“The world is ending. We’re all gonna die!” proclaims someone every few months, or every few seconds if you include the internet. Whether it’s the rapture, or a fake planet colliding with Earth, the doomsdayers really like to dampen our vibe.
They are right about one thing unless scientists come up with a cure for aging, we’re all going to die. Hopefully, nanotech and advances in science could one day help us live longer, but with the way things are going maybe our planet would be better off if we didn’t?
People love to ponder or predict our mass extinction. Just look at current cinema, books, or on the internet, some people are obsessed with a dystopian future. Whether we’ll go in a blink of an eye or destined for a slower death within a Mad Max-like existence, I can’t help to think that we’re due for a major global catastrophe.
So if it’s not the second coming, or Planet X, how is the world as we know it going to end? What could truly erase humans from Earth?
Below are ten plausible causes of our final demise along with the odds that they are humanity’s ultimate undoing.
The end is nigh.
In about 7.72 billion years (depending if you carry the one), the sun is going to die. As part of its death knell, it will expand and become what’s known as a red giant. As it goes through this expansion, it will not only engulf Mercury and Venus, but it will create solar winds so strong that the Earth will also spiral into the sun.
Unless the human race — or whatever succeeds us — figures out a way to prevent stars from dying or has up and moved to a new location in the galaxy, this is definitely going to be the end of us. But the extremely long odds aren’t motivated by my faith in galactic travel; they’re motivated by my faith in humanity biting the dust long before the sun gets us. We’re very creative at finding ways to kill each other, and 7.72 billion years gives us ample time to hone our craft even further.
We’re already going down this road and quite frankly we’re effed unless we can somehow figure out a way to reverse global warming and slow down climate change.
Remember when scientists were scared about a 2ºC (3.6ºF) warming of the planet? How cute.
Now there are talks that things could warm up by 4 or even 6ºC (7.2-10.8ºF) and that could happen faster than we ever imagined. Warming at that level would have devastating effects on our planet to the point that human survival would be in serious jeopardy. Sea levels are going to rise, massive storms are going to be the norm, methane gas will be released, and billions of people around the world are going to be either displaced or completely wiped out.
Climate change is the odds-on favorite on how the world, or rather our world, will end.
“Bio-terror” or “bio-error” is going to be a thing.
Don’t take my word for it. The Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, agrees, predicting that by 2020, one million people will die in a single instance of a catastrophic biological disaster either on purpose or by accident.
While the world was dealing with the H5N1 bird flu, scientists and biohackers were called upon to engineer new viruses to defend against it, creating a new world of synthetic biology (in which synthetic DNA is added to bacteria cells to create new life-forms). This cracked opened a Pandora’s box of sorts, one which houses the most powerful bioweapons imaginable.
If you think the chaos caused by computer viruses is bad, imagine what blackhat biohackers could do with real-world viruses. Sweet dreams.
Nuclear war makes the list, but it’s lower than it would have been in the 60s. Hooray? It’s fall is due, in part, to a general detente among most nuclear powers. But it’s also lower on the list because you would need multiple nukes hitting different parts of the world for it to completely wipe out humanity. As far as I know, the good people of Iceland aren’t on anyone’s hitlist.
Of course, with the current tension between North Korea and the USA, there is a chance that someone will hit the button and all hell could break loose. There’s also a chance that some rogue nation develops insanely powerful nukes down the line and makes an explosive bid for world domination.
If a massive asteroid can wipe out the dinosaurs, it’s likely the same thing could happen to us humanoids, even though we have opposable thumbs. Hundreds of massive asteroids pass planet Earth every year, and countless smaller ones crash right into it. (Back in 1908, 2,000 square kilometers of the Siberian forest was damaged by a massive meteoroid in the the Tunguska event.) Eventually a big’un is going to be on a collision course with our home sweet home. It’s just a matter of when, and whether Bruce Willis will still be around to save the day.
I think some people forget about the supervolcano threat. Many point to the well-documented volcano that is bubbling under Yellowstone Park, but there are far bigger ones that could do way more damage.
The Lake Toba supervolcano on Sumatra caused the biggest volcanic eruption in Earth’s history about 25 million years ago and there are some signs that it could blow up again. How can a massive volcano end the world as we know it? It would spew ungodly amounts of ash and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a devastating effect on the global climate, and would cause massive tsunamis to sweep across the Indian Ocean.
Long before it dies out, the sun could cause our demise. The temperamental star has regular hissy-fits during which it emits solar flares, i.e. intense clouds of energetic photons with the energy burst of a million hydrogen bombs all exploding at once. #SunFarts
For the most part, when these hit Earth’s upper atmosphere a couple days later, humans have no clue. However, if intense enough, a solar storm could knock out our electrical grids, satellite communications, and the internet. These days, I’m pretty confident stating that no internet = end of humanity.
There’s precedent for solar flares that are big enough to wreak that kind of havoc, too. Back in 1921, an intense solar flare knocked out telegraph services, and if that same level of flare were to hit Earth in today’s technology-reliant society, it could result in the type of chaos we were promised from Y2K.
The intensity of solar flares goes up and down on a roughly 11-year cycle. The most recent peak (2014) came and went without significant impact. Yet, our planet is extremely vulnerable and Governments around the world have not taken this threat seriously. Like nuclear war, it may not cause total human destruction, but the world could be thrown into complete chaos with no way to Instagram it.
We are heading into the age of A.I. and, although some embrace the science with open arms, we should have a measure of concern.
Once computer programs grow advanced enough to teach themselves, they could use that knowledge to become far more powerful and intelligent than humans, thus eliminating their need for us entirely. At that point, they may see us as completely dispensable. We’ll be nothing more than pets devouring valuable resources. The fear is that machines will literally hit “Control-Alt-Delete” on human lives. Let’s hope they see us more as lovable pets and less as rat-like pests. On that note, make sure you sit down with your computer tonight and spend some quality time watching Marley and Me.
There are many cosmic threats to our planet, but one of the strangest and least talked about are gamma-ray bursts or GRBs.
These giant star explosions release huge amounts of gamma rays, which are among the most deadly types of radiation known to man. If one were to hit our atmosphere, it would completely destroy our ozone layer thus allowing the sun to fry us until we’re extra crispy. The end result would be the mass extinction of most species of life on our planet.
The good news is that this type of explosion would have to happen very close to Earth for it to have any kind of effect. Luckily, the statistical probability of such an event is low. We seem to be in a region of the galaxy where supermassive stars are rare. Even if a GRB happened in our galaxy, the likelihood that it would be aimed right at us is even more unlikely. Finally some good news!
Maybe I watch far too many sci-fi films, however, we really don’t know whether there is extraterrestrial life out there in the Universe. What happens if there are aliens out there and they aren’t friendly? If they’re advanced enough to come visit us, they’re almost certainly advanced enough to wipe us out. Plus, there’s a good chance that any space-roaming aliens will be motivated to undertake said space-roaming out of necessity (i.e. they used up their own planet’s resources). So the chances that we see an Independence Day-style attack isn’t nil. Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen before 2020. (Side note: I’d vote for Kang or Kodos over Trump.)
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