Apocalyptic fear has always been pervasive in films, books and even the popular media. But after all that panic over the 'millennium bug' in 2000 and the end of the world in 2012, we've coasted into 2014 without any major catastrophe befalling us and so far the headlines on impending doom are thin on the ground. But does that mean we’re safe? Does it mean that we, humanity, will live to see 2020? 2050?
Sir Martin Reese, a former president of the British Royal Society and the Queen’s current Astronomer Royal, is of the opinion that there is a 50% chance that humanity will cease to exist by the end of the century. While the hysteria of 21st December 2012 was based on superstition and myth, it's true that several scientists and environmental experts believe that humanity is facing some grave threats that may push us over the brink into endangerment or extinction like so many of our fellow mammals – or at least into a time of gigantic change and upheaval.
According to some experts, earth can only provide food for 10 billion people at most, And and only if the entire world decided to turn vegetarian! There simply isn't enough fresh water in the world to produce crop to sustain more than 10 billion people, let alone enough meat. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. We’ve compiled information on 5 of the biggest known threats humanity is facing. Scary stuff, but we'll try to find some silver linings. Keep calm and carry on...
5 Nuclear Weapons
War is still a daily reality today, even among largely “civilized” societies. Powerful countries harbour ancient expansionist tendencies, as is evident in the major portion of GDP the world's most powerful countries spend on military manpower and weapons - including weapons of mass destruction. Instead of investing in food, education and other welfare policies, every year hundreds of billions of dollars are absorbed into the maintenance of armies and the upgrading of arsenals.
Today, an estimated about 17, 300 nuclear weapons exist. Most of them are in the hands of Russia (8, 500) and the United States (7, 700), but even a hundred nuclear weapons are enough to decimate a medium-sized country. If any of the 9 countries that currently have nuclear weapons decide to engage in war, hundreds of millions of people could die as a direct result and later from radiation poisoning and cancers. Because we live in an interconnected world, a nuclear war would be the end of us all.
4 Poverty and World Hunger
Millions of people are dying from hunger. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, an estimated 870 million people of the 7.2 billion people living in the world are suffering from chronic undernourishment. This means that one in every 8 men, women and children does not get enough food to eat everyday. Most of these undernourished people live in the developing countries, but about 16 million live in the developed world.
The good news is that the level of world hunger is going down. According to estimates, there has been a large drop in undernourished people over the decades. An estimated 30 percent drop in the number of hungry people has been witnessed in the Asia and Pacific region in recent years. The bad news is that progress is slowing - and the population keeps expanding. It’s estimated that nearly one in four people in Africa are hungry, and the percentage of hungry people is going up by 2% per year there.
Few people would confidently say that they have 'enough' money, but people in the developing world have less than most. An estimated 1.2 billion people in the world are too poor to be able to afford basic necessities. Many of them make only enough to be able to survive to see another day. Access to education is a distant dream for many- which leads to a vicious cycle of poverty for proceeding generations.
3 Decline of Natural Resources
While our natural resources are depleting at a terrifying rate, our population is rapidly expanding - a dangerous ratio, and one that could lead to the collapse of our species. The current standard of living enjoyed by people living in the developed countries, and increasingly in third world countries, is unsustainable for a large population. In the developed world, our lifestyles are currently reliant on precious resources that are ever rarer. In the developing world, resources we may take for granted are inaccessible and they are being further strained by an increasing population.
Experts estimate that that about one out of every three people in the developing world have no access to clean drinking water, three out of every five people don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities and one out of every four don’t have shelter. As the population continues to grow, more and more people will struggle to access these basic resources.
It seems, though, that the population growth may just be slowing down. Experts estimate that our population may stabilize at around 10 billion by the year 2100. In fact, many believe that we will achieve zero population growth around the year 2050. This is mostly because of falling fertility rates, as families become smaller. A drop in fertility levels means a proportional increase in prosperity- the money and resources that would go towards sustaining another life instead can go towards food, shelter, healthcare and education.
2 An Economic Collapse
The world economy suffered a major blow in the year 2008, but it has - to some extent - stabilized since then. The Global Economic Crisis showed us how interdependent we are internationally. A hiccup in the U.S. can have rippled effects in banks the world over, or a blip in supply from China could derail production in industries in the US.
Some believe that the financial downturn of 2008 was a precursor to a bigger crisis looming in the future. In the most basic terms, the problem is that the amount of debt in the world has outstripped the amount of wealth being generated. As the debt keeps mounting, the financial systems will come under increasing pressure and - one day -collapse entirely.
A collapse in the global economy would mean a collapse in infrastructure- which could well spell the end of life as we know it.
1 Climate Change
Probably the most pressing threat to our planet, and the life in it, is climate change. In our thirst for resources, we are denuding thousands of acres of forest, emptying hundreds of millions of barrels of oil and gas and consuming terawatts of electric power each year. This has a plethora of adverse effects on the climate - causing the phenomenon known as global warming.
The consensus among most scientists and environmentalists the world over is that global warming is causing crop failures, an increase in temperatures all over the world, flooding of coastal areas, melting of glaciers... Those are just a few of the highly dangerous - and often self-exacerbating - side effects. Experts believe a fundamental restructuring of our civilization is the only thing that will stop this phenomenon.
Will humanity survive? It could, in some form. But will civilization survive if we continue living as we are? The experts agree that it's unlikely. The human race needs to start making sustainable lifestyle choices, so life is worth living for everyone. If this report tells us anything, it's that we are self-destructing: humanity is, in fact, the biggest threat to humanity.