Sunday, November 1, 2009

Doomsday Scenarios

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the world is going to end—maybe today or maybe a million years from now, but its destruction is inevitable. The end may come without warning; everything you know, including your cat, could be obliterated at any moment. “Oh no,” you think, “armageddon won’t happen to me.” You know who else thought that? (See Figure 1: This Guy).

That’s the bad news, and I realize it’s depressing. However, remember, I have good news as well: the good news is that, odds are, the end of the world is going to be awesome. Like a gut-shot gunslinger in an old western, the human race will fling itself over the balcony railing, screaming melodramatically as it falls.

For instance, theoretically, there are one-dimensional cracks in the fabric of space called cosmic string. Although only a proton thin, they run the length of the universe and have incredible density. We’re not sure whether or not they exist, but they might, and if they do, and if one were to touch the earth, the earth would be torn apart in a matter of seconds. The whole earth, reduced to cosmic rubble by invisible space string. How cool is that? (Cooler than nuclear winter, which is another completely plausible doomsday scenario.)

Or, there’s a chance that, if a large enough meteor hits the earth (it’s happened before) it could trigger simultaneous underwater volcanic eruptions that would make the oceans boil, spawning giant hurricanes that merge and form a hypercane, a giant storm the size of North America. Not to mention the volcanic ash and dust that would blot out the sun. Whoah.

Tidal waves, biblical plagues, alien invasion, hell reaching its maximum capacity and forcing the dead to rise from their graves, they’re all exciting possible doomsday scenarios. There are, however, a few boring doomsday scenarios: dwindling natural resources, a global pandemic, pollution, and global warming are all steady, gradual problems that could ultimately destroy the human race, hopefully before they bore us to death. Nobody wants to spend their afterlife telling other spirits “How did I die? Well, the earth’s temperature climbed half a degree every year for twenty years, which doesn’t seem like much, but that increase significantly increased the amount of algea in the oceans, which upset the foodchain and blabbity-blab blab boring scientific stuff.” The biggest reason to fight globabl warming is so we can obliterate ourselves in a flashier way, like by creating a miniature black hole or zombie plague. 

This brings up a frequently asked question: are humans stupid enough to end the world? This is a facetious question, because causing doomsday is anything but easy. Look at dodo birds—the dummies—they came nowhere near obliterating themselves. Rats, pigs—and yes, humans—had to do it for them. In a way, completely destroying our race or planet would be an impressive accomplishment, the crowning cap stone to our pyramid of self-destructive behavior. 

“Doomsday” in the sense I’m charting doesn’t require global demolition, merely the extinction of the human species (or permanent enslavement by another race, such as the Alien Zoo or Planet of the Apes scenario). The earth is a 4.5 billion year old ball of rock that is much harder to destroy than the human race, and the majority of doomsday scenarios would leave the earth intact enough to support other life forms (See Figure 3: Who Will Inherit the Earth?). 

Even if we avoid the many natural or unnatural catastrophes that could end the world, in a billion years our sun’s steady increase in brightness will evaporate all the oceans, which means there will be no place to vacation and the Earth will consequently be unlivable. Ultimately the universe will either continue expanding and tear itself apart at the seams, or reverse course and contract, ending in a cataclysmic reversal of the big bang.  

And while it would suck to be in the middle of one of those apocalyptic situations, you have to admit that the end of the world is far more exciting than anything else you’ve ever done, including that time you made out with the high school chemistry student teacher and then smoked grass in the back of his van. 

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