It is election day in the United States, which many believe is the beginning of the end – no matter the outcome. Listed below are some potential apocalypse scenarios that could happen. This is a scary possibility but depending on today’s result’s some may see it as liberating.
Filmmakers, authors, and media have widely speculated about how human life on Earth will end. Now scientists have come up with the first serious assessment, presenting possible causes of the Apocalypse.
The idea of the study is not quite new. However, due to its treatment in popular culture, the possibility of the world’s infinite end provokes relatively little political or academic interest, making a serious discussion harder, according to researchers.
“We were surprised to find that no one else had compiled a list of global risks with impacts that, for all practical purposes, can be called infinite,” said co-author Dennis Pamlin of the Global Challenges Foundation. “We don’t want to be accused of scaremongering but we want to get policy makers talking.”
Below is the list of threats, ranked from least to most probable.
If an asteroid about five kilometers in size were to collide with our planet, the main destruction would be from clouds of dust projected into the upper atmosphere – which would affect climate change and food supplies, and cause political instability. Larger sized objects could cause immediate extinction on the planet. Large asteroid collisions happen about once every 20 million years, the report says. Probability: 0.00013%
A volcano capable of causing an eruption with an ejecta volume greater than 1,000 km3 could cause a global catastrophe. The dust projected into the atmosphere would absorb the Sun’s rays and cause global freezing. The effects of possible eruptions can be compared to those of a nuclear war, only without the firestorms. Probability: 0.00003%
A high impact epidemic is more probable than is widely believed, as all the features of an extremely devastating disease already exist in nature, the report says, giving examples of several devastating illnesses including Ebola, rabies, an infectious cold, and HIV. If all were combined, “the death toll would be extreme.” Probability: 0.0001%
The possibility of a deliberate or accidental nuclear conflict in the next century or so is estimated at 10%. The larger impact would depend on whether the conflict would trigger a “nuclear winter” – a climatic effect that would plunge temperatures below freezing, destroy most of the ozone layer, and start firestorms, which would likely lead to mass starvation and state collapse. Probability: 0.005%
Extreme climate change
The report warns that climate change could be more extreme than some estimates suggest. The world’s poorest countries could become completely uninhabitable. Climate change could lead to mass deaths, famines, social collapse, and mass migration. Probability: 0.01%
The most damaging impact from synthetic biology to human civilization would come from an engineered pathogen targeting humans or a crucial component of the ecosystem, the report states. Such would emerge from military or commercial bio-warfare, bio-terrorism, or leaked pathogens. Probability: 0.01%
Atomically precise manufacturing would create smart or extremely resilient materials, and allow many different groups to manufacture a wide range of things – including large arsenals of novel weapons, such as nuclear ones. Probability: 0.01%
These are all the unknowns that could lead to the end of the world, scientists say, urging for extensive research into the matter. “One resolution to the Fermi paradox – the apparent absence of alien life in the galaxy – is that intelligent life destroys itself before beginning to expand into the galaxy.” Probability: 0.1%
There are also a few potential causes of the Apocalypse which have not had a probability assessed to them.
The most obvious way that a radiation disaster might wipe out humanity is, of course, from an atomic war. And that’s still not out of the question — the people who aren’t killed by fire and radiation sickness might die from famine during the nuclear winter that will follow. But cheer up! We might not be the authors of our own demise. We could die from a nearby gamma ray burst, or a blast of highly energetic, radioactive particles streaming out of an exploding star. It would just fry off Earth’s atmosphere, and us along with it. You never know when one of these will strike next, so enjoy living the rest of your life knowing that a gamma ray burst could destroy the world at any time. Probabilty: N/A
Humans love to move life forms around the planet — we brought kudzu and plague to the Americas, and brought tomatoes and corn to Europe. We also moved rats and ants all over the world in ocean vessels. And that’s just the beginning. The problem is that sometimes these transplanted organisms become invasive species. With no natural predators, they take over every last habitat, eating everything in their paths — or covering everything in a thick blanket of vines (I’m still looking at you, kudzu). Eventually this can cause catastrophic collapse of food webs, or the delicate balance of predator and prey. Plants and animals we depend on for food may no longer be able to grow in environments with invasive species. Cue the food riots and famine and long, slow death of Homo sapiens. Given that we’re an invasive species ourselves, this might be a fitting way to go. Probabilty: N/A
In this scenario, the ecosystem would suffer a drastic change that would lead to mass extinction. Species extinction is now far faster than the historic rate, and attempts to quantify a safe ecological operating space place humanity well outside it. Probability: N/A
Global system collapse
The world economic and political systems are interconnected, and are prone to system-wide failures caused by the structure of the network. Economic collapse is usually accompanied by social chaos, civil unrest, and a breakdown of law and order. Probability: N/A
Future bad governance
A disaster could be caused by failing to solve major problems; for example, a failure to alleviate global poverty, or actively causing worse outcomes – like constructing a global totalitarian state. Probability: N/A
The creation of human-level intelligence can result in the possibility that this intelligence will be driven to construct a world without humans. There is also a possibility of artificial intelligence waging war or creating “whole brain emulations” that would give machines human minds.
On the other hand, the report also says it is probable that such intelligence could counter other apocalyptic causes presented in the study. Probability: 0-10%