The Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant study was a project to decide how best to mark a radioactive waste dump such that the message to beware would be clear for the dangerous lifetime of the waste, some 10,000 years.
What they came up with certainly should work.
The key statements from the report were these:
- This place is not a place of honor.
- No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
- Nothing valued is here.
- This place is a message and part of a system of messages.
- Pay attention to it!
- Sending this message was important to us.
- We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This is incredibly disturbing. It reads like an epitaph for the human race, which, in essence, is what it is. How to convince an entity who reads this of its sincerity and import, after all humans are gone?
This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.
Just having to think about the annihilation of the race, let alone how to communicate on after that event has occurred, leaves me reeling. Is that the desired audience for buried time capsules and so forth? I suspect that the Blue Peter team were more thinking of future humans digging it up, rather than whatever lifeform discovers the WIPP after we have all returned to dust.
We have become Death, the destroyer of worlds, as Oppenheimer put it.
Although we haven't. There's nothing about the study that necessarily suggests that we will annihilate the race in such a way that there will be no humans left to interpret the results in 10,000 years. There will certainly be changes in language -- look at how much that's changed over the past millennium -- but it's by no means certain that the people of those far-off days will not be able to understand the messages.
Then again, a major thrust of this project must have been to avoid the Keep Off The Grass mentality; the urge that makes people touch a bench with a Wet Paint sign has to be suppressed in future generations in this case, which is why the message is very strong and apocalyptic in tone.
But it's still disturbing.
© Aquarius, April 2002