Apocalypse! The very word sends shudders up some peoples spines making them manic and paranoid; running around like Chicken Little personified screaming the sky is falling and getting ready to hide under the proverbial bed. Well, in the parable an acorn simply fell on his head. But then most recently, the end of the world scenario has been utmost on some Chicken Little minds, especially when prophetic events like the ending of the Mayan calendar, or the incredibly cryptic prophecies of loonies like Nostradamus are touted and seemingly validated by media eccentrics who believe such nonsense, and want you to believe it as well to sell their books or get you to buy elaborate doomsday supplies. Our old friend money has popped his head up again. But let’s now be realistic and look at the issue from the perspective of someone with no commercial agenda and a little common sense.
First, what does Apocalypse actually mean. The English word comes from the Greek word apokálypsis, meaning “uncovering”; being translated literally as “a disclosure of knowledge”. What? That doesn’t mean the end of the world? Where does the doom of the world come from? Well, it takes on that meaning inadvertently from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, in the context of meaning the return of Jesus Christ, the destruction of Satan and his forces and the beginning HIS one thousand year reign of Peace. See the English Bible was translated from the Greek translation. So then it becomes a religious disclosure of knowledge proclaiming the end of the former world as we know it. Not a bad thing if you’re a Christian. A very bad thing if you’re not. Research the Book of Revelation for more information on it. This event is a matter of Faith and when/if it happens a whole new set of rules apply.
So now let us look at the physical ways this planet can actually be scientifically injured thereby posing a realistic threat to mankind. Note I didn’t say destruction of the planet. There is no probable, practical mechanism or significant threat that can seriously destroy the planet itself at this time. But the surface can be rendered uninhabitable, or the life forms can be eradicated. And also distinguish between “probable” and “possible”. Almost anything can be possible, just not always probable. These are two completely different concepts when you deal with events. It is technically possible that a coconut wielding maniac hippie shark with an eye patch will jump up behind you in the rain on the toilet and beat you senseless while singing Ave Maria…but not realistically probable.
The most noteworthy ways of our collective destruction are:
Geomagnetic Reversal: This is a change in a planet’s magnetic field such that the positions of magnetic north and magnetic south are interchanged completely, or to varying degrees. On average this happens every 450,000 years or so, and most reversals are estimated to take between 1,000 and 10,000 years. The latest one occurred about 780,000 years ago. A brief complete reversal, occurred only 41,000 years ago during the last ice age. Did the world end. No. Were there mass extinctions? Possibly. No one really knows for sure but the evidence indicates that this is not an event that will crumble the planet and eradicate all life. It may be a spooky thing to happen but we would continue to survive. This is a possible but not likely event so don’t buy a new compass. Possible but not probable as a civilization eradicator!
Gamma Ray Burst: This is a flash of Gamma Rays associated with extremely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies. Bursts can last from ten milliseconds to several hours and are believed to consist of a narrow beam of intense radiation released during a supernova or hypernova as a rapidly rotating, high-mass star collapses blah, blah, bah. The sources of most Gamma Ray Bursts are billions of light years away from Earth and are extremely rare. In fact, all observed Gamma Ray Bursts have originated from outside our galaxy. It is only a theory that IF a Gamma ray burst in the Milky Way, and IF it was pointing directly towards the Earth, it MIGHT cause a mass extinction event. That’s a lot of ifs and maybes to take a Gamma Ray Burst seriously especially since they are not even in our own galaxy. Possible but not even probable! I’ll throw the bullshit flag on this one as no threat whatsoever.
Black Hole: This is a theoretical region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing, including particles and light, can escape from inside it. It would literally shred our planet to pieces and absorb it into the void. The nearest black hole to Earth is believed to be at the center of our galaxy. So it’s not nearby, and there is not a traveling hobo black hole that has been identified coming through our neighborhood, so this phenomenon is virtually non-threatening at all. Possible but not probable! Another bullshit flag.
Biotech disaster: Biological technology is another way of saying genetically modified. If you buy non-organic groceries at the supermarket, you are most likely buying meat and vegetables that have been genetically modified to look better, taste better, last longer; and be insect and weather resistant. We have even seen cloning of sheep in our lifetime. Genetic modification and the biological science’s are researching more ways of enhancing and changing genetic structure’s of organisms at an alarming rate. But when you tamper with Nature’s genetic engineering, you are asking for trouble. This is an area where the technology can get away from the architects very easily if they are not fanatically diligent. When I begin seeing cattle with claws and fangs, as well as a nasty carnivorous appetites, I’ll worry about this one. We could technically engineer our own destruction, but on a planetary scale it’s not realistically feasible. This one is possible and probable if due care and responsibility is ignored! In extraordinary circumstances, this event might cause problems for, or irritate the human race, but not destroy the physical planet.
Climate Change: We may be seeing this event unfolding at this very minute. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into our air and water supply to the point the planet is beginning to change. This is a serious threat to our current way of existence but not to our species survival. At the very worse, we may have to adjust to an ice age existence but realistically we would continue to survive as a specie although populations would plummet like ice cubes in a tumbler. The planet itself would endure fine albeit in a different state. Possible and most likely probable if changes are not initiated immediately to correct the pending imbalances!
Super Volcano: This one is one of the more serious threat’s today. Super volcanoes do exist worldwide and there is historical evidence of their periodic eruptions. Most of our planet is molten rock and we live on our planet’s shallow and fragile crust which is governed by plate tectonics. Where the plates meet, there will be always be seismic activity. There are volcano’s all along these plates but the few super volcanoes are extraordinarily dangerous to our species. Sadly, they are inevitable. Scientists are monitoring them constantly and are getting consistently better at predicting eruptions. Therefore, we can at least get away from the blast range of an eruption and evacuate ahead of a pyroclastic flow if warned in time. But it’s the ejection of billions of tons of matter into the atmosphere that’s the issue. A super volcano could throw enough ejecta into the air to cover the Earth with a blanket of dust, block out the Sun’s rays and thrust us into a volcanic winter for an indeterminate period of time. This is the true end time scenario as used in movies for drama. Crops and all vegetation would eventually fail, animals would die, starvation would soon begin on a massive scale, water supplies would be non-potable, world and communal societies would devolve into chaos, economies would crumble, and we would be thrust into a literal dark age existence again bartering for our needs, or taking them by force of arms. We would have to survive on stored rations until the overcast dissipated and the land could support plants again. Mankind would most likely survive as a species, but in the interim, it would be the most harsh, cruel and base existence for the few survivors. Civilization, as we know it today, would never exist again. They are rare but this one is very possible and eventually probable at some point.
Asteroid/Meteorite Strike: Scientists tell us this is another of those events which is a matter of WHEN not IF it’s going to happen. The most recent serious threat was probably the Tunguska Event in 1908. Our planet and Moon are pockmarked reminders that asteroid and meteor strikes have rained down on this planet throughout it’s existence. The destructive power of this event depends on the size and the speed of the object that collides with the Earth. But an asteroid roughly 5 miles in diameter travelling at a hypersonic speed will destroy all living things on the planet…that’s the feared Planet Killer. No need to hoard food or water, no need to crawl in a hole, no chance of survival unless you leave the planet. But even then there’s no place to go. Scientists and world governments know of this threat and are making minute strides to address it when it does occur; but any realistic plan to deal with it is still on the drawing boards at this stage. At least the scientific observers have identified several larger near Earth objects and are tracking them, so we can have advanced warning (if the officials decide to tell us). The smaller ones are to numerous to track. Now, some of these smaller impacts we can survive, once again, depending on the size. We could have something like the volcanic winter mentioned earlier except this is called an impact winter. Same results, just a different name for the cause. This threat is very possible and eventually probable at some point.
Artificial Intelligence/Nano Technology: This event is more theoretical than practical at this point in our technological development. Until we reach “technological singularity” and our thinking machines and computers become smarter than our programming and failsafe measures, we have no serious threat from AI to destroy our human civilization. Also Nano-technology is predicted for the future but the technology is just not upon us yet. Supposedly these microscopic robots can turn rogue and reduce all matter on the planet’s surface to gray goo. Sounds more science fiction than science. This is another instance to throw the bullshit flag and not worry about something that doesn’t exist, except in the mind of a pot smoking Hollywood screenplay writer. Like a ghost in the machinery, when I see it I’ll believe it possible and take the threat more seriously. No matter the outcome, the planet will survive without any problem. It’s the indentured servant of humanity vs. the master machine scenario that’s the issue. Possible and maybe probable…just not anytime soon.
Pandemic/Biological Warfare: This one is another of the more seriously probable events. Nature has a way of culling an animal population to get it to appropriate, balanced numbers that can survive and flourish in it’s environment. When the population get’s too large she’ll starve it back to the proper balance or introduce disease. Epidemics and Pandemics are nothing new to our history and is Nature’s way of culling our human herd. Almost everybody has heard of the bubonic plagues of medieval Europe, killing almost 25% of the population. Basically one in every four people died of the disease. And it’s still around. Even recently, in 1918, the Spanish Influenza killed 100 million people worldwide. And I am sure there are others throughout history. In our times, we have had the luxury of antibiotics to stave off infections and other nasty’s, keeping us out of the grip of pandemics. But Nature has ways of counteracting our cleverness. Scientist’s are now seeing a rise in antibiotic resistant strains of viruses and bacteria which could leave our medicines and treatments useless to combat the threat. Also Nature has a way of causing viruses and bacteria to mutate allowing them to change their way of attacking us, as well as being shielded from the medicines. So this event is very possible and eventually probable at some point in our future. Is it a planet destroyer? No. Planet will be just fine. Is it a mankind destroyer? Possibly. But not an extinction event for the species. And there is no such thing, or ever will be such a thing as a Zombie Apocalypse. That’s just being stupid. There has never been a virus or bacteria that has caused humans to crave eating brains of another human. Pot smoking Hollywood screenwriters trying to make a buck again. To me personally, the possibility of a pandemic or epidemic is the most serious threat of them all because we have seen it too may times before, and Nature is diligently working against us to whittle our numbers down.
Nuclear Holocaust: This threat has been around since World War II. Yes, there are enough warheads to throw the planet into a nuclear winter, like a volcanic or impact winter, but it would take them all exploding during a single series of events to do it. Only two countries have the vast majority of the world’s stockpiles. And the possibility of that happening has been dwindling since the Cold War. Could it happen? Sure. Why hasn’t it happened in the last 70 years then? Because leaders and politicians know humanity will not stand for it. Their perceived use has become so caustic, that any leader that uses just one will surpass Hitler as the most despised and reviled man in history. And the country he represents will be ostracized from the human community. Even if a terrorist cell used one, it would cause only localized destruction not a worldwide event. They have become weapons of bluff and bluster with little chance of realistic use any more. If that were not so, they would have been used somewhere already by someone. And remember, for a world destructive event, it will take nearly all of the warheads being utilized to catapult us into a nuclear winter. The U.S. and Russia would pound each other with conventional weapons before they would revert to nuclear weapons. And the winning power would never push the loser to the point of all out launch. Mutually assured destruction theory. This event is possible of course but I personally don’t think it’s really probable anymore.
Alien Invasion: I’m not even going to give this any credence or thought. When intelligent, combative, war-mongering, resource stealing life forms from another planet’s civilization appear, we’ll give this consideration. We haven’t even found microbes on other planetary bodies so don’t bother looking for destructive battle fleets from other worlds. Oh, by the way, if you see a UFO flying around I’ll bet you the farm it has a government contract funding it.
Massive Solar Flare: This is another possible but not probable event. A solar flare of a magnitude large enough to strip the Earth of it’s atmosphere is so rare as to be not worth the calculation.
So there you have the choices. Most of them are not even probable events. However, pandemics, super volcanoes and asteroid/meteor strikes are viable possibilities and we should take those threats very, very seriously. Are they common? No, just the opposite. Super volcanoes and asteroid impacts are rare events but when they can happen, the results can be catastrophic. Pandemics and epidemics on the other hand are not as rare and we need to prepare for the next one very sensibly. So the next time you hear one of the modern commercial prophets of doom saying the end could be near at any minute and you need to buy their survival products right now or soon you’ll be eating your grand babies, naked and in the dark; you can least look down your nose at them in righteous condemnation and say with confidence: “You’re an idiot!”