We’ve seen sci-fi movies and Discovery documentaries, read articles in serious scientific journals, and controversial posts on not so serious internet sites about the pending threats over humanity. Some of them we are already pretty bored to be hearing about – the ozone layer depletion, or a potential nuclear war. Plus, some nutcases, and obviously zealous Matrix fans, are trying to convince us that we actually live in a simulation which is about to get shut down very soon. And if it WERE true, how the heck do you prepare for such an ending?!
In any case, you don’t start a food and fresh water storage plan. However, most of the challenges and threats humanity will be facing in the coming decades or, hopefully, centuries, are very much real. Because of the sense of fatalism and powerlessness they bear, most of those risks remain understudied and underestimated. Ordinary people, futurologists, and self-proclaimed mystics have been talking about approaching apocalypses for more than two millennia, but nobody has really tried to prevent them from happening.
If you love a good disaster plot and are fascinated by a potential civilization-terminating cataclysm, you are at the right place. We present you with 15 possible scenarios which can lead to the extinction of humankind.
15 We're Overdue For A Super-Volcanic Eruption
We don’t want to scare the travel enthusiasts, but next time you visit the Yellowstone National Park, keep in mind that there is a super-volcano there, which could alter the global climate for good if it erupted. The bad news is that there is nothing really that can be done if this happens. There are several super-volcanos around the globe which are capable of causing damage of gigantic proportions. If any of those erupted, an area the size of North America would be destroyed, and the global climate would deteriorate for the following few years. This, of course, would affect fatally the agriculture worldwide, which would lead to food supply shortage, and eventually mass starvation. And if you think this is a highly implausible scenario, check this out: The Yellowstone volcano erupts every 600,000 years. And it’s been about 620,000 years since it last blew. You do the math!
14 Gerontocracy & The World When People Live Way Past 100
Political systems come and go, some are beneficial to the population, some – devastating. The rapid technological and social innovations are setting a trend that is expected to continue also in the way the governments will be run in the future. Hundreds of years from now, the life expectancy will have risen so high, that at the age of 90 a person will be considered still in his prime. One of the consequences of artificial life extension (organ replacement, molecular repair, gene therapy, etc.) will enable humans to have an indefinite lifespan. The aged will be more and more reluctant to let go of their wealth and power. This will eventually present a possibility for the gradual introduction of gerontocracy. This possibility has already been addressed in the 1967 novel Logan’s Run. In the story, in order to prevent the influence of the elderly, everybody who is over 21 is executed.
13 Machines That Are Smarter Than Humans
The ultimate aim of AI engineers has always been to create machines which will demonstrate behavior and intelligence as close as possible to that of a human. The race in this scientific sector has led to the appearance of prototypes with self-reasoning potential. This is exactly what most of the common-sense scientists fear! What they see is a plausible future where super-intelligence (i.e. intelligence that exceeds the cognitive capacity of humans), brings about a technological revolution, after which human minds merge with AI to live (forever?) either in android bodies or as computer simulations. Inventor Elon Musk, who is also co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, believes that artificial intelligence is the greatest existential threat to the human race, because humans, being so limited in their biological evolution, couldn’t be able at some point to further compete with the super-machines.
Scary, right? And it is not a plot of an upcoming sequel of the Avatar franchise.
12 The Sun Can Be A Source Of Life... And Death
No matter how advanced NASA technology is, it’s impossible to predict when our Sun will go nuts. And it will... eventually. What will happen is that it will let loose a solar flame that will instantly turn every living thing on the Earth into ashes. And this could happen any day now, really. But even if not everyone is turned into a roasted piece of meat, the effect would still be devastating. The opposite scenario, i.e. if the Sun froze and turned into an ice ball, would also have cataclysmic consequences. If the primary source of light and energy shuts down, humankind won’t be able to survive long, even if it tries to maintain its life with artificial lighting. Sooner or later, batteries wear off.
The moral of the story is this: Wear your new clothes, make love, enjoy life, because tomorrow can be Judgement Day. Literally.
11 The Earth Is Due For A Flip In Magnetic Poles
You may not remember reading it in your geography textbooks, so let us refresh your memory. Every few hundred thousand years, the Earth’s magnetic field is reduced to almost zero, but then gradually, over the period of one hundred years or so, re-appears again with the north and south poles reversed. The last magnetic flip was 780,000 years ago, and it doesn’t take a math genius to calculate that the next one is far overdue. Current research shows that the magnetic field is weakening ten times faster now, and the next reversal is probably going to happen within the next hundred years. When this happens, the magnetic field will redirect rays from the sun and particles from deep space. Without the presence of magnetic shield, these will strike the earth’s atmosphere and eat into the ozone layer. The aftermath is going to be pretty messy.
Something can be very small, invisible actually, and yet, very harmful. Even deadly. Like biotechnology, nanotechnology, which manipulates matter on a supramolecular scale, is not in itself dangerous. The problem is that with its increasing power the potential of misusing it is also becoming eminent. If you’re wondering where the threat is coming from, let us paint the picture for you. An atomically precise manufacturing is just ideal for cheap manufacturing of different things. Things like… weapons, for example. And don’t think Kalashnikov machine guns! Weapons nowadays can be miniature and equally destructive. This is where nanotechnology confidently steps in. It provides ways of placing dangerous “toys”, such as climate change and nuclear production, into the hands of anyone who wants to play with them. It can also provide the means for upgrading the surveillance systems to the level of keeping the citizens entirely obedient and easily manipulated.
9 Genetically Modified Humans
If you’re thinking the plus-perfect, genetically engineered character of Jude Law in the sci-fi movie Gattaca (1997), and consider this achievable in the not-too-distant future, then you’re probably… right. However, things AGAIN may not come out the way they were intended to be. Not long ago a private biotech company announced that humans with genetically modified DNA could exist just within two years. Of course, the intention here is completely philanthropic as, at this company, they’ve been trying to “edit” the DNA of patients with a rare blinding disorder. But this could be just the first step to something monstrous. Apart from the moral issues, the possibility of genetically manipulating unborn children’s genes may lead to a catastrophe on a larger, international level. Just imagine what might happen if every country launched its own program for improving the genetic standard of its population. In a world which presently can hardly manage forces of ethnocentrism and nationalism, a high-tech eugenic competition will be yet another thing for humanity to worry about.
8 How Massive An Asteroid Can Humans Handle?
If you ask any NASA specialist what there is to be done if a large asteroid headed for, let’s say, New York, the only answer you will get is “Pray!” The possibility of an asteroid hitting our planet has been featured in more than one or two movies – Deep Impact (1998), Armageddon (1998), Melancholia (2011), etc. If this happens for real though, then we are pretty much screwed. If a considerably small asteroid, say, as big as a 25-storey building, hit the earth, the amount of energy it would generate would be equal to the largest nuclear bombs made today – up to 50 megatons. An asteroid that big would completely flatten most big cities in USA. If, however, an asteroid of decently big proportions, say a mile in diameter, hit the planet, it would have the energy of a one million megaton bomb. In that scenario, it would be a bad, bad day for humankind, because the asteroid would likely wipe out life on the planet.
No happy ending in this movie. Sorry, folks.
7 Black Holes Can Swallow Us Up Or Spit Us Into Oblivion
As you can guess, an up close and personal encounter with a black hole bodes nothing good for us. Scientists from Durham University have recently discovered five supermassive black holes which could come closer to our planet sooner than anticipated. The gravity of those black holes, which are billions of times the size of the sun, will be so strong that they’ll literally swallow everything that’s in their way – be it planets, moons, or even light. Even if we are not gobbled up, only by passing nearby, a black hole can eject us from the Solar system and send us into deep space. And deep space is not an especially cozy place to be. That’s the bad news. But the even worse news is that there might be many more than just those five black holes that have been detected so far…
6 If Aliens Make Contact, It Won't Be To Make New Friends
This one is our favorite, of course. What are the odds that, in the billions of galaxies out there, we are the only intelligent beings? Zero, right? So, it’s really just a matter of time that the aliens officially pay us a visit— if they haven't already. When this happens, what should we expect? Probably the most famous theoretical physician in the world, Stephen Hawking, thinks that if aliens ever visit us, firstly, they would be much more intellectually superior than us, and secondly, the purpose of their visit would probably be to replenish their exhausted resources. This would make them play the role of the first conquistadors, which, as history teaches us, didn’t turn out quite well for the Native Americans. Other futurists go even further, presenting us with a cataclysmic picture, in which the extraterrestrials rob us of some of our natural resources (the water from the oceans, for example), or bring with them some bug which feeds on human flesh, or messes with our planet or our solar system so badly that it gives us no chance of survival. We won’t even be given a chance to say, “E.T., just GO HOME, man!”
5 Humans Will Eventually Be The Only Living Things Left On Earth
If you think it’s another sci-fi movie plot, you are so wrong! According to the WWF’s Living Planet Report of 2014, between 1970 and 2010, more than half of all Earth’s mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles have disappeared in contrast to the human population, which has doubled – from 3.7 to nearly 7 billion! This speaks clearly of the fact that Homo Sapiens ARE the most aggressive species ever. The gradual biodiversity loss will eventually lead to our planet to become unable to support our life. As the Earth is a finite planet, at some point, we will inevitably hit our limits. And the prognosis is grim – by 2050 the world will add another 2.4 billion people. How this population is going to be fed is a total mystery. By clearing forests and transforming the natural landscape for making place for new settlements, and by polluting the air and the water basins, we are definitely not doing ourselves a favor. So, dear fellow earthlings, welcome to a future when humans will be seen as a plague which is literally killing not only everything living, but also themselves.
4 Diseases That We Created
We know from history books that natural pandemics have killed more people around the world than the most atrocious wars. Nowadays, however, natural pandemics are no longer an existential threat because more people have become resistant to the pathogens, thus making them less dangerous killers than they used to be. Unfortunately, humans can be even more dangerous killers than some deadly virus, and through the past decades they have learned how to make diseases even more horrible than they already are naturally.
Just one example: Scientists have worked real hard to boost the contagiousness of the bird flu. Truth be told, when governments ask for a certain bioweapon to be developed, they look for something that is controllable, because wiping out humanity completely from the face of the earth is useless from a military point of view. But history and experience have taught us that sometimes things can get out of control. And when they do… so help us God!
3 Extreme Climate Change
Despite what you’ve been told, you are not doing much for saving the ozone layer from depletion only by not using deodorant sprays!
Some experts tell us not to panic because, yes, climate change will end life on earth eventually, but it won’t happen for the next 3.5 billion years. While others— the more pessimistically disposed experts— believe that mankind will become extinct in only one hundred years due to the same reason.
Back in 2015, Energy Agency warned that if short-term emissions of CO2 and N2O are not cut down soon, by 2030 the average temperature on earth will rise by 2.6C. This will cause sea levels to rise by more than one meter, thus displacing millions of people from their settlements. And if the temperature continues to rise, what humankind can expect to be served on its plate is drought, food shortage, famine, and, of course, death as a savory desert.
There are two options here: either some people are bigger drama queens than desired, or we are indeed in very deep sh*t. The latter, unfortunately, seems to be the case.
2 Genetically Modified Foods
Eighteen years have passed since the first genetically modified food, the Flavr Savr tomato, appeared on the market. And many, many more have followed. Genetic modification refers to DNA manipulation by humans with the purpose of changing the essential characteristics of plants and animals. In a nutshell, what this technology does is to insert genetic material from one species into another in order to give the latter a certain quality it lacks. A rising number of the population on earth is becoming aware of the threat consuming GMO food presents, but very few know what exactly is going on.
The scariest consequence of consuming such food is linked to the fact that DNA from genetically modified crops can be actually transferred into humans who consume them. It doesn’t necessarily mean that DNA from blueberries will make your skin bluish, but who knows what effect DNA from a species incompatible to humans might do to our organisms! What is more, some studies show that tumors in rats grow more often and very aggressively when they’ve been fed GMOs.
A juicy, medium-done beef steak, anyone?
1 What Happens When Computers Go Down?
If the Internet collapsed, the fact that you wouldn’t be able to log onto your Twitter account would be the least problem you’d have. For starters, the economic impact of one such occurrence would be disastrous. No matter if the collapse is only temporary or permanent, many companies would instantly go out of business, and hundreds of thousands of people would be out of a job. Multiple industries would go into recession, and there would be no way to recover from the loss of trillions of dollars.
Another problem the world leaders would have to face would be the threat to national security. An internet collapse would be a massive blow to intelligence agencies. It’s hard to predict how each government would react, but it’s easy to imagine the proportions of the escalating conflicts all over the world. These might eventually lead to one global military conflict, and this already sounds like a really, really bad end-of-the-world scenario.
Sources: thebulletin.org, theconversation.com, worldwildlife.org, livescience.com, mirror.co.uk
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