The end is nigh! Be it judgment day, rapture, or apocalypse, whatever your flavour. It seems that our species has become obsessed with the time we hand over our crown as most dominant on this planet. That is, if you even consider us the most dominant. For a religious person, that status is a simple one to adopt, but I’ve met many a microbiologist or etymologist that could make a very convincing case for their species. Even mycologists have been held similar thoughts, like Nicholas P. Money, who said “After millions of years of unwitnessed toil, the biological careers of fungi happen to have intersected with ours. They followed us indoors from the woods, joined us as cabin-mates across oceans and into orbit, and when human history comes to a close, a deluge of their spores will help erase the record of our presence on this planet.”
Realistically though, what do you think would be most likely to end our time on this planet?
I’ll give you my top 10 list, from least to most likely.
10) Suicidal Dictatorship:
Immediate Danger: 5/10
Starting us off as least likely, but still possible enough to make the list is Suicidal Dictatorship. First, I gave this 3/10 for inevitability because I think there's a good chance our entire race isn't stupid enough to voluntarily kill itself simply because a leader says so. It still gets some points because I've heard cases of almost a thousand people doing such an activity, but 6 billion is stretching it. Severity score is moderate, because if someone like that actually did come into power, judging by their level of sanity, it probably would be pretty hard to fight back. Someone like that would obviously surround themselves with protection out of paranoia. Recovering is quite possible because, like I said, it would be difficult to exert that amount of control over 6 billion people at once. Someone somewhere would probably survive. I put the immediate danger scale at moderate as well because I think if this course were to ever happen, it is prob
ably more likely to occur now, with the world's current level of globalization, than ever before. Also, we have seen that brutal dictatorships are a very real scenario for many parts of the world at this moment.
9) Incinerated by our Sun
Inevitability: 10/10Severity: 10/10
Recoverability: 0 /10
Immediate Danger: 0/10
Unless the life of our sun can be extended in some fashion, it is a cosmic certainty that one day our sun will die out. Also note the complete and total annihilation of everything. You can't get much more destructive than this! Ergo 10/10 for inevitability and severity. Recoverability is 0 because it would be impossible (unless we escaped Sun's gravity? :O ). However this threat will sit here at the bottom of this top 10 list for a few million years yet. Not a threat. NEXT!
8) Killed by More Advanced Life Form
Immediate Danger: 2/10
Ah yes, the template sci-fi plot itself. While I don't consider myself a believer in alien abductions, the possibility that life exists somewhere in the universe, given what we know about the size of it, is quite high. If our species lives long enough, it might one day discover a way to cross those great expanses of space, but we're a long way from that right now. However there may be another race out there that's had a few million years to take a crack at the problem. And if they had, I have no idea how to predict whether they would be friendly or hostile toward us, given how we often behave. I also give severity a high score because something tells me that if they had the capability to get here, they would probably have similarly advanced weaponry. Recoverability? I'm not exactly sure on this one. Immediate danger is low, however, keeping this up at number #8 because we've been looking with the best telescopes and dishes we have, and we've yet to come across anything we could even call intelligent, let alone threatening.
7) Pollution Related Extinction
Immediate Danger: 8/10
This category could include things like global warming, pollution related cancers and diseases, etc. To think that we could actually pollute our planet with refuse and chemical waste to the point that we could no longer exist on it is as absolutely stupifying as it is horrifying. One would hope we would devote a great amount of resources to NOT letting this happen, as it wouldn't be a 'wake up one day' disaster, and hopefully we would be motivated to recognize the signs soon enough to tackle the problem. I gave immediate danger a high score after reading some of the long term effects we've already caused on this planet in the book "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. An entry I hope will not increase on this list in my lifetime!
6) Asteroid Impact
Immediate Danger: 2/10
It is a fact that large asteroid impacts have played an enormous role in the geological history of our planet. Take a look over at the moon and the effect is quite easy to see. It is also true that at some point we will probably encounter another large asteroid impact on our planet at some point in its lifespan. Judging by the extinction of the dinosaurs which is believed to have been due to a large asteroid impact, I would also rate the severity very high. Recoverability? Its possible, we're resourceful, and some life did survive during other impacts, so a 5. Telescopes currently give us an all clear for immediate danger, but unfortunately with asteroids, sometimes the warning time is unhelpfully small.
5) Intraspecies War
Immediate Danger: 7/10
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
-- Albert Einstein
I don't think there's much I need to say here.
4) Killed by our own Creations
Immediate Danger: 5/10
Terminator anyone? So far we're safe, but sometimes when I see those creepy talking robots in Japan, I start to wonder.
3) Massive Natural Disaster
Immediate Danger: 4/10
This category could include earthquakes, ice ages, fires, drought, floods, super volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes, or any other sort of Earth-based disaster. There have been a few examples of mega-disasters during Earth's history, and some scientists predict that we're about due for another of one type or another. No matter how technologically advanced our species gets, we still tremble before the mighty forces of our planet. Fortunately, these dangers do not occur on specific regular intervals but in geological time. We could be a thousand or a hundred thousand years before an occurance. All we have to give us clues are the intervals from the past.
2) Disease Outbreak
Immediate Danger: 9/10
Mad Cow Disease. SARS. Avian Bird Flu. Swine Flu. A common news headline every few years is the most recent outbreak of whatever new infectious agent is making its rounds. Diseases have taken a chunk out of the human population in the past. The bubonic plague and the spanish influenza of 1917 come to mind. We've managed to lessen the impact of many diseases with our recent improvements to sanitation and our supply of food and drinking water, but we've also increased the number of hosts and our proximity to one another. Bacteria and viruses mutate quickly, and many of our miracle antibiotics are not effective against superbugs. Right now it's an arms race, but don't expect it to end without some casualties on both sides.
Immediate Danger: 9/10
With out a doubt, number one on the list. Why? Its so incredibly obvious, just take a look at an extrapolated graph of our population.
It slowly crawls along for a few million years or so, then about a hundred or so years ago literally exploded exponentially. Within our lifetime the population of the world will most likely double, and although predicting the number of people that our planet can decently provide for is incredibly difficult to do accurately, it will probably be reached within a few generations. Either we WILL find a way to curb our population growth rate or we WILL NOT have enough resources. The conclusion is inescapable and undeniable. Within your children or their children's lifetime, some big shit is going to happen on this issue, and I can't see many miracle solutions to this one. The only comforting thought, if it can be called that, is that in nature, once a population is once again lowered to a sustainable level, the numbers will usually stable out, but in that situation we're talking about an isolated ecosystem that is often replenished by nearby stable ecosystems. There is nothing to restock Earth. If we ruin our ecosystem, it has to build itself again, on its own.
Notice that rapture is nowhere on that list? That's because it's ridiculous. The rapture story wasn't even thought up until a few hundred years ago, and now serves as some sort of sick right wing christian wet dream where they can imagine themselves watching others who weren't fortunate enough to be born into the same faith as them in torment. The only thing scarier than the predictions themselves is their self-fulfilling aspect. The rapture theology now forms the backbone for christian republican support of the state of Israel. Nothing about it makes sense when you consider the additional fact of the authorship of the gospel in which the account comes from. Sure, rapture grabs bits and pieces from other parts of the bible too, but for the most part, it is considered to be authored by John. Unfortunately, any biblical scholar can tell you that the John that wrote that gospel was either a complete forgery or a pseudepigraphical mistake, because there was no way that the day labourers that made up Jesus' posse could have been literate given the time and era they lived in.
The rapture is an idea that makes those who subscribe to it feel better about all of the tedious requirements of faith that they are required to perform, from handing over their earnings to sacrificing their free time. They know that they must be on their best behaviour because they never know when the big man upstairs is going to be dropping by to end his little 6000 year experiment. The story just doesn't make any sense! God, for whatever reason (he was lonely?) decided to start time, then during a micro slice of it in one tiny dot in the galaxy in the universe, he had a few of us make a choice between good and evil that he already knew we would make. Then, at some later time of his choosing, he will gather up the few of his followers out of however many billions of us exist at that time that he feels chose the right faith and take them to his really cool clubhouse while the rest of us that he also created and knew we were going to make the wrong choice get to suffer an infinite amount forever with no hope of reprise. What? If there's one thing I've learned about people, it's that they hate uncertainty. Admitting that we don't know is not a common thread in religion, but it is a stance we must take. Admitting to how much you don't know is a sign of true knowledge, and as a species, we are only just beginning to open our eyes.