Fiction is rich with post-apocalyptic landscapes; Zombies, robots, aliens, “The Bomb” (that one is an oldie but a goodie). But how feasible are those scenarios really? Well, there is so much mutually assured destruction in the world that any nation who decided to launch a nuclear weapon at another country would end up a smoldering crater in less than 20 minutes. Zombies and aliens make for entertaining TV, however lack a certain realism (let’s hope). All that being said, there are still several real world things that could possibly wipe out a huge chunk of humanity and have us living in caves for generations.
Viral pandemic: OK, first off, yes. There have been plenty of movies, TV shows, andvideo games which have depicted “end of the world” scenarios that have been sparked by the release of some deadly pathogen. The reason I am including it on this list is that the possibility of a virus outbreak decimating the human population is so very real. In 2011, virologist Ron Fouchier was playing around with the H5N1 virus (bird flu) in order to find out exactly how potent (deadly) it could be made . What he discovered is that with minimal effort by geneticist standards you could make the disease communicable in ferrets (previous research has shown that any strains of influenza that can pass between ferrets can also pass between humans). Then, it did something completely unexpected. H5N1 began to mutate and evolve all on its own. The virus made itself airborne in order to spread faster. Initial projections show that before we could get ahead of the outbreak at our current state of readiness, half the human population would be dead.
Global food shortage: Black, white, old, young, Catholic, or Buddhist. A few things are the common threads that tie us all together. High on the list is food. We all have to eat. Earlier in the year, the World Bank (the international organization whose main objective is to try to feed those in the world who can’t feed themselves) reported that due to themassive drought cycle Earth is in as well as rising fuel costs, it is much more expensive for food producers to grow, harvest, and deliver the grains needed to sustain the poorest populations on this planet. The short version: If it’s harder to provide food, then more people will go hungry. Hungry people become desperate. Desperate people become angry. Angry people gather together. Food shortages have started wars. The “have-nots” blame the “haves”. After all there is nothing so basic as to fill your belly, and it is easy to be bitter against those who do so on a regular basis while your children die of starvation. Those who do have enough to eat will fight rooted in the primal instinct to protect the family and homestead. International food production and distribution is currently sitting on a razor’s edge. All it would take to push us past the tipping point is for an additional factor to step in and cut our already depleted food storage down. Enter Ug99. Otherwise known as “Stem Rust Fungus“. This bad boy is known to kill 100% of infected crops, and specifically attacks the resistance genes inherent in wheat plants. If enough of the world’s wheat crop gets infected then we will not have enough food to feed the rich AND the poor. Guess whose plate will be filled, and who will die of hunger. The next World War may not be fought over land, but over the price of a pound of rice. Grain will be worth its weight in platinum. Many have been killed for less.
Supervolcano: Alright. I know exactly how much like a SyFy special this sounds, however as far-fetched as it may seem, lurking below the very ground we walk on is a powder keg of cataclysmic proportions. Able to project over 240 cubic miles of molten earth from the eruption, a supervolcano could devastate an entire continent. First, the initial deaths would come from the resulting earthquakes powerful enough to turn entire cities on their heads. Next comes clouds of toxic ash that will cover whole hemispheres. Anyone who is exposed for too long will either die out in the open, or from complications due to respiratory failure later in life. The stifling layer of poisonous dust and fumes will wipe out crops vital to the world’s food needs. It will also blot out the sun for years causing first an ice age, then followed up by global warming. As a race of people, we just don’t have an infrastructure in place to support survivors from an event of that magnitude. Civil unrest, looting, riots, militarization, and then war. Once again, mankind becomes its own worst enemy. The real kicker to this all is that it’s not a matter of “if” a supervolcano will blow, but “when”. In several places on earth, massive pockets of magma are brewing away beneath the thin crust of the plant. They are building pressure over the course thousands of years, until one day the energy built will be greater than the resistance of the earth above, and quite literally all hell will break loose.
The next time you think that events severe enough to wipe out a majority of our planet are relegated to works of fiction, just remember this: This planet has been around long before we were ever here, and will be around long after we are dead. We are nothing but momentary passengers on a massive rock hurtling through space. It could all be gone in the blink of an eye, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. So please, go hug a loved one. Start a hobby. Be bold. Learn a new skill. Laugh, love, and live each day as if it were your last. It very well could be.