END OF THE WORLD PREDICTIONS:
THE TOP 25: (1 – 10)
With a bit of effort it is possible to list at least 60 “End of the World as we Know It” predictions. Some of them are pretty unlikely – even bizarre – but some are definitely more realistic and therefore, frightening. Not all of these predictions will destroy the planet but most will remove humanity once and for all. We’ve listed the top 25 predictions based on Likelihood and Impact (a classic risk analysis predictions matrix.)
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
The famous chorus from the REM song of the same title and published as part of their 1987 Album “Document”.
Scientists pretty much know how the actual planet we live on will end and so their end of the world predictions are likely to be accurate. Even in the few centuries that mankind has studied the universe, the science of astronomy has repeatedly shown that eventually the Sun will expand and consume the first three planets of this solar system. Even if it stops short of the Earth the intense heat will destroy every living thing on this little blue world. The good news is that this won’t (or shouldn’t) happen for another several billion years. In geological time humans haven’t even been on this planet for a single second in the 24 hour lifespan of the Earth.
However, the bad news is there are many ways in which the planet could change so radically that the vast majority of people would be unable to survive. There are even some events that could end all life long before our several billion year window closes. According to many respected scientists – some of these predictions will definitely occur it’s just a matter of when. In short, the only way that humanity will survive in the very long-term is get off this planet and spread across the universe (a bit like a virus moving from cell-to-cell). This page examines the predictions for the way in which humanity (and on occasions the whole world) is likely to end. We’ve ranked these predictions in order of diminishing likelihood. We reserve the right to change the order as and when we feel like it.
1. TOTAL NUCLEAR WAR
This is still Number One and is a well known prediction for the end of the world (certainly for Humanity) that is both likely and feasible. There are nine countries in the world that admit having atomic weapons and they are often referred to as the Nuclear Club. Five of these countries are classed as Nuclear Weapons States which is a title and status conferred on them by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. In order of nuclear acquisition they are USA, Russia, Britain, France and China. India, Pakistan and North Korea, none of who are current signatories to the Treaty have all undertaken recent nuclear weapons tests. It is widely believed that Israel has nuclear weapons as may South Africa. Israel refuses to comment and South Africa states that it manufactured six atomic bombs (probably at Valindaba) but has now decommissioned them. There may well be more countries that secretly developed nuclear weapons or acquired them on the black market.
Exact figures are hard to estimate but numbers released by the BBC on 2 May 2000 claimed the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons amounted to over 42,000 warheads. The good news is that four years later there were apparently a lot less. Today there are around 17,500
As we can see, there are plenty of “Nukes” still active. We haven’t been able to discover what the total megaton yield of the remaining warheads would be but it is enough to say that it is still very, very big indeed.
The end of the world scenario is simple. For unknown reasons the nuclear powers start using their weapons on each other and MAD – or Mutually Assured Destruction – occurs. The devastation from thermonuclear blasts would be bad enough and would send what was left of mankind back to the Stone Age. Worse though would be the ongoing effects of nuclear radiation and nuclear winter. The radiation would engulf the planet on a scale that can’t be imagined. Within 6 months anyone who was not “blown up” would be very sick. Within 24 months just about everyone is dead. Disease, residual radiation pockets, starvation, secondary pollutants, poisoned rain and freezing temperatures will just about finish off humanity. It is very possible that a select few will survive on stockpiled rations in deep underground bunkers but even they will have to face a radically changed world if they ever return to the surface. (Amtrak Wars) Humanity as we know it would be gone.
2. BIOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE / WEAPON
Plagues have always claimed a terrible death toll from the human population. Bubonic plague caused by the bacterium “Yersinia Pestis” claimed an estimated 75 million lives in the 1340’s pandemic alone. The Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 may have killed up to 100 million people. The most lethal of the natural diseases is Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever but fortunately it has never fully erupted outside of Africa although according to the excellent 1994 book the “Hot Zone” by Richard Preston it was accidentally brought to Reston Virginia in the USA but miraculously did not escape the containment laboratory. (It was an airborne variation.) Ebola outbreaks continue till today. It is not surprising that this ranks high in our list of end of the world predictions.
The Uganda Ministry of Health recently confirmed an outbreak of Ebola in the Bundibugyo area. Samples tested by the United States National Reference Laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization confirmed the presence of a new species of the Ebola virus.
These natural super-diseases are terrifying but because humans have evolved along with these bacteria and viruses there are usually survivors. Even the most deadly of all natural viruses, the Ebola Filovirus only kills nine out of every ten people. (One of the teams’ father actually survived a case of very severe Hemorrhagic Fever, possibly the Ebola disease, in 1956 in Southern Rhodesia, Africa) The real concern is that bio-weapons specialists have been experimenting and there is real concern that new and deadly strains of Ebola, Anthrax, Smallpox and even Bubonic Plague have been created. These new diseases may well be 100% effective. Only those that were pre-vaccinated before weapons use would survive and even they might not survive the ensuing natural mutations. This is a very real and terrifying threat to the survival of the human race particularly if the release was unanticipated and accidental. Stephen King’s novel, “The Stand”, is an excellent description of how this scenario might unfold. (Just ignore the mystic bits.)
3. OVER POPULATION PREDICTIONS
In our list of end of the world predictions, this actually may be the most serious longer-term threat facing humanity. There are just too many people on this planet and the number is getting bigger by the minute. Unpleasant as it may sound, we are the mammal equivalent of locusts. We are Consumers with a capital C. We devour vast amounts and we are desperately opposed to limiting our numbers. It’s probably an ancient racial survival instinct. Locust swarms work by consuming everything they can and then die when the food runs out. However, locusts have a survival mechanism we don’t. They can lay eggs that wait until conditions are good and then start again (diapause). The reason Brood X (cicadas) only appear in the USA once every seventeen years maybe for the exact same principle. Locusts can also breed incredibly fast in the right conditions with one female producing dozens of offsping in just a few weeks.We humans can’t do that on any serious scale. We would just die. Still, before we did we would fight each other for the few resources that remain and we would fight to the death. It would be “Total War” at every level. It’s very possible that those that do survive would be unable to make it on their own. The only thing we can hope for is that Humanity will somehow change its behavior before this happens. For example, China is already limiting the number of children per couple to one. Strange as it may seem – a plague that wipes out 70% of humanity might actually ensure the survival of our species in the longer-term. Let us put this scenario another way. At the current rate of population growth it could well be all over in in a thousand years. That’s soon!
4. NEW UNKNOWN WEAPON
In this scenario a new type of weapon is created. It might be a Fusion Bomb capable of turning the world into a short-term star, it might be a new form of radiation or it might even be a gravitational weapon that stops the world spinning. Now while all of these possibilities seem like farfetched science fiction “end of the world predictions” it is worth noting that so would have nuclear weapons seemed to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821). In fact, he probably could not have imagined such a destructive power as even possible. The point is that just 100 years ago people were still using cavalry with lances. So, 100 years from now – who knows? One thing we can be sure of – the Arms Race is still very much alive and well.
5. COLLAPSE OF THE WORLD WIDE ECOSYSTEM
Most biologists now agree that the worldwide ecosystem is a far more fragile entity than was previously thought. The ecosystem produces the air we breathe and the food that we eat. The ecosystem is also a very complex matrix of interdependent relationships. There has been a vast amount written about this subject so please forgive us if we simplify things a little. The theory states that if mankind continues to destroy the planetary ecosystem then eventually a “tipping point” or “destructive critical mass” will be reached. Suddenly crops won’t grow because the insects that pollinate them have died off. (Believe it or not there is now a significant shortage of pollinating bees in the USA right now). Pollutants damage the seas and the food chains fail. Millions of microbiological ecosystems that produce oxygen just disappear. Each small loss creates further losses until the Earth starts to lose its larger species and finally us. This is a classic example of a huge number of micro-disasters adding up to one very big one. The planet would survive and would probably regenerate once the cause (us) was wiped out. In fact after 50 million years or so it might look quite like it did just before the last major ice age. By then there will be very few traces that we once existed at all. It is this theme that was used in the recent (2008) Pixar / Disney film “Wall-E” and was used in the final episode of the once incredibly popular series “Dinosaurs” produced by Michael Jacobs Productions and Jim Henson Productions in association with Walt Disney Television as a parody of human society.” As one of our end of the world predictions this would be a very nasty way to go.
6. TOTAL ICE AGE (SNOWBALL EARTH)
According to climatologist the Earth is actually in an Ice Age cycle that fluctuates between warm and cold periods. Right now we are in what is called an interglacial period – the warm time in between the much longer and colder ones. If the record of ice ages is accurate and consistent then it’s due to get very much colder in the next few thousand years – maybe starting tomorrow. There is no doubt that with the aid of modern technology humanity could survive. However, a theory that was recently put forward claims that we are heating the planet too fast and that this warming trend will trigger rapid cooling if the desalination of the polar oceans causes the current known as the North Atlantic Current (conveyor belt) to fail. The ice age that follows would be far colder than normal and would destroy civilization in the northern hemisphere.
A film, “The Day After Tomorrow” was released in 2004 and featured this scenario. Now you might think that this is bad but it gets far worse. Proponents of the Snowball Earth theory suggest that all the extra ice would reflect so much sunlight that each year it would get progressively colder (more snow and ice reflecting sunlight) until the planet transformed into a giant snowball entirely frozen except for a few “slushy” areas around the equator. If you think that this is farfetched it is worth noting that an increasing number of scientists believe that it has happened at least several times before. They cite it as the only explanation for the type of worldwide sedimentary deposits that have been discovered. It does get warmer again when internals volcanism and increasingly dirty snow allow the planet to warm up. Still, by then we’d be long gone. As predictions go this is just not cool!
7. NEGATIVE ENERGY CLOUD
New predictions for the end of the world just keep on cropping up. It’s called a Negative Energy Cloud and there is absolutely no physical evidence for its existence. Still, this could be one of the most real and dangerous threats facing the planet Earth. This is the theory and a little of its history. In February 1940 a German physicist by the name of Hans Dietrich Freuder (most likely from Freiburg) was invited by a certain Dr. Hans Reiter to prepare himself to work at the Norsk Hydro in Vemork, Norway. However, in 1941 after setting out for his destination he was redirected to Peenemunde on the Baltic Sea. There is no record of what he worked on during this time but in November 1943 he resurfaced in Berlin having just recovered from severe burns and temporary deafness. He allegedly addressed a small group of scientists at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology and introduced a radical new concept. In attendance were Dr’s Lenz, Fischer, Plank, Verschuer and Debye. He explained that work that he had been conducting had indicated that there existed in the universe collections or clouds of negative energy. These “clouds” were invisible to all instruments but explained a phenomenon he described as the “deficiency of gravity, matter and energy”. Apparently he rambled on for some time but towards the end of the lecture he suddenly appeared “calm, intense and terrifyingly focused” (Citation – R. Lenke 1944). His summary was “clear and precise and in all manner the opposite of his presentation”. The theory and request was simple. He believed that there were many invisible clouds that drifted through the universe propelled by their own “insolence” (?) that absorbed all forms of electrical energy. He stated that “Albert of the Institute” (?) believed that “Light as a Consistent” would pass through them unperturbed. When they engulfed a solar system all things dependant on the essence of electricity would immediately fail to function as the electrical flux was absorbed into the cloud. He expressed his concern that that this might even effect the human brain that was dependant on a similar flux. He voiced concern that a society dependant on “technomatics” (technology) would be wholly and utterly vulnerable. Cavalry should be maintained. He requested that a team be established to investigate the possible creation of a Nation immune to such effects. He then abruptly left the podium and was not seen again.
What became of Dr. Freuder or his request is currently unknown but since 1943 the possibility of NEC’s has become significantly more believable. The existence of “Missing Gravity” has been confirmed and “Dark Matter / Dark Energy” is now a very accepted scientific concept. Unfortunately “Dark Energy”, the possible phenomenon described by Freuder still has the connotation of “Here be Dragons” on very old maps. In short, they know it’s there but have no idea what it is. If, as Freuder suggested, it can engulf solar systems and prevent the effective functioning of the brain then it really is a contender for the “This is the “End of the World / Humanity” predictions. It may well even explain the mass extinctions identified in the geological record.
8. ENERGY EXPERIMENT GOES WRONG
There has been significant speculation in the media and around dinner tables about what will happen when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a gigantic underground particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles is switched on and tested. The 28 km long LHC was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and is located underneath the Franco-Swiss border between the Jura Mountains and the Alps near Geneva, Switzerland. On 10 September 2008 the LHC circulated its first particle beams but a few days later had to halt operations due to equipment malfunction when faulty magnets triggered a shutdown that will delay its operation for at least two months. It is believed that the collider will not be tested again until the spring of 2009. Many concerns have already been raised in the media and through the courts regarding the safety of such intense particle collisions and some speculation has emerged, even from the scientific community that one day an experiment in the LHC could initiate an energy related chain reaction that could destroy the planet.
The general consensus of the scientific community is that the LHC is not dangerous. However, there will be other experiments and discoveries in the field of sub-atomic energy that might, just might, one day go horribly wrong. A significant minority of people feel the scientific knowledge gained is just not worth the risk.
9. SUPER VOLCANO
The super volcano predictions first came into public consciousness after the airing of a popular BBC programme, Horizon, explored the subject. In brief a Super Volcano is a giant volcano that will generate an eruption in the VEI 7 to VEI 9 category. The threat and existence of these volcanoes was largely overlooked by science until quite recently for three reasons. Firstly, Volcanology is a relatively new science and has had a lot of catching up to do. Secondly, these volcanoes don’t appear as mountains or cones. Their eruptions are so gigantic that they collapse back into the crust forming mega calderas that can be overlooked. Thirdly, there have been plenty of more interesting or at least accessible volcanoes to study.
How big is the threat? According to volcanologists it’s big and it’s real. Put another way – the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens was a either a High VEI 4 or a low VEI 5. The blast ejected 1.2 cubic kilometers of rock and ash. When the Lake Toba super eruption took place only 75,000 years ago it ejected 2,300 cubic kilometres of debris that reached high into the atmosphere. It was 2,000 times as powerful as Mt. St. Helens. An interesting observation is that apparently all (original) Western DNA can be traced back to 7 females and is known as the Near Extinction Bottleneck. It came that close! In a 1998 article, Stanley Ambrose proposed a hypothesis—a volcanic winter scenario—to explain recent human differentiation. The bottleneck was caused by a volcanic winter resulting from the super-eruption of Toba in Sumatra.
The largest explosive super eruption identified, a VEI 9, took place in Colorado, USA and ejected 5,000km3 of material. Fortunately it was 28 million years ago and quite some time before humans appeared on the scene. However, in deep-geological-time the event happened yesterday. According to the makers of a TV documentary / drama about the Yellowstone super volcano – we’re already overdue for the next one. Now as end of the world predictions go … that is troubling.
10. ASTEROID OR METEOR IMPACT
This is a disaster scenario with which many people are already familiar. Two recent blockbuster films have been made about the subject – “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”. In brief, a meteorite or asteroid of a sufficient size impacts the Earth. If the object is large enough it will create an explosion that could literally generate enough heat to turn burn away the atmosphere, turn millions of square miles of the planet’s surface to molten rock, trigger vast amounts of volcanism, stimulate tsunamis capable of completely covering Cuba and create earthquakes beyond anything measured by science. A truly big asteroid or small planetoid could literally take the Earth back to the state it was when it was in just formed (the second time) – a molten fiery world devoid of life. It is worth noting that this is the event that created the original planet we live on. The impact of smaller but still devastatingly destructive asteroids has probably occurred several times in the planets history. It is the smoking gun for the extinction of the dinosaurs and as recently as 1908 an event occurred over Tunguska in Russia that destroyed 80 million trees and created shock waves that could be felt in London. Had it been four times the size we may not be here today. Still, the big impacts are very rare – if they were more common then life, and ultimately humanity, could never have evolved as it has. This is a very practical contender to end the world and enough of a threat for governments to set up programmes such as the Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) project to help provide warning of dangerous asteroids and meteorites. Fact: Between the 16th to the 20th July 1994 various fragments of an asteroid, Shoemaker Levy 9, crashed into the planet Jupiter causing spectacular impact explosions. By the way, if Shoemaker Levy Nine had hit us then it would have been goodbye humanity in less than 10 minutes.