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20 ways the world could end..

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Feb 2, 2003
Now many of you have probably seen this.. pretty scary.. pretty funny.. i laughed.. i cried.. whatever.
Does anyone have any alternate ways that the human race could be brought to an end?

Summarised from an article by Corey S. Powell, entitled 'Twenty ways the world could end suddenly', in Discover magazine (October 2000). Monitored for the Institute by Roger Knights.

The odds of being one of the people to witness the end of the world are highest when there is the largest number of witnesses around - at present, about one fifth of all the people who have ever lived are alive today. When it is also considered that ninety-nine percent of all species that have ever lived have become extinct, it is not so unlikely that humans could feature among the next statistics. Twenty ways in which this could possibly happen, ranging from the frighteningly likely to the frankly absurd, are detailed below.

Asteroid Impact

There is now little doubt that a comet or asteroid, or a fragment of them, will hit the Earth in the future. In 1908, a 200-foot-wide comet fragment exploded over a region of Siberia with nearly 1,000 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. More recently, comets and asteroids have passed close by the Earth, watched with trepidation by astronomers and governments alike. And if an asteroid does hit us, it will not matter where, for the force of the impact will cause firestorms, global cooling, and probable major extinctions. A ten-mile asteroid is thought to have done for the dinosaurs; without taking the problem seriously, the human race could be next.

[For a related article on this subject in the Global Ideas Bank, see 'Using lasers to deflect earth-bound asteroids']

Gamma-ray burst

Gamma-ray bursts, which are thought to be caused by the merging of two collapsed stars, could conceivablycompletely destroy the ozone layer of the Earth, and civilisation with it. With each burst being as much as ten quadrillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) times as energetic as the sun, a burst bombarding Earth would cook the atmosphere and allow ultraviolet rays to reach the surface at full force. This would not just mean an increase in skin cancer, but the extermination of photosynthetic plankton which provide oxygen to the atmosphere. The chance of a burst near us may be rare, but scientists believe that such a burst might eb completely undetectable until it starts.

[For a related article on this subject in the Global Ideas Bank, see 'Gamma-ray bursts wipe out galactic life before spacefaring evolves']

Collapse of the vacuum

According to some cosmologists, there was a false vacuum (an empty space full of energy) that existed in the very early history of the universe, which was subsequently replaced by more stable kind of vacuum. The transition between the two unleashed a massive amount of energy and caused an expansion of the cosmos. It is feasible that an even more stable vacuum might appear and take over, which would result in the laws of physics changing in a split second, and everything being blown to pieces by a massive blast of energy.

Rogue black holes

There are estimated to be about ten million black holes in the Milky Way, all of which are difficult to find, observe and track. If a black hole were to pass through our solar system, it would distort the other planets' orbits. This, in turn, could mean the Earth becoming drawn into an elliptical path that would result in massive climate swings or, more catastrophically, the Earth could even be ejected from the solar system altogether and sent hurtling in to space. The good news is that black holes orbit like other stars, so one is unlikely to be headed our way. The bad news is that we would not know if one was.

Giant solar flares

Bradley Schaefer of Yale University recently discovered that solar flares which bombard the Earth, and which the Earth's atmosphere effectively defends against, may have cousin superflares which are potentially destructive. Such a superflare, or giant solar flare, emitted by the sun could fry the Earth, resulting in the complete destruction of the ozone layer. And if Mr Schaefer is wrong, Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center forAstrophysics suggests an equally worrying opposite scenario. She has found that solar-type stars go through quiescent periods, in which they become one per cent dimmer. If the sun went through a similar period, another ice age could be upon us.

Reversal of Earth's magnetic field

The Earth's magnetic field decreases to almost nothing every few hundred thousand years, and then reappears with the north and south poles flipped. A decrease in the magnetic field could result in a decrease in the amount of particle storms, cosmic rays and subatomic particles that the field deflects on a daily basis. This would, again, erode the protective ozone layer. And if the poles were to flip, many creatures that navigate magnetically could be affected. A full magnetic reversal could cause massive ecological problems across the whole of the Earth.

Flood-basalt volcanism

Sixty-five million years ago, a huge volcanic explosion in what is now India unleashed a quarter-million cubic miles of lava;it is an eruption which some scientists believe may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. An earlier, even greater, eruption wiped out ninety-five per cent of the species living on Earth at that time. It might not be long before the planet is due another.

Global epidemic

As old diseases grow resistance to current antibiotics, and international travel allows diseases to spread much more quickly, another global epidemic might not be to far away. A new, unfamiliar strain, possibly encouraged by a generally warmer climate and our interference in ecological matters, could spread at such a rate as to defeat all preventative measures. Our worst enemies could once again prove to be the organisms with which we co-exist.

Global warming

Global warming is a well-documented problem now, but that does not lessen the potential for disaster which it brings. A warmer planet could encourage disease, possibly coupling with climate change to cause famine. Temperatures could be increased by evaporating water and carbon dioxide being driven from rocks. Meanwhile, the melting of ice caps and increase in sea levels could soon conceivably be flooding cities and washing out harvests. Some even say that a typical day on Earth could soon mirror that on Venus, with an average top temperature of 900 degrees fahrenheit.

[For related articles on this subject in the Global Ideas Bank, see 'Mediterranean climate for UK for 1000 years, then glacial'; also 'Reducing cattle flatulence to combat global warming'; also 'Buy an acre of tropical forest'; and 'The Ecologist's Declaration on Climate Change']

Ecosystem collapse

Evolution over the year has resulted in the fate of organisms on this planet becoming intertwined with one another. The overall loss of biodiversity could therefore be disastrous for Earth if it continues unabated, especially when one considers that humans are directly responsible for 30,000 species becoming extinct every year. As an example, a study of a park near Lake Superior discovered that colder snowy winters result in wolves hunting in larger packs. This leads to the wolves killing more moose. The reduction of the moose population leads, in turn, to more balsam fir trees surviving. The increase in the number of trees then results in more carbon dioxide being pulled out of the atmosphere which influences the climate. This subtle interlinking of co-existent organisms will be something that the human race continues to overlook at its own peril.

Biotech disaster

The hazardous effects of biotechnology range from the possible impact of genetically modified food on our natural ecosystems to deliberate misuse of its power. GM crops, it is thought, could engender insecticide resistance in other species, resulting in superweeds and superpests affecting our ecosystems. More frightening, pehaps, is the thought that a terrorist group or hostile nation might unleash disease upon the world. Anthrax might be controllable, but what about an airborne version of Aids or the Ebola virus?

Particle accelerator mishap

Some scientists have posited the theory that a particle accelerator experiment could set of a world-destroying chain reaction. It was recently reported in the Sunday Times that the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York could create a subatomic black hole that would gradually eat away at our planet. Or, with equally serious results, it might create 'strangelets' (bits of altered matter) that would destroy any ordinary matter they encountered. The RHIC's directors rejected these suggestions not by dismissing the fundamental possibility of such disasters, but by insisting that their machine was not big enough to cause them. Which begs the question: what if somebody builds a bigger particle accelerator?

Nanotechnology disaster

Nanotechnology is a burgeoning new field in which engineers are creating atomic-scale machines with miniaturised circuits and silicon chips. The technology could one day see robots which are capable of assembling and replicating themselves. While this could lead to robots performing surgery from inside a patient or exploring new worlds, it could also lead to a more frightening future. Eric Drexler of the Foresight Institute has suggested that if an industrial accident were to occur, then bacteria-sized machines could spread across the planet like pollen blowing in the wind. This would, says Drexler, simply "reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days."

Environmental toxins

Environmental pollution is a topic familiar to us all these days, particularly in the wake of the Bhopal and Chernobyl disasters. The sheer volume of pollutants that the human race now pumps into the air and the sea will cause problems for much longer than a few centuries. Carcinogenic diesel particulates hang in the air, while heavy metals emerge from industrial smokestacks daily. At the same time, rivers become more and more polluted by the hour. Potentially most seriously of all could be the massive increase in dioxins in the air. In sufficiently high doses, dioxins can impair foetal development and it has been suggested that they could seriously reduce fertility. If that proves to be the case, polluting our atmosphere could eventually threaten our survival.

Global war

Although the US and Russia are on relatively good terms today, the threat of war remains very real. There are now eight nuclear nations in the world, with over 20,000 active nuclear weapons, and politics change notoriously quickly. Added to that is the possibility of an accidental nuclear exchange, with current interception technology unable to prevent a significant number of missiles. Bioweapons could be an even more realistic threat, because they are cheaper, easier to produce, and simpler to conceal. This could prove attractive to hostile, no-nuclear nations wishing to wreak havoc. And as genetic engineering technology continues to progress, genetic warfare, in which particular ethnic groups are targeted, might not be far behind.

[For a related article in the Global Ideas Bank, see 'Ideas for preventing war']

Robots taking over

This may sound more like something out of a film, but serious scientists give credence to this possibility. Hans Moravec, a co-founder of the robotics department at Carnegie Mellon University, believes that by 2040 robots will match human intelligence and even human consciousness. He then foresees a 'postbiological' person evolving symbiotically, who will be a merging of human and machine. Some might say this is the next stage in evolution, but others will view it as the end of humanity itself.

Mass insanity

By 2020, it is thought that depression will be the second leading casue of death after cardiovascular disease. 500 million people around the world suffer from some sort of psychological disorder at the moment, and the number is increasing rapidly year on year. It is thought that ever-lengthening life spans could also see the number increase, as the brain is overloaded with 150 or even 200 years of problems, stresses and sensations. If that proves to be correct, depression and suicide among the elderly could well continue to increase.

Alien invasion

The great danger from extra-terrestrial visitors might not be conflict, but a wish for our resources or for Earth as part of some grand inter-stellar project. Just making contact with aliens could be disastrous as well: as the late physicist Gerald O'Neill pointed out, "Advanced western civilisation has had a destructive effect on all primitive civilisations it has come into contact with. I don't see any reason why the same thing would not happen to us."

Divine intervention

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have books containing predictions of divine intervention in which God brings history to an end and ushers in a new, more moral, order. Such apocalyptic thinking may seem far-fetched if you are a non-believer, but the doomsday cults that seem intent on fulfilling these prophecies themselves should provide enough food for thought for now.

Someone wakes up and realises it was all a dream

The possibility that we are living a shadow existence that fools us into thinking it is real has been dealt with countless times in books and films. This could also be compared to the possibility of vacuum collapse. In the same way that our empty space might not be the most stable form of the vacuum, so what we call reality might not be the truest, most stable form of the vacuum. To frame the question more poetically, one can refer to the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu who had a dream in which he was a butterfly with no awareness of his existence as a person. When he awoke, he said,"Was I before Chuang Tzu who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being Chuang Tzu?"
This is a pretty cool list sturmgewehr.

I think the scariest statement was the one near the begining: "One fifth of all the people that ever lived are alive today."
It's the volcano that's the most likely suspect. There are two "supervolcano" calderas in the USA that are potential slate-wipers. The one in Yellowstone could bury all of the US under 2 feet of boiling-hot ash, and create massive global climactic upheaval.

Unlike asteroids, this one's already here. Why worry about being shot when you're chained to a grenade and the pin's out?
Originally posted by Kafka2
The one in Yellowstone could bury all of the US under 2 feet of boiling-hot ash, and create massive global climactic upheaval.
And how might this volcano be activated? ...You know, just out of curosity.
Originally posted by Kafka2
Why worry about being shot when you're chained to a grenade and the pin's out?
They might shoot you in an "uncomfortable" place.
I once read a book by Isaac Asimov that listed every conceivable way earth (or life on earth) could be destroyed. Even though each possibility was quite remote, it still depressed me!
If no listed (or other) thing happens within the next couple of 10^9 years or so, the collapse of the sun will surely be earth's fate.
I think that aliens are actually the ones who directed hale-bopp at the earth. Perhaps they just missed it?
I'm surprised that Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space theory, zombies rising from the grave and killing everyone, wasn't mentioned.
A gamma ray burst is the only real way to wipe us out, I'm certain. It would be like a nuclear blast in every spot on earth. Asteroid impacts would be too unlikely, and probably not strong enough to kill off enough humans to wipe out the species, just maybe civilization for a while. ;)

The partical accelerator black hole might be theoretically possible, but not too likely. Same with the vacuum collapse. The magnetic change happens once every 20,000 years or so, right? I don't think that would wipe us all out.

Also, that 1/5 people that have ever lived are alive today has to be wrong. There have been more than 30 billion people in all of history, certainly. I wouldn't take all of that too seriously.

I think God destroying us all is the only likely way.
I heard someware (don't remember where so don't quote me) that there are now more people alive today than have ever died! (depends on what you call a human of course) May not be true but the increace in world population in the last few centurys has been absolutely incredble.
During the 1st Persian gulf war, a large asteroid detonated about 50 km over the pacific, a blast that could easily have been mistaken for a nuclear bomb. Had that happened over the middle east, then the world might have engaged in nuclear war. :(

BTW, I have posted a thread like this here.
I noticed that you didn't say anything about Starvation, There are so many poeple in the world ,7 billion, and I hear that a lot of fish are disipearing along with other animals. Starvation i think is the biggest way that the human race could die.

I heard from a book that there is anoff nuclulare weapons to destroy the world FIVE TIMES OVER. (I think once is anoff) One missle today has more firepower than all the bombs dropped in World War II ,Inclueding the ones dropped on Herusioma and Nagisaki. Both Pakistan and India have nuclular weapons.

Me I think one of the must probable ones is the medorite, Becuese it is not like trying to hit a ball at a trunck of a tree from 300 metters away. It is like hurling 100 magnets at a giants magnet 50 metters away. (because of gravity)

For nano tech i only heard about them geting artifacail intel and killing use deretly. Not running you of oxygin, i think yours is a lot mote tysable.

I agree with someone else, I think another better than , a black hole being made in a super collider, Is your sun exploding, Amagine a star more than million times biger than earth exploding, If it doesn't kill use at first in would send use into another star, of suck us in because it was a black hole. Or because of the extreme heat destroying part of your atmoscire.
aaand for long term exects
1. No more sun, no more heat it would be colder than pluto
2. no more sun to more light, all our plants would die than our plant eaters would die ect.
3. no more sun no more electisity from the sun.
and there is a lot more

No one read all of this did the, I wasted 30 minetes of my live and i want it back!! ( I sould put that in my signater shouldn't I??)

Don't you think your signature is a bit long, expecially for one that contains a myriad of spelling errors?
Originally posted by Ben II
I heard from a book that there is anoff nuclulare weapons to destroy the world FIVE TIMES OVER. (I think once is anoff) One missle today has more firepower than all the bombs dropped in World War II ,Inclueding the ones dropped on Herusioma and Nagisaki. Both Pakistan and India have nuclular weapons.

nuclear armnament:
us: ~10000 warheads
russia: ~10000 warheads
france: ~200
uk: ~150
china: ~400
israel: no statement (estimated 50)
india: ~20
pakistan: ~15
iran:? (estimated (realistically!): 0 )
north korea: 2?

so dont panic.
...and if u panic try to enforce some un-resolutions against the us and russia :D

Originally posted by Ben II
Me I think one of the must probable ones is the medorite, Becuese it is not like trying to hit a ball at a trunck of a tree from 300 metters away. It is like hurling 100 magnets at a giants magnet 50 metters away. (because of gravity)
( I sould put that in my signater shouldn't I??)

i doubt you got the right relations of space and time in the galaxy...
i believe we will destroy ourselves with our own stupidicy (and not very spectecular at all).
becoming all infertile by a new generation of cell phones - that kind of stuff.
Nano-tec, only consider te amounts of errors in todays comp-progs, and the spreed ov virus. Now have machins spred into the wilde and sundelny the only thing left of earth will be a big MS logo
Ben 2: No, it is more like aiming a laser pointer to the moon and trying to hit Buzz Aldrin's helmet (assuming that it was a very fine laser). The gravity would probably not be enough to capture any meteorite. But over time there may be one that may just come to exactly the right place and time to hit the Earth. And also, the asteroids arent exactly aiming for Earth.

And suns dont just explode. In fact, our Sun wont explode, because it isnt big enough. It will simply swell and get bigger and a lot of its atmosphere will escape. It would fill half of the sky, and the crust would melt. But this wont happen for another 4 billion years. If it did explode, we'd actually overheat. The sun could never make a black hole because of its size. And what about the electricity statement? If the sun goes out, i think that we'd have other concerns. If you meant the sun supplying elecricity directly, well the sun doesnt send a large enough stream of electrons out into space so that we could use it. ANd if youre talking about solar wind and radiation, I think that thats more of a problem for us.

I think there's more firepower in our nuclear arsenal to destroy the world a lot more times than you said.

If for some reason there wasnt enough food to go around, we would grow genetically altered crops. And if that still wasnt enough, then people would die, and nature's checks and balances would set in. But the population would eventually come down enough, there to be enough food for everybody. ANd if there was a problem wit hthe food supply, like I said, we would have genetically altered crops (though they wouldnt be enogh to feed anybody, peopel would die).

The chance of a black hole destroying us is so minutely small (like 1 in a billion trillion), that we dont have to worry about it.
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