So yeah, we're all doomed.
There are so many apocalyptic threats out there that it's almost exciting to think of all the possible ways Earth could be doomed. Will it be meteors? Global warming? Penguins? Fortunately, whatever calamity is looming nearest, rest assured that our top brains are on the case thinking of solutions. And sure, some of those plans might look like the kind of blue-sky thinking a particularly lazy fifth-grader would present as their science fair project, but that doesn't mean they won't save us from the end of days. For example ...
Turns out that those ravenous bears Yogi and Boo Boo aren't the biggest threat to the picnickers of Yellowstone National Park. That honor goes to a supervolcano (not the most reassuring scientific name) under the area that's due to explode ... any time now -- or in the past, if you're reading this after the volcano has already erupted and wiped out everything but the WiFi. Fortunately, NASA has come to the rescue, and they've dusted off some old Armageddon scripts and decided to go Michael Bay on this motherlover.
That's right, the plan these geniuses have come up with is quite straightforward: Cool the volcano down. Obviously, supervolcanoes generate a lot of heat -- the heat of six industrial power plants, to be precise. So NASA wants to drill down into it, pump it full of water, and turn it into a giant kettle, letting the water absorb some of the heat in the chamber and then float away as hot steam. Rinse and repeat forever, and the volcano should be able to let off enough steam (literally) to remain stable.
Unfortunately, this is going to require some sacrificing. We're never going to live long enough see if it works; the process is estimated to take hundreds, if not thousands of years. It's also going to cost $3.46 billion, and therefore require politicians to sign off on a plan that costs a lot of money and isn't totally insane. To counter this, NASA has pointed out that the heat generated by the project could be siphoned off by a geothermal plant and used to produce dirt-cheap energy (roughly $0.10 per kWh). And all American politicians have to do is spend a lot of money on an alternative energy source that won't have any benefits until long after they're out of office.
So yeah, we're all doomed.
Climate change is on track to ruin everything for everyone who doesn't have gills. But despite it wiping us out more assuredly than any meteor or Second Coming, people really really would prefer to not put any effort into averting it. Finally, we have a solution that doesn't require us to take any responsibility for our individual carbon footprint, begin holding massive carbon-producing industries to account, stop mining imaginary internet money, or hold our breath for extended periods of time. And all we had to do was to start treating CO2 like any other waste and start flushing it down the toilet.
In recent years, facilities that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide, such as fossil-fuel-burning power plants, have begun capturing their death gas output at-source. Called "carbon capture and storage," or CSS, plants use a variety of fancy filters to catch the carbon before it can float away, and then transport it to facilities where they pump it as deep underground as they can. It's the bizarro lava game; all we have to do is keep the gas touching the ground, and we're safe. And if that means dooming all the mole people down below to a smoggy genocide, that's a price we'll gladly pay for being able to drive to the corner store without the guilt trip.
The crazy thing, however, is that it's working, for the most part. While it is claimed CSS can grab up to 90 percent of emissions for storage, there are concerns that we're pumping it into geological bedrocks that are porous enough to eventually allow the gas to escape, making this whole endeavor a complete waste of time. We're getting better and better at figuring out the process, though, and one team has already devised a solution to the solution: turning the gas into rock.
In an experiment carried out in Iceland, tons of carbon dioxide were dissolved into a veritable pond of acid. This carbonic acid was then injected into a volcanic rock called basalt, which makes up most of the island, and over time combines with other elements to form minerals like limestone. The results were staggering. Not only did the process take months instead of years, but when they analyzed the results, they found that a whopping 95 percent of the carbon they'd bukkaked into the void had been converted into rock. This massive success has led to further experiments in other basalt-rich areas of the world, and even the building of the first "negative emissions" power plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland. This bad mamma-jamma shoots its noxious emissions straight into the Earth to be turned into stone, ready to be excavated in several years' time and used to build a giant middle finger aimed in whatever direction Scott Pruitt's house is.
While your typical blockbuster disaster movie gets a lot (and we mean a lot) of things wrong, there's one calamity that they consistently get right: killer pandemics. Disease is a scourge on nations, costing countless lives and heaps of money to contain. But haven't organizations like the CDC ever heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? So after the Ebola outbreak of 2014, a bunch of scientists finally said, "Hey, how about we cure diseases before they start wiping us out?"
John Moore/Getty Images
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, was launched in 2017 and is funded to the tune of $640 million by (among others) a bunch of governments and the Gates Foundation. CEPI has two priorities: preparing vaccines for diseases that could go virus-nuclear on our asses at any time, and equipping laboratories with the means to mass-produce vaccines when the time comes. It's basically a hit squad targeting viral nasties before they embark on a bloody rampage.
CEPI has just taken on its first challenge: tackling MERS-CoV, Lassa, and Nipah, an unholy trinity of diseases that have ravaged Africa, Asia, and the Middle East in recent years. Their plan is to have vaccines for each disease ready before they have a chance of causing an outbreak. Meanwhile, the organization is also providing resources toward research into Ebola, Marburg, and Zika. If that seems like a lot to take on for an organization whose members haven't even had time to personalize their cubicles, it's only because they already ran out of time before they started. It's estimated that as a result of war, climate change, and other factors likely causing mass migration in the near future, we're reaching the point where a serious killer outbreak is practically a guarantee any day now.
No pressure, CEPI.
In our childlike imagination, the ocean is full of wonders -- mermaids, sea dragons, whatever those freaks with the lamps on their heads are. But in reality, it's mostly water and the crazy amount of trash we put there.
The Great Pacific Garbage Gyre is a swirling morass of trash that circulates throughout the Pacific and kills, on average, 100,000 marine mammals (including whales, seals, and sea lions), over a million seabirds, and countless fish every year. It's pretty important that we clean it up before it puts Red Lobster out of business -- oh, and we all die from the pollution.
But how do we accomplish that? It's not like we can vacuum that stuff up, y'know? Except that we can and we will. In 2017, boy genius Boyan Slat was given a $2.5 million grant by TEDx to realize his dream of cleaning up the ocean with floating trash collectors. These "collector towers" are fed by legions of booms, floating barriers typically used for containing oil spills, which will corral trash toward the towers. Once in the tower, the trash will drift onto a conveyor belt and be fed into the machine (which will then be emptied monthly by ships).
Boyan optimistically states that this army of wandering trashbots will be able to clean up half of the GPGG plastic within five years, but the plan has attracted many critics, mostly arguing that money shouldn't be going to cleaning the ocean, but to stop the ocean from being polluted in the first place. It didn't help that Boyan and his team had to redesign the collector towers and booms after a disastrous trial run in the North Sea -- which is bit more tempest-y than the Pacific -- which resulted in the equipment almost sinking. After all, it's not the most environmentally friendly plan if your trash towers are at risk of needing trash towers of their own.
As we've figured out by now, saving our planet from the many upcoming shitstorms will require a wide variety of initiatives and ideas. But what these wacky plans all have in common is that they need tons of electricity to work. Unfortunately, one of our many possible future disasters is the sun deciding we need to be rebooted and sending us a huge storm that knocks out all of our electronics. So how do we shield ourselves from that? With an actual shield, of course.
In the future, it's incredibly likely that the sun will fart out a huge cloud of charged particles and cripple our electronics indefinitely via an electromagnetic pulse. It's already happened once before. In 1859, a series of coronal mass ejections caused a geomagnetic storm, causing telegraphs to short out all across the U.S. and Europe. If this happened today, we'd be looking at the widespread disruption of satellites and electrical grids and our lives, trillions of dollars of damage, and a complete takedown of Twitter. So there's one thing to get excited about, at least.
So how do you solve a problem like the sun? Well, seeing as we can't kill the bastard, we have to find a way to protect ourselves from the radiation. Quite poetically, the very thing these storms would take away from us might be what will saves us: communication. Very Low Frequency (VLF) signals are a special type of radio signal that is mostly used by submarines because it can easily travel through salt water. However, another property of VLF signals is that after they're sent, they get stuck in the atmosphere. As a result, these signals have created a low-level radiation shield capable of protecting us from the vast majority of solar ejections. And all this because submarine crews are such a chatty bunch.
Discovering the VLF bubble isn't only good news because we've discovered an accidental shield against the apocalypse. We can now build a way better one by just trying. According to a recent paper by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, creating such a shield simply would be a matter of installing a magnetic deflector at distance of 205,000 miles from our planet. The downside is that this deflector would have to be a planet-sized ring of copper wiring powered by a solar farm. The upside is that not only would humanity be saving the planet, but we'd also finally be putting a ring on it.
Strangely, the issue here isn't the complexity of building a planetary ring of metal, which might sound crazy but is already doable. Instead, it's the fact that we're looking at a bill estimated to be upwards of a hundred billion dollars. As with everything else, however, the cost can probably be justified by the fact that it's going to be cheaper than having the sun reset the world and plunging us into another Dark Age. We'd rather be poor and still be able to check Facebook than be poor and have to figure out how to grow turnips again.
Even if Red Lobster does go out of business, there's no way they stop selling the Cheddar Bay biscuits, right? Right? Save our oceans.
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For more ways the Earth is doomed, check out 5 Major Cities That Are Going to Be Destroyed and 6 Horrible Historical Disasters (We Actually Saw Coming).
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