Environment / Society

10 Ways for the World to End

Large Opera Singer

There’s something fun about pondering the end of the world, as many movie fans can attest.  The end of a single life might well be a tragedy, but the end of all human civilization is so epic that it’s hard not to be awed.

And unless you think humans will be around forever (which I’m not convinced is a sensible proposition), rest assured the end is coming.  Here are 5 ways humanity’s final chapter could go down, with 5 more coming next week.  They’re ordered not by likelihood, but by how intriguing I find them.

10. Climate Change

As the thin shell of air around our planet fills with CO2 and methane, global systems will begin to shift.  Rising sea levels will wipe out coastal cities; new weather patterns will bring storms, floods and droughts; and disease outbreaks will become more frequent and unpredictable.  Humans are famously adaptable, so this wouldn’t necessarily spell extinction, but it would certainly be the end of the world as we know it today.

9. Nuclear War

With at least 19,000 nukes worldwide, a messy global conflict could escalate into total self-extermination.  But even a “small” local nuclear war could be catastrophic.  If India and Pakistan, two nuclear countries with a history of enmity, were to release their entire stockpiles on one another, the resulting clouds of ash and dust would be big enough to encircle the earth.  The ensuing nuclear winter would be cold and sunless for everyone, and could potentially last decades.

Asteroid heading for earth

courtesy flickr/andrewsrj

8. Asteroid Impact

That’s right, it’s the Armageddon scenario.  But it’s not so far-fetched.  The earth gets pelted with tiny bits of space debris all the time.  Most of it burns up in the atmosphere, while every rare once in a while we get hit with something big enough to leave a crater. But if we were to collide with a huge space rock – say, 1,000 meters or more – the resulting impact could be apocalyptic.  Massive earthquakes, extreme volcanism and an atmosphere choked with dust would close the curtain on humanity.  Hey, if it could happen to the dinosaurs, it could happen to you.

7. Gamma Ray Burst

GRBs sometimes happen when giant, unstable stars collapse and go supernova.  A single one of these explosions can release more energy in 2 seconds than the sun will over its entire lifetime.  Should one go off too close to the solar system, we’d all disintegrate in a tide of powerful gamma radiation.  Fortunately, these events are very rare, particularly in older galaxies like the Milky Way.

courtesy USAF / Joshua Strang

6. Magnetic Storm

Every once in a while, the sun’s unstable surface erupts and fires off a cloud of hot, charged gas.  If earth’s magnetic field happens to get in the way, an electromagnetic storm is triggered.  Such storms have disrupted GPS satellites and electronic equipment, and in 1989 one flare even triggered a cascading power grid failure.   Theoretically, a big enough storm could shut down every electric and electronic system on earth.  You would be unharmed (unless you happened to be on a plane) but you’d be thrown into a post-civilization world, Mad Max style.  Restoring power might be possible, but with no communications, no computers and no vehicles, it could be a really long wait.  At least the resulting aurora would be amazing.

Click here to read the rest of the list.  But first, share this post with your friends using the buttons below!

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7 thoughts on “10 Ways for the World to End

  1. I’m fascinated by the scenarios and trying to figure out what the woman is doing at the top of the page. Might she wipe all of us out by singing a high C at full volume?

    • Belting out something from Wagner, if I had to guess. The song of the fat lady is generally considered a harbringer of the end, more than a direct cause, but I have to admit that would be an interesting way to go.

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