5 Apocalyptic Chain Reactions (That Have Already Started)

Humanity as we know it is doomed. You already knew that. After a lifetime of disaster movies, you're at least mentally prepared for nuclear war, asteroid strikes, raging pandemics, or the very real possibility that all of the planet's cockroaches will combine into a single Voltron-esque mega-roach. And that's why you'll be totally blindsided when the real disasters hit. Like ...

#5. A Single Red Fungus Could Starve A Third Of The World

Via Rusttracker.org

Wheat accounts for a full third of our global caloric intake. It comes in second only to rice on the Most Important Crops list (which we as a site are like two bad ideas away from writing). So you can imagine the panic that ensued when a little red fungus known as stem rust showed up back in the 1950s and devastated 40 percent of the North American crop. Luckily, science stepped in and developed rust-resistant varieties of wheat, thereby ensuring that the primary vehicle for peanut butter delivery kept on chugging.

The problem? The same way that bacteria are learning new ways to overcome antibiotics, thereby threatening to send medicine back to the leech 'n chop days, wheat rust too is learning to overcome.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
Really good for wheat rust's character arc; less good for sandwich enthusiasts.

Back in 1999, Uganda experienced the first outbreak of a new strain of stem rust. Designated Ug99 for the year it was discovered, this harmless-looking red fuzz can decimate a crop in short order. And researchers have determined that nearly all wheat strains in the world are susceptible to it.

If you're thinking that this is happening way over in Uganda and therefore you needn't be the least concerned about it, then first of all: Hello, fellow American! And second of all, since its discovery, Ug99 has spread to almost a dozen countries and shows no signs of slowing. A single hectare of Ug99-infected wheat can release more than 10 billion spores, and it would take only a single spore hitching a ride on a single human to spread this to the United States and transform our amber waves of grain into red wastelands. And that's when you'll discover that when a loaf of bread is worth its weight in gold, everybody is gluten-free.

Iryna Melnyk/iStock/Getty Images
So get used to bullshit millet bread and/or starvation.

#4. Cascading Space Debris Could Destroy Our Entire Way Of Life

Petrovich9/iStock/Getty Images

Remember Gravity, wherein Sandra Bullock had to survive the aftermath of an orbital debris chain reaction armed with nothing but her wits and panties? While it doesn't actually occur at the lethal speed with which it's depicted in the movie, such a scenario is already happening as we speak. It's called Kessler Syndrome, and if you like the fact that you're able to read this article on your smartphone, you should know that it has the potential to wipe out everything you hold dear (that is, said smartphone).

Since the days when a spacewalk was just an excuse for an astronaut to go out for a smoke, humans have launched more than 5,000 objects into space. This has resulted in more than 100 million pieces of space debris orbiting the planet, which looks something like this:

Via BBC
Working in space is hard enough without getting nailed by Gene Roddenberry's ashes at Mach 17.

Way back in 1978, NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler proposed that all this space junk would eventually result in a horrific chain reaction, in which one bit would collide with another bit, creating more bits to collide with, and so on until the entirety of low Earth orbit was covered in an impassable 14,000-mile-per-hour swarm of shit. At that speed, a single five-centimeter hunk of junk has the explosive power of 1.8 kilograms of TNT -- more than enough to completely obliterate your GPS's ability to get you to the nearest Burger King, stat.

And the most terrifying part? This chain reaction is already happening. It started with the accidental 2009 collision of the satellites Kosmos-2251 and Iridium 33. The impact resulted in a spectacular shotgun blast of debris, and that's only the beginning. Also in 2009, the upper stage from a Chinese rocket narrowly missed the massive eight-metric-ton sleeping behemoth known as Envisat. There's up to a 30 percent chance of the now-useless Envisat colliding with something else during its remaining time in orbit, and the number only stays that low if we never launch another thing into space.

EADS Astrium
You know when an asshole deer jumps in front of a speeding car? That. In space.

So what are we doing to prevent this scenario from playing out? Not a whole hell of a lot. A number of exotic proposals have been put on the table -- from giant space-nets to the robotic equivalent of that elderly trash picker who cleans up after your ungrateful ass at the park -- but they're all knee-deep in a quagmire of inadequate funding and political disunity. Has nobody tried explaining how this will affect our pornography access? You'd think that would be the great unifier ...

#3. Climate Change Is Causing More Wildfires; Wildfires Are Causing More Climate Change

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The hottest new side effect of climate change? Unprecedented drought and higher temperatures have resulted in mega-wildfires that burn worse than that time your dad called you a busted condom. The annual surface area of the planet consumed by wildfire has doubled in the past 30 years, and is set to double yet again by 2050. Even worse: These massive fires, which are caused in part by climate change, then pump out even more fuel for climate change.

The US, with all of our fracking and our industrial processes and vicious, lifelong hatred of walking anywhere, is the world's second-place carbon emitter. (To be clear, this is one of the few contests in which we do not want to chant, "USA! USA!") Now, let's spin the globe around to Indonesia, where for a good chunk of 2015, nearly 100,000 forest fires raged through the nation's tropical peatlands. These vast swathes of smoldering carbon-rich soil produced enough CO2 and methane to overshadow the USA's average daily carbon emissions.

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Only YOU can prevent forest fires REPENT! THE END IS NIGH!" -- Smokey Bear

In 2007, after five entire millennia of happily existing as a frozen goddamned wasteland, Alaska's North Slope burst into inexplicable flame, torching centuries' worth of organic matter in the soil. It released "as much carbon dioxide into the air as the Arctic's entire tundra ecosystem, including the northern reaches of Canada and Russia, had absorbed in the previous quarter century." And Alaska is set to see a doubling of wildfires by 2050, and a tripling by 2100 ... even if world governments take aggressive actions to curb carbon emissions right fucking now. Which, taking a quick glance in the direction of our governments, looks slightly less likely than a reanimated-cyborg-powered Beatles reunion tour.

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