The pending apocalypse

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 16:04

In ‘The Paradox War’ Trilogy I write a future where humanity destroys the bio-sphere of Earth and almost eradicates Homo Sapiens from existence. There are lots of potential apocalypses awaiting mankind, some have turned up in the past, wiping out civilizations and there’s a lot of evidence of previous extinction level events on planet Earth. Here’s my top ten Pending Apocalypses rated for likelihood of occurring, potential lethality and how soon this destruction is. I’m ignoring the ridiculous examples, such as Galactic Harmonic Alignment (where death-rays from the Supermassive blackhole at the centre of our galaxy destroy us on December 21st 2012) because they are too silly, but that still leaves a few ways we can go.

Asteroids impacting just out of sight

Big rocks make big booms!

Apocalypse #10: Asteroid strike. Famous for wiping out the Dinosaurs (at least all the ones that hadn’t already evolved into birds or already died out as they were already in decline toward the end). Whilst Asteroid strikes happen, and another one is almost inevitable, they range in Lethality from very minor events to almost complete destruction, that said no Asteroid strike is really likely to kill everything on Earth, How soon? No one can call this one, when they come they come dark and quick, usually.

Keep Calm and Double-Tap the head

Keep Calm and Double Tap The Head

Apocalypse #9: Z-Day. The Zombie Apocalypse, unless scientists are very, very wrong about almost everything, this one is unlikely to ever happen. The dead certainly aren’t likely to climb from the grave soon. However variants on the Z-Day include a number of “Zombie” pathogens where a virus, bacterium or fungus causes a profound change in behaviour in the ‘infected’ which while unlikely are not impossible. Potentially it is possible for a 100% deadly virus to evolve, however in reality it has never happened, even the most dangerous Human viruses only infect and kill about 90% of people. Still you wouldn’t want to be in the immune 10% if 90% of the population are chasing you for cannibal purposes. This one is really unlikely, impossible to determine lethality without data and unlikely to evolve soon.

super-volcano example eruption

Super-volcanoes, big badda-boom!

Apocalypse #8: Super-Volcano. As deadly as an Asteroid strike, but probably slightly more predictable, this enormous eruption throws so much dust up into the atmosphere that we enter a nuclear winter so great that a new Ice Age starts. Oh, by the way, some folks believe we’re actually overdue one of these bad boys. Truth be told Super Volcanoes may have had much to do with killing those Dinosaurs off, certainly the lava flows would have been putting a lot of environmental strain on the system before the Asteroid. While Seismologists are undecided on how likely Super-Volcanoes are, none are claiming we should be building bunkers just yet.

Nuclear Fireball

Just your standard nuclear conflagration

Apocalypse #7: Nuclear War. When I was growing up this was the fear you just lived with, at any moment a man, who had never met you, could sign an order, turn a key, push a button and the world would end. The world still has more than enough nuclear weapons to end it all in less time than it would take most people to get to safety. Luckily it’s politically unlikely at the moment that any one power would trigger a Nuclear Holocaust, meaning that most of us would probably survive unless directly targeted.

Apocalypse #6: Bio-warfare. This is the worst case scenario for the Zombie Apocalypse almost automatically. Multiple Bio-Weapons released simultaneously on an unsuspecting population could completely eradicate over 90% of the population (but probably not everyone). Engineered viruses don’t have the evolutionary mechanisms to stop them from killing their hosts quickly and horribly, and the chances of being immune to two or three pathogens is very low. Luckily development of such weapons is pretty much banned now. So this couldn’t happen at all, right?

Apocalypse #5: Nano-warfare. In the future we develop a self-replicating nano-robot, and it proceeds to eat the world. There is almost no chance of this happening, I mean, who would deliberately invent a self-replicating machine? It would be suicide… Still accidents do happen.

Apocalypse #4: Earth Shift. This is the one where the crust, that nice solid skin the earth has, suddenly decides to shift and slide over the liquid centre of the Earth with cataclysmic results. There is some evidence that this sort of event can occur, but most scientists choose to interpret the idea in less catastrophic ways magnetic pole reversals, ice ages, continental drift. Worryingly though there is good evidence that if the shifts are real they occur quite regularly and we are overdue one. Not likely, very lethal to large animals, overdue.

Supernova viewed from Earth

Say two suns? Nope one sun one supernova…

Apocalypse #3: Nearby Supernova. This one is a real worst case scenario. A nearby sun explodes and produces a Gamma ray burst that strips the Ozone from our atmosphere and leaves all animal, plant and even the sea-life exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Luckily enough some slime and deep vent creatures will certainly survive, but as much as 80% of the biomass of the planet could die in this one. According to scientists these things tend to occur about once every 100,000 years or so close enough for them to have any effect on Earth, and one happened sometime around 1000AD so we should be alright for a while yet.

Apocalypse #2: Global Weirding. As the world gets hotter, due to a combination of warming gases, albedo darkening and radiation, we won’t just see rising temperatures. Higher energy levels in the atmosphere and ocean will mean increasingly common and ferocious extreme weather. Now while we have plants and animals that have adapted to some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, these very adaptations often make them unlikely to survive sudden changes in environmental conditions, this is summarised best as desert animals don’t swim well. Extreme winds will tear down trees, and plants, extreme heat and drought will bring wild fires, floods and sea-level rise will drown fertile regions, in short it gets bad fast.

Poisoned oceans

There will be no swimming even for the fish if this continues

Apocalypse #1: Environmental Poisoning. This is probably the worst and creepiest of all. We have already released plastics into the environment that are being integrated into the food chain. Plastics generally float, and exposed to salt-ions, water and the sun they begin to decompose, individual strands and fibres of polymer and long-chain toxins peel off into the water, where they are ingested by the sea-life. The ingested plastics do not decompose further and are not digested, but instead continue leak toxins directly into the creatures bloodstream. These toxins, as well as just poisoning the creature, can also interfere with hormone receptor and production sites, which is just wrong and carcinogenic to boot. Now bear in mind that 6% of fish caught have plastic debris in them already, and these numbers are growing. So anything that eats these fish whole is also going to be poisoned by them, and don’t forget the chemicals that we’re really worried about are already present in the flesh. Don’t forget that the plastics are not the only thing we allow to fall in the sea. Nitrates from fertilizers wash into the oceans, causing huge algal blooms which starve fish of dissolved oxygen, heavy metals are still slipping from mining and ships into the water, and floods carry who knows what into the waters. You may think, aha I live on land and never eat fish, so I’ll be alright, but you’d be wrong, most of the oxygen you breath, that came from the oceans. Kill the oceans and you’re going to run out of breathable oxygen pretty quickly. This one is almost inevitable, life may find a way to survive, but big animals like human beings are probably doomed and could be already happening.

Cheerful thought isn’t it.