By Mark Richards.
Nuclear war? Catastrophic climate change? A global pandemic? Right now the end of the world – and the apocalyptic aftermath – is big business for books and TV. But how could the world end? As the snow rages outside and the US is hit by a polar vortex, we take a look at five possible ways…
Well, it is Friday, we have all been paid, the weekend is here and the depression of Blue Monday is but a distant memory. So what better way to cheer you up even further than by discussing the end of the world?
Right now the end of the world is big business. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian books are riding high in Amazon’s charts and Netflix is up to 140m subscribers, boosted by shows like Bird Box.
So how might the world end? How might life on Earth be wiped out? To make sure your weekend gets off to the best possible start, we have taken a look at five possible scenarios. And just for luck, we have added a sixth, dealing specifically with the UK…
Catastrophic Climate Change
Right now parts of the US are suffering some of their lowest ever temperatures, with Chicago seeing -30C and North Dakota -37C. It is all thanks to a ‘once in a generation’ polar vortex. Normally this swirling band of high winds stays locked around the poles – but occasionally the vortex can be distorted as it has now, meaning that it ‘meanders’ further south.
The polar vortex was also blamed for particularly cold conditions in 2014 and the ‘bomb cyclone’ that hit the US east coast last year – so much for ‘once in a generation…’
It is not just the polar vortex either. A recent UN report suggested that we only have 12 years to keep global warming to moderate levels. If we do not do this then a best case scenario is more frequent and more severe tropical cyclones, with the loss of most of the world’s agricultural land and freshwater sources. Coastal cities like New York and Mumbai could end up under water. The worst case? Human civilisation could come to an end – and even if we do keep to current commitments, there is still a 33% chance of the Earth’s temperature rising by 3 degrees, which would see most of Florida and Bangladesh drown.
Back in 1962, the world stood on the edge of nuclear war as the US and Russia squared up over the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War did not end until 1991, and for most of that time, we were protected from nuclear war by MAD – mutually assured destruction.
Nearly 30 years on from the Cold War, how likely is nuclear war today? It probably isn’t. The US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, France and the UK all have nuclear weapons – as, possibly, does North Korea. All-out war between the superpowers would see perhaps 4,000 nuclear warheads being detonated and that, together with the ensuing nuclear winter, would certainly take care of life on Earth. But most experts now accept that a far greater danger is a nuclear device being detonated by a rogue state or a terrorist group. That would cause catastrophic local damage – but would not spell the end of the world.
A global pandemic
Twice in modern history plagues have swept across the world, killing 15% of the world’s population. This happened in the fifth and 14th centuries. More recently, the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 infected a third of the world and killed up to 50 million people.
‘Ah,’ you say, ‘But we have antibiotics now.’ Yes, we do, but antibiotic-resistant bacteria are increasing rapidly. At the moment they are responsible for an estimated 700,000 deaths a year: if we do not develop new advances against this type of bacteria the death toll is expected to reach 10m a year by 2050.
And then, just like nuclear weapons, we have the threat of terrorism. Could a terrorist group develop a deadly new infection that say, has one particular target but somehow ‘escapes into the wild?’ ‘Yes’ is the short answer to that question: after all, scientists have already ‘resurrected’ the Spanish Flu virus in the lab…
We have written many times about AI, robotics and the threat to jobs. But what about the threat to life on Earth? Many countries are developing AI weapons and there are plenty of stories of China leading the West in the race to create an AI army. In Silicon Valley many of the leading names have signed a pledge promising not to develop AI weapons: in China, the leading names and the brightest minds may be doing exactly the opposite…
Supposing China attacks the West with AI weapons? Or supposing someone hacks into the AI weapons and turns them against their creators? Supposing the AI develops a mind of its own? There are plenty of experts who think that AI will be smarter than humans at everything within ten years. We might have made ourselves expendable…
“Take me to your leader, earthling…”
Obviously, I had to finish with aliens…
In December 2017 the bookies suddenly slashed the odds on alien life being discovered. NASA said it had a ‘major announcement’ to make and there was a rush of bets. Sadly, it was just another announcement about a discovery made by the Kepler space telescope. The bookies chuckled to themselves, and phoned the Porsche dealer…
But it could be that punters are about to get their money back, with theoretical physicist and futurologist Michio Kaku expecting humans ‘to hear from extra-terrestrial life this century.’ Apparently, though, it will only be via radio waves, as the extra-terrestrial life is likely to be tens, hundreds or thousands of light years away.
That is probably just as well. Most experts expect humans meeting aliens will be like the native Americans meeting the settlers. It did not end well…
There are, of course, plenty of other ways life on Earth could end. I have missed out Earth being hit by an asteroid, a supervolcanic eruption, an unprecedented solar flare and biological warfare – but there is only so much good news people can take.
Sadly though, I must finish not with the end of life on Earth, but with the end of one country. Using the CL News time machine, we have just received this news report from March 2029 – little more than 10 years in the future…
Postscript from a news report, published in March 2029
International scientists now believe they have identified what caused not the end of the world, but the end of one country. It happened exactly ten years ago this weekend.
On Sunday, March 3rd 2019 politicians and broadcasters in the United Kingdom woke up as normal and immediately went to work, the broadcasters asking the politicians the same questions they had asked 100 times and the politicians giving the same evasive answers. So obsessed with their own self-importance were they that the broadcasters and politicians failed to notice that everyone else – the so-called ‘ordinary people’ – had left the country.
At first, it was assumed that aliens had abducted those ‘ordinary people’ but scientists are now certain that it was simply a mass migration, due to a condition known as ‘Bored with Brexit.’ Unable to watch any more meaningless interviews or Sky Specials about the Irish Backstop, everyone simply left the country.
Completely unable to fend for themselves in the ‘real world’ and with their egos damaged beyond repair by not having an audience, the politicians and broadcasters died out rapidly. Now only tumbleweed blows across College Green, Westminster, once the scene of so many ‘up-to-the-minute, last-minute, vital, crucial Brexit exclusives…’