What Will Happen When The Earth Ends

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An artist’s concept of an asteroid impact with early Earth. This is just one of the many ways we all die! Don Davis/NAS

What Will Happen When The Earth Ends

What Will Happen When The Earth Ends

Dylan Matthews is a senior reporter and lead writer for Future Perfect, where he has worked since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts , economic policy and theory, and conflicts over the right way to practice philanthropy.

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The new report claims to provide “the first science-based list of global threats with potentially infinite consequences that, in extreme cases, could lead to loss of human life.” The authors say these threats include everything from climate change to super volcanoes to artificial intelligence.

By “infinite impact,” the authors, led by Dennis Pamlin of the Global Challenge Foundation and Stuart Armstrong of the Institute for the Future of Humanity, mean potential threats to extinction humanity or lead to a situation where “civilization ends. a state of great suffering and “he recovers”.

The good news is that the authors don’t believe we’re being fooled. Pumlin and Armstrong believe that humanity still has a long time left – perhaps millions of years: “Dinosaurs have been around for 135 million years, and if we’re smart, there’s a good chance that we will be able to live much longer,” they write. About 108 billion people have ever lived, and Pumlin and Armstrong estimate that if humanity survives 50 million years, the number total of people a

This is an optimistic assessment of humanity’s prospects, but it also means that if something were to happen that led to the extinction of humanity, the moral damage would be done. very big It is worth protecting yourself from events that could cause even a slight chance.

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The scenario the authors see does not include the 2°C (3.6°F) warming that climate negotiators have been fighting to avoid for decades. A warming of 4 or 6 °C (7.2 or 10.8 °F) is a very difficult scenario where it is not known whether humans will be able to survive.

According to a 2013 World Bank report, “the feasibility of adapting to a 4°C world is also uncertain.” Warming at this level will displace large numbers of people as sea levels rise and Coastal areas were sinking.Agriculture was dealt a major blow.

Pamlin and Armstrong also raise concerns about geoengineering. With so much warming, things like spraying sulfate particles into the stratosphere to cool the Earth can be attractive to politicians and even individuals. However, the risks are unknown, and Pumlin and Armstrong conclude that “the biggest problem is that geoengineering can backfire and just make things worse.”

What Will Happen When The Earth Ends

Photo of mushroom clouds from the Bikini Atoll nuclear test, March 26, 1954. We’re going to need a lot of them to end the world. (Roger Violet/Getty Images)

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The “good” news is that nuclear war can only end humanity under certain circumstances. Limited exchanges such as the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II would have been humanitarian disasters, but they could not have disappeared.

Even the much larger exchanges don’t provide the level of impact that Pamlin and Armstrong need. “Even if the entire population of Europe, Russia and the United States were completely destroyed in a nuclear war – which some studies have shown is physically impossible given the spread of the population and the number of missiles – it would not increase the war. to the first level of impact required > 2 billion affected,” Pumlin and Armstrong wrote.

So why is nuclear war on the list? Because there could be a nuclear winter. This means that if enough nuclear bombs are detonated, global temperatures will drop dramatically and rapidly, disrupting food production and possibly making human life impossible. It’s not clear if this is even possible or how big a war it would take to make it happen, but if it is possible, it means that a massive nuclear exchange is a possible cause of extinction. human

Like nuclear war, not every pandemic is justified. Past pandemics – such as the Black Death and the Spanish flu of 1918 – killed tens of millions of people but did not end civilization. The authors are interested in an even more catastrophic scenario.

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Is it similar? After the Spanish flu, medicine improved dramatically. But on the other hand, long-distance transportation has increased, and more and more people live in densely populated cities. This makes worldwide transmission much larger.

Even a pandemic that killed most of humanity would surely leave a few people alive who are not immune to the disease. The risk is not that one disease will kill everyone; the idea is that a pandemic kills enough people that the foundations of civilization—primarily agriculture—cannot be preserved, and those who survive die.

“Ecological collapse refers to a situation in which an ecosystem experiences a significant, possibly permanent, reduction in the capacity of each organism, often leading to mass decline,” the report says. explains.

What Will Happen When The Earth Ends

Mass extinctions can happen for many reasons, many of which have their own categories on this list: global warming, asteroid impacts, etc. Journalist Elizabeth Colbert claims that humans may be facing mass extinction, mainly due to carbon dioxide emissions. Because humans rely heavily on ecosystems, both natural and human, for food and other resources, we are also at risk of mass extinctions that disrupt these ecosystems.

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Weimar Germany during hyperinflation, 1923. We will need something even worse if humanity as a whole is destroying itself. (Albert Harlingue/Roger Violet/Getty Images)

It’s a vague term, but basically it means a collapse of the world’s economic and political systems in the form of something like “a severe, long-term depression with high fracture and lack of high earnings, a fall in normal trade due to hyperinflation, or even an economic crisis – caused by a sharp increase in mortality, and perhaps even a decline in population.

The paper also mentioned other possibilities, such as a coronal ejection from the Sun disrupting Earth’s electrical systems.

However, it is not clear whether these things will be an existential threat. Humanity has experienced economic downturns before – even ones as great as the Great Depression. An economic collapse would have to be much more severe to threaten extinction or kill so many people that the survivors cannot recover.

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In the past, large asteroid collisions have caused massive extinctions on Earth. The most famous is the widespread belief that the fall of Chicxulub 66 million years ago caused a great recession that wiped out the dinosaurs (another theory blames a volcanic eruption, more on that later). In theory, future exposures could have the same effect.

The good news is that NASA is confident in its ability to track asteroids large enough to seriously disrupt human life if they hit, and efforts to find them are improving. Scientists are also working on developing ways to destroy asteroids that would have truly devastating effects, such as hitting them with a spacecraft with enough force to change their path while avoiding Earth.

An example of the possible rapid release from the Yellowstone lunar supereruption. Remember that such an explosion is highly unlikely. (USGS)

What Will Happen When The Earth Ends

Like asteroids, there is historical precedent for volcanic eruptions causing mass returns. The explosion is thought to have caused the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which wiped out about 90 percent of Earth’s species.

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Eruptions can cause severe global cooling and disrupt agricultural production. They are usually not preventable, at least at the moment, although they are also very rare. The authors concluded that another Permian-Triassic-scale eruption is “highly unlikely in human time, but the damage from an even smaller eruption could affect the climate, damage that destroy the biosphere, secure the food supply, and create political instability. “

Like a pandemic, the risk is not that the event itself will kill everyone, but that those who survive will no longer be able to survive.

It is not dangerous today, but it may be in the future. Synthetic biology is a new branch of science that aims to create biological systems, including artificial life.

A hypothetical risk is that the tools of synthetic biology could be used to create a supervirus or superbacterium that would be more infectious and capable of mass destruction than naturally occurring ones. Most likely, such an organism will be developed as a biological weapon for a military or non-state actor.

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There is a risk that such weapons could be used in combat or a terrorist attack, or that they could accidentally escape from a laboratory. A situation or situation could threaten all of humanity if biological weapons spread beyond their original purpose and become a global problem. As with normal pandemics, the true extinction will only occur if the survivors cannot adapt to the massive population decline.

John Vinskas, a student at the University of South Florida’s Nanotechnology Research and Education Center, looks under a microscope at the tiny particles that determine our fate. (Joe Riddle/Getty

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