5 Ways The World Could End You'd Never See Coming
The funny thing about life is, trouble never comes from where you expect it. You spend two months worried about interviewing for that big job promotion, then on your way there, you get attacked by a pack of wild dogs. That's just the way it goes.
So in terms of worldwide disasters, while Hollywood obsesses over asteroid strikes and earthquakes and whatever the fuck 2012 was about, don't be surprised if disaster comes in the form of one of these lesser-known calamities that you'd never even heard of.
Until today, that is.
Volcanoes are badass, there is no denying that. People worship the things as gods. They can create damned land masses. And sure, Mt. Pinatubo and Krakatoa may have messed some shit up when they went off, but that's really just a problem for the people who made the rather short-sighted decision to live at the base of one.
Whatever, mountain god. We live over here.
But what if you had a really, really big volcano. A super volcano, if you will. One big enough to fuck up the whole planet.
Supervolcanoes exist, and they are to volcanoes what nuclear weapons are to firecrackers. According to Wikipedia, a supervolcano can puke out more than 240-cubic-miles of matter into the sky, which is millions of times larger than a normal eruption.
Imagine tossing all of Connecticut into the atmosphere.
They are caused by massive amounts of magma building up pressure under the crust, and not enough holes (volcanoes, geysers, etc,) to vent it all. Eventually, the pressure builds until a massive section of earth explodes. The human race was possibly shaped by one such explosion--it wreaked such havoc on the ecosystem that when it was done, there were only enough humans left on the planet to fill one high school gymnasium.
So Are We Doomed?
Maybe. There is no evidence that any of these are going to explode in our lifetime- oh wait. Long Valley in California has been showing signs of "waking up" in the past 20 years.
Foul play hasn't been ruled out.
Then there are the Siberian traps in Russia, which are quiet for now. This is very good news because it is estimated that if they blew up, they would likely cause another event like the one back at the Permian Triassic boundary 251-million-years ago... which virtually wiped out all life on Earth.
You know how every once in a while you hear a story about some dumbass who fires his gun into the air like Yosemite Sam, only to have the bullet fall back to Earth and kill some bystander a few seconds later?
Imagine if the Earth did that, only instead of a bullet, it's a hunk of rock big enough to kill millions of us. That's a verneshot.
Also called God's Money Shot.
It all starts the same as your mega-volcano up there, when incredibly hot rock starts welling up under the Earth's crust. Only this time, the heat creates a massive buildup of carbon dioxide gas underground. It builds and builds and builds until it erupts with such incredible force that it launches gigantic rocks into fucking space.
Well, not all the way into space. If that's all it did, it wouldn't be such a problem (and in fact we'd probably just sell tickets to that shit--though you'd have to be far enough away to avoid the shockwave and molten rock spraying everywhere). No, the problem is the rock doesn't quite wind up leaving the atmosphere or settling into orbit. So your real troubles start when it comes back down.
So Are We Doomed?
We don't know for sure that this has ever happened, but if it did, it would basically combine all of the horror of a supervolcano with a massive asteroid strike.
The whole theory came about because when looking back over some extinction-level events of the past, you seem to have both signs of an asteroid strike and a volcanic eruption. And that would be such spectacularly bad luck that it would not only confirm the existence of deity, but of an extremely pissed off deity.
So it seems much more likely to some experts that instead of a rock from outer space, that the call was coming from inside the house, so to speak--a hunk of our own planet came crashing down thousands of miles away. It would seriously be like if you were just minding your own business tomorrow and suddenly Tokyo fell on your head.
Gulf Stream Shutdown
In case you didn't know, the Gulf Stream is a sort of a "river" in the Atlantic ocean, a current of water that runs from Florida to western Europe. It has existed for thousands of years, and pumps warm water and air up to western and northern Europe, places that would otherwise be (more) frozen hell-holes.
You're welcome, Finland.
Scientists have noticed, however, that the overall temperature of the stream seems to be dropping, and has dropped a pants-shitting 30 percent since 1992. As you probably guessed, we again have climate change to thank. Before someone in the comments screams, "OH SO NOW GLOBAL WARMING MAKE PART OF THE OCEAN COOLER?!?!?!" keep in mind that when hot air melts a glacier, the hunks of ice break off and cool the water they melt into.
Originally, the fear was that if the Gulf Stream cooled too much, it would stop running, since it's those differences in temperature that keep it going. Then western and northern Europe would once again become home to woolly mammoths and fanged squirrels.
Artist's rendering from a U.N. report
However, studies have shown that if the Gulf Stream were to stop, there appear to be enough other factors warming Europe that it would have an effect, but wouldn't be the end of the world. So hell, why did we even bring it up?
The sudden drop off in inappropriate Speedo wearing in Europe would be the least of our concerns. According to measurements taken in 2005, the possible side effects of a "thermohaline shutdown" could include massive climate shifts, increases in major storms, greenhouse gases collecting in the upper ocean and phytoplankton dying off. In other words, Soylent Green would move from "Charlton Heston wailing" to "Grim predictor of the future."
In case you haven't seen this 37-year-old movie, Chuck discovered we were eating humans because we ran out of food, and we ran out of food because we killed the fucking ocean. So it would be like that, only with cataclysmic El Ninos.
So Are We Doomed?
Like with a lot of effects of climate change, we're kind of counting on uncertainty to save us (that is, we don't know exactly how this will work because we've never seen it happen before). Models show the current should keep running for another hundred years or so and they could still wind-up having to adjust those predictions--in either direction.
Global Dimming? What the hell is this, do we really need another Global ____ing crisis of some kind?
It's exactly what it sounds like, enough stuff gets into the atmosphere that it blocks the sunlight enough to shift temperatures. It's happened in the past due to the previously mentioned supervolcanoes, and it could be happening now in some parts of the world, due to pollution.
Angelinos will be unable to notice this phenomenon.
Whoa, wait a second. If it's making the world cooler, and the big problem is warming, then what the hell are we complaining about? It's less a natural disaster and more of an ironic superhero.
...Until you get to the side effects. Global dimming happens now because some pollutants act as cloud "seeds," that is water molecules in the air cling to them and form clouds. These pollutants form more and smaller collections of water, making the clouds denser and shinier, and therefore reflecting more light back into space.
These same pollutants are the ones responsible for acid rain, smog and a handful of other nasty shit. It also causes changes in weather patterns, leading to greater rainfall in some areas and droughts in others.
Some people believe that global dimming might have already lead to the massive droughts that ruined Africa back in the 70s and 80s, but the real shitstorm comes from the belief that if we cut back on the emissions that cause global dimming, global warming will suddenly accelerate and fuck us all, because that may be one of the mechanisms keeping global warming in check.
So Are We Doomed?
At the end of the day, most of the practices that cause the dimming also cause the warming. Going green fixes both problems in the long run. So while some people have actually suggested increasing the dimming to prevent the warming in the short term, this is kind of like killing a hooker and instead of just calling a lawyer to plea down to manslaughter, killing all of the witnesses in hopes that somehow you'll eventually kill enough people that the cops will stop investigating. It really doesn't work that way.
Or, on more scientific terms, Gavin Schmidt from NASA says:
"Ideas that we should increase aerosol emissions to counteract global warming have been described as a 'Faustian bargain' because that would imply an ever increasing amount of emissions in order to match the accumulated greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, with ever increasing monetary and health costs."
Of course, "monetary and health costs" would be the Vengeful Pimp in this analogy.
Methane Burps (The Clathrate Gun Hypothesis)
You can immediately see from the title of this entry that this phenomenon has two names, and that one of them has to be utterly inappropriate. Either the situation is wacky and harmless like a burp, or it's something you'd name after a fucking sci-fi supervillain's doomsday weapon (a "Clathrate Gun").
So which is it?
Methane burps are, sure enough, huge belches of methane coming from the ocean floor and permafrost, and they make an 18-wheeler's carbon footprint look like a baby koala. Since they're a terrifying death sentence for life as we know it, we should probably be calling it the Gun thing from now on (so-named because once this is set in motion, it is unstoppable, just like firing a gun).
It works like this: Heating in the atmosphere causes the permafrost to thaw, or for underwater methane clathrate deposits to release. Methane is much more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, so it would drastically cut the amount of time global warming needs to take hold.
The shitty news? The sudden increase in temperature would spur the release of even more methane, which would raise the temperature even more, which would release even more methane... You get the idea (and the bullet analogy).
So Are We Doomed?
The bad thing is, this isn't something concocted by eggheads crunching numbers on theoretical doomsday scenarios. It has happened before. Twice.
The second time was about 55-million years ago and screwed up the environment for almost 100,000 years. The first was in the wake of the aforementioned supervolcano from 251-million years ago that, as we said, killed off almost every living thing on Earth.
See, volcanoes can also cause global warming (due to CO2 they release) so with CO2 again on the rise--this time thanks to thousands of power plants and millions of cars--it's at least possible the trigger could get pulled on the Clathrate Gun. But how likely is it?
Right now, we have no freaking idea. So why not call it the "Methane Russian Roulette Hypothesis?" Because scientists have no imagination, that's why.
To see how else our frail meatsacks can be destroyed, check out 5 Cosmic Events That Could Kill You Before Lunch and 5 Bizarre Ways the Weather Can Kill You Without Warning.
Imagine being trapped aboard the doomed Titanic on an icy Atlantic. . . with the walking dead. Check out Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon's Deck Z: The Titanic