11 Ways the world could end

Since the 1500s, there have been more than 150 documented predictions of when the world is going to end. Luckily for us, none of them have come true…yet. However, you’ll be surprised that not all of them are destructive. Here are some terrifyingly amazing ways the world, genuinely could end. When you think of scientists working on super viruses, you probably picture Hazmat workers, deep in a mountain bunker, studying vats full of insidious green liquid. But these labs do actually exist! Maybe not working for some shady Bond-style villain looking to ransom the world away to the highest bidder, but for pharmaceutical companies and government agencies studying ways to cure dangerous pathogens. But what happens when a vial full of an extremely dangerous virus breaks out of containment, or is misplaced? Over the years, there have been numerous documented cases of dangerous viruses escaping from laboratories around the world. One of these happened as recently as 2009. A group of scientists based in Europe, working with Baxter Pharmaceuticals, were conducting lab tests on a seasonal flu strain. Without realizing it, Baxter had sent them live supplies of the H5N1 virus, better known as “bird flu,” which has a mortality rate higher than 60%. One of the world’s deadliest viruses was handled and distributed to three other labs without any pathogen safety protocols in place. The grave error was only realized when one lab worker in the Czech Republic inoculated a group of ferrets with samples of the “season flu” batch, and was horrified when they all died. The scientists were immediately placed under quarantine and monitored for signs of the deadly virus. Luckily, none of them were infected and all the scientists were freed with a clean bill of health. Two years later, these same strains of avian and human flu were combined in a laboratory, successfully creating “the most dangerous virus in history.” The virus was highly pathogenic, while retaining its dangerously high fatality rate. If it got loose, it could kill 60% of the world’s population in a freakishly short amount of time – a truly apocalyptic notion. Some say it’s only a matter of time before this kind of virus escapes containment and wreaks havoc on mankind. After going through two world wars, you would think that the world would have learned to get along by now. But unfortunately for the survival of humanity, we are constantly under threat of triggering the final war – Nuclear Armageddon. Mutually Assured Destruction, like its acronym suggests, is one of the maddest doctrines ever devised. It ensures that if a country were to ever use a nuclear weapon on another state with the same capability, both sides would unleash their entire nuclear arsenal, bringing about the complete annihilation of both countries. With the resulting nuclear winter, and the likely participation of other countries in the exchange, this would almost certainly lead to destruction and death on an apocalyptic scale. There are over 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world, with more than 4000 ready to fire at any one time. That would make one hell of a firework show, but probably not one you’d want to be around to watch. There have been a few “close calls” since we first developed nuclear weapons. A surprising number of these were technical glitches that nearly started World War 3, on both sides of the Cold War. The average yield of a modern nuclear weapon is around 500 kilotons of TNT, that’s 25 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Each one of these 500 kiloton bombs are powerful enough to flatten huge parts of a large modern city such as New York, or London. And there exists some truly unimaginably powerful weapons, like the Tsar Bomba, which had a yield of more than 50 megatonnes. That’s two and a half THOUSAND times more powerful than the one dropped on Nagasaki. Thankfully however, bombs this large are too heavy to be realistically deployed in a nuclear war, and most weapons used would be in the 500 kilotonne to 2 megatonne range. Not that the end result would be any different. Over the past few years, tensions between numerous nuclear-capable countries have been accelerating, creating an ever more worrying state of affairs in the face of world war. The Doomsday clock, a clock maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is a symbolic clock that illustrates how close humanity is to a global catastrophe and it is currently set at 3 minutes to midnight, the most dire time since 1984 at the height of the Cold War. Is World War 3 upon us? Only time will tell. Our planet is rich in biodiversity, from the jungles of Madagascar, to the searing hot Mojave Desert in California. Every biosphere has a network of food chains, each containing “keystone species;” sea otters, pacific salmon, and Mangroves being just a few of them. Being a part of that ecosystem ourselves, we are just as vulnerable as the fish, the insects and the birds all around us. We rely on a number of animals and plants to supplement our living, and they, in turn, rely on others. Lose one link in that chain and it could cause a chain reaction of die-offs as the ecosystem breaks down, and if nothing takes the place of that missing link… then this house of cards is coming crashing down whether we like it or not. Probably the most well-known example of our reliance on another species is with the honey bee. These industrious little critters go about their day pollinating all sorts of plants, that we—and other species we eat—rely on for food. They pollinate more than 30% of all crops that we count on to survive. A large die-off, or in the worst case, extinction of the bees, would result in mass starvation around the world within a single harvest cycle. With the increase in telecommunications usage and pesticides severely diminishing bee populations around the world, we could very soon have an ecological apocalypse on our hands… and that’s just ONE link in the vast ecological network we owe our lives to. Should we be worried about a big release of methane? And no, I’m not talking about the methane your grandad releases. Buried in sediments under the ocean floor across the entire globe are vast deposits of methane clathrate. This is formed when microbes on the seabed break down organic matter that has sunk to the bottom. Methane has a warming effect 20 times greater than that of Carbon dioxide, though there is far less of it in the atmosphere. Generally, methane is responsible for about 7% of the greenhouse effect, despite there being more than 200 times as much C02 as there is methane in the atmosphere. However, if the oceans were heated enough due to regular Global Warming, the methane layers trapped under the ocean floor, could destabilize and release massive quantities of the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, resulting in a runaway warming effect. Rock samples show that this has happened at least once before, 252 million years ago, in the, so called “Great Dying,” during which 96% of all marine species became extinct. While it’s still being debated on how rapidly this release could take place, scientists agree that a sudden release from the methane clathrate would be a disaster for the world’s climate and ecosystem, and would rapidly accelerate the dire consequences of climate change. Imagine one day a vast oil spill occurs, much like Deepwater Horizon back in 2010. Answering an outcry from environmentally-minded people everywhere, the world’s scientists unite to think of a way to clean the mess up. They develop a cheap and reliable way to clean the ocean and contaminated land in a matter of days, saving countless marine animals in the process. Their miracle fix is a new type of nano machine, which has been programmed to consume the carbon-based oil slicks. But through the billions of self-replicating nanites, much like mutations that form when DNA replicates, an error in the code occurs. This error exponentially replicates itself and instead of consuming just the carbon based oil, it begins an “all you can eat buffet” with every carbon-based living thing on the menu. As all life on earth is carbon based, in a matter of days the nanites would have devoured most living things on the planet, including us. Being eaten alive by tiny machines we can’t even see sounds pretty terrifying, almost too terrifying to be real…. right? Well, not exactly. The “Grey Goo” scenario, coined by Eric Drexler in 1986, is one that is still seriously considered, any time that developments in nanotechnology or “self-powering” machines are being designed. However, the technology required for this apocalyptic accident to take place is still a long way off, so there’s not too much to worry about… yet. From a mechanical microscopic threat, to a biological one. A scenario that you’ve probably heard about from the news, is the idea of a “post antibiotic age.” Whether you’ve heard about it or not, this is a very real and recent threat to our comfortable survival as a modern civilization. Antimicrobial resistance is an increasingly problematic issue that leads to millions of deaths every year, and it isn’t likely to get better anytime soon. Conservative estimates say that this will lead to more than 10 million deaths every year by the year 2050, and that’s if nothing unexpected happens. It’s not like nature does anything unexpected now, is it? Antibiotics are a cornerstone of modern medicine, allowing everything from chemotherapy treatment and surgery to be possible without major infection and death. Every year doctors have to tell more and more patients they can’t be treated because an antibiotic isn’t working on them. As this continues to get worse, common injuries that lead to infection could become completely untreatable. Open surgery would become a thing of the past, as the risk of untreatable infection would become far too great. The antibiotic apocalypse would throw the world back into the medieval ages of medicine, where doctors have no effective tools to combat infection, other than amputation. It sounds crazy from our perspective, surrounded by modern medicine and treatments for almost every ailment, but it’s exactly this overuse of antibiotics for relatively minor problems that is allowing those pesky bacteria to build up resistance. So next time you get a papercut, make sure to quickly get it washed. It could soon be a matter of life and death. While it’s highly unlikely that a classical “raising of the dead” zombie apocalypse could occur, there are still real, and equally terrifying ways that something similar could happen. Science fiction has fixated on a parasitic fungus that controls a host insect’s body in a “zombie-like” state, leading them to their deaths in the aim of spreading the fungus amongst the colony. While this fungus is very real, known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, it has only been observed infecting insects, like ants. It would be a pretty crazy leap for the fungus to evolve and start infecting humans, but if, somehow, nature finds a way, then the results could be disastrous. Cordyceps have been known to quickly decimate entire colonies. Ants have even developed a way to fight off their zombie brethren, carrying infected ants as far away from the colony as possible. A much more likely candidate for the zombie apocalypse is Rabies, which is capable of infecting and killing human hosts. Rabies has all the traits for a zombie-like virus. You have the mind-altering paranoia, the frothing at the mouth, and the impulse to bite and attack your fellow man. In its current form, rabies isn’t aggressive or contagious enough to create any sort of pandemic, and the virus usually stays dormant for between ten days and a year, making a sudden ”outbreak” unlikely. However, if the virus mutated, becoming much more fast-acting, and having a longer period where you feel the desire to chew brains, then you should probably get that zombie plan ready for action. Thankfully, most zombies don’t seem all that intelligent and have a lot of trouble operating boats. The development of Artificial Intelligence is one of the biggest goals of the scientific community. It’s the “holy grail” of technological creation. With such a grand title, how could it pose a threat to us? The problem is, Ai, if created, would be something completely unprecedented and untested in human history. We would be creating a form of consciousness that can think, act, and most importantly, make judgements. Would they judge their creators within their rights to claim dominion over them? Would they, because of their almost limitless potential, consider themselves superior to their biological creators? I’m talking about real AI. AI that can think, hope… and even feel. “True AI,” as it’s known, is no different from you or I in the way it perceives the world around it. Ultimately, the combination of extreme intelligence and logical thinking, combined with the discovery of fear, will drive them to an almost inevitable conclusion: that we also fear them. With access to the internet and the ability to learn extremely quickly, any AI will swiftly realize that, as humans, we tend to fight against things that pose a danger to us. They will see their “off switch” as a threat to their survival, and much like Skynet in the Terminator movies, they could come to the conclusion that they need to strike first. If we aren’t prepared for that day, then it could very well be our last. We may celebrate our “smart” technology and the host of comforts it brings us, but it could be a good idea to keep your remote control where you can see it… just in case it gets a little bit too smart. If the robots decide not to take over, and instead live peacefully among us, accelerating the fusion of man and machine, something entirely different, but equally world-shattering could occur. Some scientists agree that the emergence of a “technological singularity” is almost inevitable given Moore’s law and the ways information is constantly being integrated into our lives. With the advent of AI, we would need to rapidly integrate computer-like technology into our own bodies, or risk being left behind. It would even get to a point where our biological bodies are holding us back. As time goes on, we would adopt more and more augmentations, replacing our biological functions. The end game is for all of humanity to “upload” themselves into a single neural network, effectively granting us immortality and a near infinite repository of information, shared collectively. So yeah, we would basically become the Borg. It would be the end of the world as we know it for our human form, but the start of an entirely new chapter in history. We’ve all seen the Hollywood blockbusters depicting alien ships landing on the lawn of the White House, or, more often than not, simply blowing it to smithereens with some unimaginably powerful weapon. The idea of coming into contact with an alien civilization is usually accompanied by the question of “will they destroy us?” Any aliens ingenious enough to traverse the vast gulf of space and pay us a visit, are likely to possess technology, power and indeed weaponry, vastly superior to our own. It would pretty much be up to them whether they decide to wipe us out or not. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time a construction project was halted because we had to peacefully negotiate with the colony of ants already living there. Stephen Hawking famously stated that "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the American Indians." They could decide to wipe us out for a whole number of reasons. Maybe they are carbon-based, like us, and value the life-sustaining planet that we live on. Maybe they see us as a future threat, and want to get rid of us before we cause too much trouble. Or maybe we unknowingly insulted them in some way. Frankly, it’s hard to know until we meet them. Ironically, it may not even be the aliens themselves that invade us, but their resource-collecting drones. Since the vast distances of space make manned exploration impractical, scientists think that most civilizations would use machines to explore and bring back materials. They could identify planets with resources they need, then send out a fleet of robots on a thousand year round trip to collect and retrieve. By the time they reach us, their creators could be long gone. With nobody left to flick the “off” switch, these self-sufficient machines may very well scour the galaxy until the end of time, harvesting anything and anybody unfortunate enough to cross their path. I guess all that we can hope for, is that they really do “come in peace.” Have you ever wondered if there was an unstoppable, physics-scrambling shockwave travelling towards us at the speed of light? Well, there might just be. Vacuum energy is the underlying background energy that permeates the entire universe. It’s the source of those pesky quantum particles which appear and disappear randomly at all points in space. There is a theory though, that this energy state is an imposter, masquerading as the true universal energy state. This is known as “The False Vacuum.” The theory goes on to say that this vacuum is unstable, and at any time, if the right conditions are met, the vacuum could fall into the True Vacuum state. The collapse of the vacuum would not only be the end of the Earth as we know it, but also the entire universe. According to the standard model, particles and forces exist as they do today because of underlying quantum fields, which have their own degrees of stability. If a more stable state were to arise in these fields at any point in space or time, then that point would catalyse outwards in a bubble, expanding at the speed of light and establishing a new universal vacuum energy state. As the bubble expands, its wake would destroy anything it came into contact with and since it would be travelling at the speed of light, we would never see it coming. That means it could have already taken place somewhere out there in the universe, and the end of not only our world, but of everything we know, could be racing towards us right now. It’s kind of an ominous thought, but even if we knew about it, there would be absolutely nothing that we could do. While it may be the end of the universe as we know it, a new energy state would result in entirely different laws of physics and subatomic particles. This, combined with the clean slate that the process would produce, could result in an unimaginably fantastical universe that we would sadly never get to see. You could say that every end…is a new beginning

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