that has lasted half a century.

True, in the more analogous case of climate change there’s been a discouraging lack of progress. But there’s a big difference between death by a thousand cuts and apocalyptic collision. Maybe the threat of the latter would generate the necessary solidarity and group heroism. But I have my doubts.