Top 10 End of The World Scenarios

  by  |  September 10th, 2008  |  Published in All, Blog


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After much anticipation, CERN researchers flipped the switch of the Large Hadron Collider and–woo hoo!–we’re all still alive! In celebration of living yet another day, we offer up a Top Ten list featuring the Ghosts of Doomsday Past, Present and Future.

PAST

Sure hope this “gadget” doesn’t ignite the atmosphere!

Trinity Atomic Bomb Test, July 16, 1945:
An idea was floated among the Manhattan Project physicists that a nuclear reaction could ignite the atmosphere. Fortunately, other scientists on the team were clever enough to argue that a fission reaction (like those used at Trinity, and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) could never create a fusion reaction in the atmosphere, and so there was no need to worry about a world-ending catastrophe.

Assessment: The “disproved” fusion reaction went on to serve as the basis of second generation “thermonuclear” weapons (a.k.a. the
hydrogen bomb) after a successful U.S. demonstration of a 10.4 megaton test weapon in 1952. But they were correct that the composition of Earth’s atmosphere cannot sustain a fusion reaction triggered by an atomic bomb.

Y2K (Year 2000 Computer Bug), January 1, 2000:
Due to thrifty machine coding from earlier decades, many computers stored year data as a two-numeral code, for example “99″ to represent “1999.” The fear was that computers running everything from banks to power stations would suddenly think it was the year 1900 instead of 2000 after midnight December 31, 1999, throwing off all time-based calculations and schedules, and plunging the industrialized world into chaos.

Assessment: Many highly computer-dependent countries invested in backup systems and upgrades designed to avert disaster. In the end, errors and disruptions were extremely minor–even in places that were not well prepared.

Large Hadron Collider, September 10, 2008:
Some scientists had considered the possibility that particles racing around at near the speed of light at the unprecedented energy of several TeVs (tera electron volts) may create tiny black holes that, if sustained, could swallow up the Earth and its neighbors.

Assessment: Though several lawsuits were filed to halt the LHC startup for fear of global annihilation, LHC physicists assured the world that because so little energy is involved, any tiny black holes that could form would disappear in an infinitesimally small amount of time, posing no danger. If this phenomenon could happen, they argue, it would be occurring from cosmic rays colliding with our atmosphere (with no world-swallowing results) all the time. The LHC was turned on on Wednesday, and so far, so good.

PRESENT

Modern inoculations and coordinated rapid responses try to minimize potential disease outbreaks.

Disease Pandemic:
The Black Plague outbreaks of the Middle Ages killed one third of the population of Europe. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed 50 million people. With drug-resistant tuberculosis and staph infections, and high-mortality, communicable diseases like ebola virus and bird flu popping up, some people fear it’s only a matter of time before a globe-spanning deadly superbug wipes out billions of people.

Assessment: With no germ theory and poor healthcare, Europe still managed to survive many waves of the Plague. And the Spanish Flu, while devastating, left at least 95% of the world alive to sally forth. However, the exponential rise of travel and mobility in the past 100 years makes local diseases like SARS into global threats virtually overnight. The UN, WHO, and many governments around the world all take this threat extremely seriously.

Asteroid/Comet Impact:
Every day the Earth gets pelted with meteorites, and once every few million years, we get a big one. An asteroid the size of the dinosaur-extinguishing one that landed in the Gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago would probably have a similar effect on us mammals today. Local impact devastation, fires, earthquakes, volcanoes, then darkening of the skies with debris could drastically diminish plant growth and lead to starvation and a serious case of seasonal affective disorder.

Assessment: NASA runs a Near Earth Object Project working with other countries to catalogue and track all near-Earth asteroids greater than 1 km in diameter in our neighborhood. There are a handful of close approaches that would fit into the “PAST” section. Still, with NEOs, it’s not a matter of if, but when something big will impact the planet, so scientists are working on several strategies to deflect or otherwise render harmless something headed our way.

Nuclear Annihilation:
World War II left in its wake two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Over the course of several decades, these two countries accumulated more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy every major population center on Earth, and on more than one occasion during the Cold War, came close to direct conflict.

Assessment: After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, tensions gradually eased between the superpowers. The world still maintains a nuclear arsenal (most of which is in the U.S. an Russia) that could be unleashed with the press of a few buttons. Despite the relative peace between the U.S. and other nuclear powers, and a reluctance to use nuclear weapons, this is still the “easiest” and quickest way we have to end humanity.

Global Warming:
Watching huge ice shelves calve off the Antarctic continent drives home the reality that global temperatures are now rising at more than 1ºC per century. While that makes for more pleasant weather in Canada, it is already changing animal migration patterns, distribution of rainfall, and some say frequency and severity of hurricanes. Other possibilities are swamping of coastal cities, shutting down global ocean circulation, and massive change and destruction of plant and animal habitats. The doomsday trifecta of famine, epidemics, and loss of habitable land spells disaster. Inevitable wars over remaining resources only add to the damage.

In 1992, a chunk of Antarctica the size of Rhode Island called the Larson B ice shelf broke off and disintegrated, signaling that global warming was happening faster than predicted.

Assessment: Since the industrial revolution, fossil fuel combustion and other human activities have produced unprecedented CO2 and other greenhouse gases emissions, which are thought to be a major contributor to global warming. Countries are slowly coming around to curbing production of greenhouse gases, but the tide is high. Currently, alternative energy infrastructure and emission reductions are progressing too slowly to keep pace with increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

FUTURE

Here comes the Sun. Time to put on
your SPF1000.

The Sun:
While you won’t be around to see it, about 5 billion years from now our sun will expand into a red giant and boil off all the world’s oceans. Talk about global warming!

Assessment: Inevitable, but a long way off. Let’s hope we’ve colonized some other solar systems by then.

Alien Invasion:
Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of the “War of the Worlds” radio play caused mass hysteria when people thought there was an actual alien invasion. While there’s always the possibility of cute, friendly
aliens like E.T., many of our stories depict aliens visiting Earth for conquest, human experimentation, or to rob our natural resources.

Artist’s rendering of an alien as described by people who claim they were abducted.

Assessment: Some scientists estimate that there could be countless other intelligent civilizations in the universe. However, we have no direct evidence of that, and if they’re so intelligent, why haven’t they come already? And since distances in space are unfathomably large, they would have to use space travel technology far beyond anything we’ve come up with to stop by for some Reese’s Pieces…or a global invasion.

Singularity:
Robots today are dumb, but good at welding joints in cars and vacuuming. In the future, they may be smart enough to autonomously fly search and destroy missions, administer health services, and coordinate movement of all the cars on the highway. They may also reach a point where they will be able to improve their own design and self-replicate, become self-aware, and then decide that they would be better off without us.

Assessment: Scientists argue about whether sentience, self-awareness, and Machiavellian self-preservation could spontaneously appear in a machine intelligence. But if it’s achievable, and computers are entrusted to autonomously manage our infrastructure, it could certainly be a risk.

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Responses

  1. J. Steel says:

    September 13th, 2008 at 5:01 pm (#)

    You forgot number 11.
    The Republicians get elected again.

  2. Get International Clients says:

    September 15th, 2008 at 6:08 am (#)

    Republicans would only destroy the US economy, the rest of the world would slowly follow into recession, but we would survive.

    Disease Pandemic is the thing that will hurt the most – or at least in the shortest time. I am always amazed at not being allowed to carry a bottle of water on an airplane while at the same time a person who is obviously sick is allowed to board a plane.

  3. oh please says:

    September 16th, 2008 at 5:38 pm (#)

    Actually the collapse of the US economy would be of great benefit to most countries of the world. Its incredibly arrogant of you and totally without basis to think that the world somehow depends on the US to keep it out of recession. The world will do quite well without your little aggressive war-mongering … ok i'll stop now…

  4. fluidfilm says:

    September 17th, 2008 at 9:19 am (#)

    Uh-huh. I'm sure the Hong Kong, European, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese stock market tumbles of the past two days have nothing at all to do with the troubled U.S. firms AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch. Must be a coincidence.

  5. J. Steel says:

    September 17th, 2008 at 8:54 pm (#)

    Sometimes humans scare me. Don't you know a joke when you see one?

  6. Mame says:

    September 20th, 2008 at 8:53 am (#)

    More Sensations on isochi.ru

  7. hachikjan says:

    September 22nd, 2008 at 12:07 am (#)

    We armenians were the first people on the globe.

  8. Tin says:

    September 22nd, 2008 at 8:51 pm (#)

    Penis

  9. Tin says:

    September 22nd, 2008 at 8:53 pm (#)

    If it was the end of the world we wouldent realize it cuz wed all be dead anyways.

  10. NJay says:

    September 25th, 2008 at 7:27 am (#)

    Your “humor” plays on some all to commonly held beliefs.
    It is a shame there are a lot of people who don't think any deeper on their voting decisions than you joke.

  11. peter says:

    September 28th, 2008 at 6:31 am (#)

    I think this an interesting article and we should all take responsibility to educate each other and come together to avert potential end of planet earth scenarios. This is the place that we currently think of as home. This is the place we think we originated. This is the place we want our children to live freely in peace together.

    I suggest that one should always 'start' with plans to avert disaster, backup, worst case modeling with intelligent balanced civil assessment, debate and action.

    Surely we, the people reading this, can make our lives and our impact on others more positive with evolution and progression as central to our goals.

  12. Bob says:

    September 29th, 2008 at 10:24 am (#)

    Global Colding is more likely if the sun's activity continues to decrease

  13. fluidfilm says:

    September 29th, 2008 at 12:04 pm (#)

    Well, the good news is that people ARE looking at ways of defraying the potential damage from each of these scenarios. We are just entering the period in our technological development in which we could possibly deflect an asteroid if we spotted it early enough. NASA and other agencies are racing to track everything larger than 1km in our solar system that might come our way in the foreseeable future.

    The question is, “Are we doing too little, too late on very specific threats such as global warming?” To address that, there needs to be the political will to invest in reducing carbon emissions, develop cleaner energy, and participate in a global effort. The U.S.'s refusal to participate in the 137-country Kyoto Protocol (the only industrialized nation to fail to ratify it) is an example of really not doing our share.

    I believe the U.S. can become leaders in these areas, but we're going to have to start thinking about the lives of our grandchildren, not just the next few years ahead.

  14. fluidfilm says:

    October 1st, 2008 at 1:08 pm (#)

    Any legit reference for that? My understanding is that we are in a solar minimum (happens about every 11 years,) but the overall surface temperature of the Earth has been on a steady rise effectively since the late 19th Century. http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2007/

    And see our recent report on Greenland ice sheets shrinking even faster than predicted:
    http://www.sciencentral.com/video/2008/09/30/fa

    Global warming can cause more extremes in weather, such as unusually cold winters in one place, and extremely hot summers elsewhere, as well as more hurricanes. It may also be reducing the strength of the Gulf Stream by affecting ocean circulation, which would dramatically cool Europe. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2005/dec/

    But the global trend is warmer, and the force of that change seems to be having mostly unfavorable consequences.

  15. Eduardo Berrios says:

    October 3rd, 2008 at 4:31 pm (#)

    No había tenido la posibilidad de comentar.

    Tengo mis dudas con respecto a la metodología

  16. Outlet Mall Josh says:

    October 20th, 2008 at 1:55 am (#)

    Wow this was very interesting article. I will share it

  17. Michael Loss says:

    October 20th, 2008 at 1:57 am (#)

    I think that global warming would be huge problem

  18. Concentration exercises says:

    October 22nd, 2008 at 4:45 am (#)

    I am fearing pandemic problems might be huge in the future

  19. Adam says:

    October 22nd, 2008 at 4:18 pm (#)

    wow great thinking

  20. Mike says:

    February 26th, 2009 at 10:31 am (#)

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GLOBAL COLDING!
    THINK ABOUT THINGS YOU WRITE BEFORE YOU PRESS “SUBMIT”

  21. Mike says:

    February 26th, 2009 at 10:36 am (#)

    Even if there was, it would be global COOLING not colding.

    GRAMMATICALLY DEFICIENT PERSON!!!!!!

  22. Bear says:

    February 26th, 2009 at 2:35 pm (#)

    Heating, Driving, Melting there are few things today which actually need open flame and the release of CO2 amongst other gases.

    If only we(and not just political will, since we decide which politician gets a job) would here and now decide to use wind/water for electricity, I mean seriously, for a factory even mediocre in size can afford to erect 1 or 2 2.5-3.0MW Turbines.
    It does not even have to be “on site”.
    Heck, they could be mandatory or at least the cost of the windmill itself delivered to the state to utilise for one(of hopefully many to come) windmill parks in a -for such purpose zoned area.The only expense that factory would ever receive(power-wise) would be yearly maintenance of the turbine(s).

    Such factories should ofcourse be heavily relieved of power/pollution taxes(electricity-wise/CO2 kvote).

    There are even fairly small turbines to use for private homes, small factories, high-rise buildings, there are even certain not yet patented techniques in harvesting power via the falling waste water/rainwater in highrise buildings.

    Oh well, i guess i can keep day-dreaming about such things.
    I just really hope we wont be sitting somewhere in space celebrating with a “cupcake in a cup”.

  23. Al Fries says:

    March 23rd, 2009 at 6:25 pm (#)

    I keep one thing in mind.
    If a major city looses 99.99% there is still enough for a gene pool.
    If we lost 99.9 % we would have the population of 2000 years ago.
    There would be lots of room to archive our culture.

  24. Иван Павлюченко says:

    June 12th, 2009 at 10:12 pm (#)

    Вот это да… Куча комментариев и совсем ни одного по делу :)

  25. Militarydoc says:

    August 4th, 2009 at 7:20 pm (#)

    All the tree huggers on this post, could cut their carbon footprint, but taking their last breath. Of all the possibilities listed above, some of which have happended in the past already, and you dorks want to talk about global warming. It is clear that some of you won’t survive this life when the going gets rough. Enjoy your reusable grocery bags and water bottles, your focus is misdirected.

  26. r.jensen says:

    December 21st, 2009 at 9:45 am (#)

    so the biggest worry would then be global warming or a severe pandemic attack via our own countries stupidity or other countries tampering with things they shouldn’t have played with in the first place.

  27. joe says:

    December 21st, 2009 at 10:02 pm (#)

    i believe those are all good guesses and ansers. but i have one. the fact that due to extreme globel warming the flooding will be greater then anyone would expect and that meaning thats how the world will end. with mountain tops under water. lol

  28. phentermine says:

    December 26th, 2009 at 4:31 am (#)

    Hello.I am well into a boring sunday thanks for giving something to think about.This is a great story got me thinking,Thanks!.

  29. cometogetherplease says:

    March 7th, 2010 at 7:20 pm (#)

    No one can predict what exactly will happen, but we can prepare ourselves for an emergency situation. Something is going to happen in the near future and those who choose to ignore the warnings will ultimately pay the highest price. I hope for your sake and your families you heed this warning.

  30. Dave says:

    April 13th, 2010 at 10:00 am (#)

    Actually you all have forgoten the real reason we will all die. Obesity, yes you fat pieces of crap obesity.
    By 2030 80% of the U.S. population will be obese. Causing all kind of great problems. Think about that you fat tubs of lard.

  31. Kelly says:

    September 5th, 2010 at 3:15 pm (#)

    they forgot bout fluds around the world cuz the ice caps will melt where northern ones flud oceans raise 200 ft and greenlands 20-30 ft

  32. Danny says:

    July 7th, 2011 at 11:16 pm (#)

    I personally think that draining the earth of oil can not be good for the earth. The oil would not be in the earth if it wasn’t required by the earth to operate normally and we are running out or they wouldnt be trying to get another fuel source. Danny WHAT DO YOU ALL THINK….

  33. derp says:

    December 21st, 2011 at 3:00 pm (#)

    I’m pretty sure the comments section is to comment on the article not argue.
    anyway it was a great article.

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    February 14th, 2012 at 2:37 am (#)

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  36. Cures Riches says:

    March 16th, 2012 at 10:28 am (#)

    #1 More demented apathy idiots for the grossly evident psychopath daemonic emperor also known as Silvio Berlusconi.

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    November 1st, 2012 at 2:17 pm (#)

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    December 19th, 2012 at 5:28 pm (#)

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