Accident Disaster Science

7 Ways Scientists Plan To Avert The Apocalypse

7 Ways Scientists Plan To Avert The Apocalypse –


Most of us sleep soundly in our beds at night, not even thinking about the possibility that the world could end in horrible fiery death at any minute.

This is probably a good thing.

Luckily, however, there are people out there who have made it their business to protect us from the apocalypse. These heroes have taken every eventuality into account and are currently figuring out various genius schemes to prevent them. These scientists are nobly sacrificing their sleep and sanity, pondering the ultimate fate of humanity, so that you don’t have to.

We all have a zombie apocalypse survival strategy (right?), but as with all things, prevention is usually better than cure as you can’t perish in an apocalypse that doesn’t happen.

Whether the threat to Earth comes from above in the form of an Idaho sized space rock, from below in the guise of an explosive super volcano, or even from within, in the shape of some explosively virulent disease that will either turn us into a horde of zombies, or dehydrated husks. Regardless of the source of the threat, you can rest safe in the knowledge that there are some very clever people working on it.

7. Asteroid Impact


Until quite recently, most people were inexplicably chill about the idea of an asteroid screaming out of the sky and obliterating life on Earth. That was until an asteroid 300 metres across unexpectedly passed by the Earth at a distance of less than half a million miles back in 1989.

We were never in danger of being hit that time, but it definitely made the powers that be sit up and pay a bit more attention to the space rocks of death, just floating around out there in the solar system.

An impact from the kind of asteroid that passed by the Earth in the 80s would likely result in a continent-wide firestorm as the skies above the Earth ignited, and a catastrophic effect on global temperatures, and we didn’t even see it coming.

Since then, NASA has formed a network of observatories loosely dubbed as “Spaceguard” to keep an eye on the skies and document all of the shifty-looking Near Earth Objects (NEOs). They continue to track apocalypse-causing rocks, but what would happen if one was actually heading for us?

Despite the risk of simply creating lots of smaller asteroids, many still consider nukes to be a viable option. Others think that a slightly less dramatic tactic of nudging it off-course with a projectile would do the trick. A slightly less orthodox solution would be to paint it. Giving it a different shade would change the way it reflects sunlight. Long story short, this would mean that it receives a different amount of “push” from solar radiation, knocking it off course.

6. Antibiotic Resistance


It might seem like one of those boring headlines buried in the middle of a broadsheet newspaper, but the antibiotic apocalypse is very real, very gruesome and very deadly.

If it happens then we basically knock ourselves back to the Dark Ages, where an infected cut or bad chesty cough could mean curtains for you. Some experts predict that, by 2050, up to 10 million people could be dying per year from currently treatable diseases. Think epidemics, quarantines, hazmat suits – the works.

A bit of background: Antibiotic resistance comes about when people take antibiotics too often and/or incorrectly. Broadly speaking what happens is that, by so regularly killing off the weaker strains of the bacteria, we are artificially selecting the stronger ones to survive and multiply, eventually creating super strains that can’t be controlled using current drugs.

Part of the problem is in the fact that, in the past 30 years, only one new antibiotic has been developed, so pumping money into that kind of research is an obvious choice. There’s also the statistic that 70% of antibiotics are prescribed to animals, to compensate for the fact that we tend to keep them in grimy hellholes before shooting and eating them.

So, unless you want to live in a dystopian future of virulent infection and explosive diarrhea, stop trying to treat your flu with penicillin.

5. Zombie Apocalypse

Universal Pictures

People love discussing the ins and outs of the zombie apocalypse. We like to muse on our survival plans over a couple of beers and ponder the various ways it might be feasible, safe in the knowledge that it’ll probably never actually happen.

Then the Pentagon went and published a paper on how it would deal with the eventuality of a zombie outbreak and now we’re all, frankly, a bit unnerved. The document was not published on April Fools day and, as is noted in its disclaimer section, “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.” Well then.

The strategy takes all kinds of zombie variations into account, including symbiant zombies, space zombies, evil magic zombies (seriously) and even vegetarian zombies.

You can read the document for yourself here.

Perhaps spurred on by this official action on zombies, a team of statisticians from Cornell University modelled the apocalypse to figure out where the safest place to hide out would be.

After using differential equations to model a fully connected population, then moving on to lattice-based models, and ending with a full US-scale simulation of an outbreak across the continental US they came to the groundbreaking conclusion that you should probably head for the mountains.

4. Population Boom

Flickr/James Cridland

People often talk about “needing a new plague/war/apocalypse” to sort out the sticky problem of the booming human population, but it turns out that not even this would solve our problems.

Using a computer model based on real population and demographic data, researchers found that under current conditional, the global population is likely to grow to 10.4 billion by 2100. When they factored in a World War III scenario, with the same proportion of people killed in both the first and second world wars combined, it barely even registered as a blip on the graph.

Even with policies to restrict childbirth, it is thought that the pace of population growth is now too far gone to control in this way and, unless we find a way to offload a few billion people to another planet, our resources are going to be dwindling pretty sharpish.

In the meantime, experts are proposing techniques to reduce our impact as opposed to our numbers such as reduced reliance on fossil fuels and alternative food sources that don’t require vast swathes of land to grow crops and cows.

Ultimately, however, if the population reaches an unsustainable level, then people are going to die. So, in a broadly utilitarian way, overpopulation is one of the few apocalypse scenarios that actually sorts itself out in the end.

3. Global Warming


It’s getting hot in here, but rather than simply taking off all our clothes, there are those who think we should probably do something about the environment.

Seeing as the tactic of not-burning-all-the-fossil-fuels-we-can-get-our-mitts-on seems like an unexpectedly tricky concept for people to grasp, some scientists are working on ways to bring the temperature down in spite of ourselves.

As well as the hope that one of the three popular clean energy sources – wind, solar and nuclear – will eventually replace fossil fuels, offsetting the temperature spike will hopefully buy us more time to make the transition.

The controversial field of geoengineering involves artificially altering the environment to change the Earth’s climate. It’s controversial because that’s kinda how we got into this mess in the first place. Some proposals include: putting space mirrors into orbit to reflect some of the sun’s radiation, spraying sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere, or even recycling the carbon already in the atmosphere and turning it back into fuel.

These techniques are a short term solution to put off having our coastal cities slide into the sea, but we will ultimately have to come to terms with the fact that the oil is running out about as fast as our luck.

2. Robot Uprising

Boston Dynamics/Youtube

This has been the domain of sci-fi up until now, but as our technology advances, some people are beginning to get a bit edgy about the robot uprising.

We’re not talking about people from the more paranoid corners of the internet either, as the likes of Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have all expressed their concerns. They, and others like them, see AI as the biggest technological threat to society in this century.

Musk has even taken matters into his own hands.The Tesla and SpaceX CEO has donated $7 million to Artificial Intelligence research teams around the world, with the proviso that they should dedicate some of their efforts to not only developing more and more sophisticated AI, but also ways for us to retain control of it when it begins thinking for itself.

Two of the major fields that have to be tightly controlled are banking and the military and the UN is already considering a blanket ban on AI weapons.

Whilst it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have to deal with robots travelling back from the future to murder us all, creating an artificial intelligence that is both capable of upgrading its own software and understanding when it is being exploited is surely a recipe for disaster.

1. Supervolcanic Eruption


Volcanic eruptions sound scary, but not quite as scary as getting turned into planet soup by a giant space rock.

The thing is, though, that if a supervolcano like the one beneath Yellowstone National Park decides to go all doomsday on us, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Yup, the scientists don’t have a plan for this one.

The blast from this uncontrollable, unpredictable event would be strong enough to fire at least 1,000 cubic kilometres of material into the upper atmosphere. The scalding plume of superheated gases would reach the edge of space before spreading out across the globe.

This would have a dramatic cooling effect on the planet as the aerosols suspended in the upper atmosphere block the sun’s heat and light for many years, possibly kick starting an ice age. The effects on agriculture would be catastrophic and famine would become widespread.

Luckily, these super-eruption only occur every 25 millennia or so. Unluckily, Yellowstone looks set to blow its top any day now.


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