Since my upcoming début novel release (a post-apocalyptic horror story, The Darkening, if you’re new here – welcome aboard, by the way) is only a few months away, I figured I might give you my personal and small list of possible doomsday scenarios. These include both civilisation collapse scenarios as well as end-of-human-species scenarios. The order is arbitrary. I don’t think anyone can argue that scenario 7 is much better and preferable than scenario 2. I’m not saying you couldn’t, just that you’d get some raised eyebrows, and you’d probably notice people getting away from you (hint: they’d be avoiding you).
Just so we’re clear, the following express personal views, peppered with a tiny touch of humour (to lighten the doomsday mood a little). Most of it, if not all, is speculation, and in some cases, fiction.
10. Man-made virus going wild
A lot has been said about research labs creating (others would use the word toying) new virus strands. Even though these labs have strict rules for the pathogens they handle, one can only argue that their safety measures are as strong and sound as the minds who one day said, “hey, I’m curious! Let’s create a new virus the world has never seen before and has no defence against.”
And since in order to create a vaccine one first needs to use inactive or attenuated (weakened) viruses, it pretty much implies (for the uneducated in biology, like me) that you first create the killer virus, then you get the treatment. Am I right to assume that? Probably. So what if something happens between the two steps? Bioterrorism? Accident? All of these can happen. Now, considering how easy it is for people to travel around the world these days, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if this thing spreads. Take into account that a great deal of the world’s population lives in cities, which means a large portion of human population is packed into a very small space and you have a potential recipe for bad news. And don’t get me started on the possibility of a virus mutating into something new.
9. Vaccine to man-made virus
Let’s assume the previous scenario. A synthetic virus goes free. People die. Perhaps the virus mutates, and livestock dies too, threatening food supplies. Riots begin. Scientists hurry to make a vaccine. No time to run all the necessary tests to humans to ensure the vaccine’s safe. After all, it takes years of testing before a drug gets approval for humans. I’m not a biologist/biochemist, but I imagine vaccines follow the same procedure before they become available to the public. In this scenario, however, the vaccine has to circulate to the public immediately or there won’t be any public left. So people get vaccinated. The vaccine works… sort of. There are side effects. Lethal kind. Oops.
8. Dormant virus/bacteria in ice caps
Okay, all the above may happen because of a synthetic virus (or vaccine that could act as a virus – scary!). But naturally occurring viruses and bacteria have been around far longer than humans have, they have been thriving all over us, and they don’t need our help to be lethal. Also, it’s possible that we haven’t discovered all of them. In fact, it’s possible that there may be virus strands or bacteria out there that are dormant, possibly lying in the polar ice caps. Perhaps our immune system is not able to deal with all of them. And since we’re still coming out of the last Ice Age (if I remember well from my Geology studies, it ended around 12,000 years ago, but the planet is still experiencing lower-than-normal temperatures) it’s only normal to see rises in global temperature. That’s what the planet wants after all. The planet having ice caps has not been as common in the past (geologically speaking) as it is now. In fact, in the last 100 million years Earth has experienced one third of the total amount of ice ages it experienced from its creation up to that point. It’s all about balancing the system. So, it’s possible that once the ice melts, something nasty and invisible to the naked eye could slip into the food chain and eventually reach us. Or it could affect a species we are depended upon, like wheat or corn or, even worse, bees.
7. Existing virus/bacteria becoming super-resistant
I know people (and I mean people I interact with pretty much on a daily basis) who will gladly take antibiotics the moment they get a sniffle or if they sneeze (don’t do it, kids. That’s bad for you, mkay?). But what that does is strengthening the bacteria we’re trying to kill (no antibiotics for viruses, by the way). Not to mention they weaken our natural defences against them. And since bacteria have been around for almost 3.5 billion years, if not more, (cyanobacteria were probably among the first ones to appear, if anyone is wondering – also known as Stromatolites in Geology),
and have survived pretty much everything the universe has thrown at them (extensive basaltic/igneous activity, meteors, ice ages, humans), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at some point they may have the potential to wipe us out. If not wipe us out, then decimate us. Or another link in the food chain that we depend upon. And since we’re doing everything we can to make them stronger in our attempt to weaken them, there may come a time when they will no longer agree with us or our civilisation being here.
6. Extra terrestrial body colliding with Earth (and, yes, possibly carrying a dormant strand of virus or bacteria with them. Why not?)
Poor T-Rex was having one of his best days, warming its skin in the hot and humid climate of the Cretaceous period (way hotter than today, by the way), when a ball of fire crashed somewhere over the horizon. I can almost hear him saying, “Ralph, I had a doozy of day. You won’t believe what I saw. A fireball! It was so small, I could probably hold it in my hands! Yeah, Ralph, of course I could. My arms and hands are bigger than yours, man.”
Events like the meteor that wiped out most lifeforms 65 million years ago don’t happen every day. But they do happen. And not just once. Considering all the debris left from the formation of our solar system (Kuiper Belt), the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter (most likely an event that took place long after the formation of our solar system), and all the other bits and pieces floating around us, it’s not a very far fetched probability that one of these will be big enough to cause a similar event. For the record, the next encounter with a big one will be in 2028. Meteorites of smaller size penetrate the Earth’s upper atmosphere on a daily basis. Remember that meteorite a few years back that burned over Russia?
You don’t have to panic. Like I said, bodies large enough to cause extinction events don’t land too often. Just do what that Russian driver did. Relax and carry on.
5. Nuclear war
This scenario was more prominent back in the 50s and 60s, but that doesn’t mean it will never happen. It’s all about those who control the red buttons, and ultimately how much we respect others near us. For the record, there are about 15,000 warheads out there.
4. Increased volcanic activity
The mechanism for this scenario is active and it’s the thing that keeps the planet alive. This scenario involves super-volcanoes (Yellowstone – USA, Santorini a.k.a. Thera – Greece), mid-oceanic ridges, large igneous provinces etc. Volcanic activity is something that directly affects the climate. The Santorini eruption that wiped out the Minoan civilisation in Crete ejected material more than four times that of the Krakatoa eruption back in 1883, and many researchers believe that its effects were seen all the way to China. I remember watching a documentary once many years ago where geologists claimed that there is evidence of a rock layer in the Eastern United States that may be related to that explosion. That’s half a planet away, folks. Now imagine all of them going boom together.
In the past (about 250 million years ago – end of Permian period) there was extensive basaltic activity across what is now the northern hemisphere that covered a great deal of the land in basaltic material (like the Siberian traps, for example). This went on for a very long time. And, you guessed it, it’s associated with another massive extinction event, aptly named “The Great Dying.” 96% of all species died due to a chain of events that originated from that particular eruption. Make no mistake folks, volcanoes are the driving force behind Earth’s climate. Particularly, those on mid-ocean ridges. If they go super excited, almost everything on Earth will become super extinct.
3. Increased solar activity/super nova/solar storms
Everything in the universe changes and tries to come to a new state of balance. The Sun is the same. From time to time, its activity increases, and we end up having solar storms. The sun ejects part of its corona, which in turn hits the Earth’s magnetosphere. Sometimes, this is a more violent event than usual. Back in 1859, one such explosion fried the telegraph poles. Now imagine either a similar or an even stronger one hitting our network-depended society. “End of the world” doesn’t necessarily mean end of life. Sometimes it means collapse of civilisation.
2. Modern infrastructure shutting down
Since our modern civilisation is depended on networked systems and technology, one or more nasty individuals or groups of people (or even a natural event), could potentially trigger something that would disrupt (meaning destroy) the very technology we so much depend upon. That could send us to the stone age. Keep in mind that we purify our water in our water treatment plants with computerised systems. Electricity is distributed safely thanks to computerised systems. Let’s not forget the banking system. Again, this is a scenario that has more to do with civilisation collapsing than end of all living things or end of the human species.
1. AI (war for resources)
Apparently the new rave is artificial intelligence. When will we build one, a lot of people ask. Why don’t we build one, others say. Some claim that it will help us live a better life. Easy there, chump. Have you considered the possibility that the AI will realise that it needs more energy not only to evolve but to sustain itself and its higher functions than we allow it to have, because we too need energy for our everyday activities? What will happen when it comes down to I need it more than you do? Do you think a sentient existence will simply step aside and let us have all of it? Especially since we have a proven track record of wasting energy? If it reaches the point where the AI considers itself as part of the natural processes taking place (like consuming energy, which is something every living organism does), what’s to stop it from following the simplest pattern exhibited in almost all living things: I’m stronger, you’re not. Especially, if we have allowed it full access to all the things we desperately need to survive. Like clean water.
Overpopulation + lack of land to cultivate food. I will not go into that. It’s pretty self-explanatory.