5 Apocalypse Scenarios You Should Stop Worrying About
We want our end-of-the-world disasters to be cinematic. We want the giant meteor strike, the alien invasion, and the zombie hordes. Tell us about the actual impending doom of global climate change or mass extinction, and we just get bored. That means it's the media's job to hype a new threat every few years, even if the odds of it happening are so low that it's hardly worth worrying about. Like how ...
The Ebola Pandemic Was Misinformed Scaremongering
Ebola is super scary. As potential worldwide pandemics go, it's got everything you're looking for. Not only is it deadly, killing around 50-90% of people infected, but it's also contagious and presents through vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding out of the eyes, nose, mouth, and rectum. That's less a disease and more of a demonic possession.
In the Eastern Congo, there have been 1,008 deaths from Ebola since last August. This is the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, and it's only made worse by outright attacks on medical facilities and doctors getting murdered by local militia groups. If you were writing the script for an outbreak scenario, that's a solid start. And sure enough, the headlines in America a few years ago certainly made it seem like it was just a matter of time until Ebola would be running rampant among your friends and family.
That's because in 2014, three cases of Ebola, two of them health workers, were reported in the United States. This prompted one level-headed reality star, humanitarian, ancestry expert, and real estate mogul to state unequivocally that those two heroic nurses who risked their lives fighting the outbreak should go find another place to die and "suffer the consequences." Politicians called for travel bans, including banning flights from West African countries, to try to stem the "crisis" (a word that was seemingly used in every sentence about the disease).
If it feels like the whole thing kind of quietly faded from headlines since then, there's a reason for it. Ebola is contagious, but actually tough to spread. In fact, the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy makes it clear that on average, a person with Ebola transmits it to fewer than one person. It's a concept that comes with a math problem (R0<1), and of course it does. If the disease itself wasn't bad enough, now algebra had to get involved.
Ebola is only transmitted through physical touch or bodily fluids, and even then, only when the victim is "shedding the virus." Why is it so deadly in the Congo, then? Because it's hard to have a state-of-the-art healthcare system when you have no money, no resources, and are constantly under attack by militant groups.
The two American nurses who got Ebola from helping infected patients in West Africa back in 2014? They're fine. They did not, in fact, "suffer the consequences." And while they did receive an experimental drug called ZMapp in their treatment, the most likely reason they made it was isolation and proper medical attention -- the kind of care simply not available in the Congo right now. The problem isn't an exotic super-disease, the problem is poverty and infrastructure. But what's entertaining about that?
Related: 5 Things Every Movie Gets Wrong About The Apocalypse
We're Not Running Out Of Oil Any Time Soon
Back in the mid-2000s, it looked like we had a problem on our hands. No, not that one. Not that one either. Nope, just stop and let me tell you. It was oil. We were about to hit "peak oil," whereby worldwide demand for oil would exceed our civilization's ability to produce it. Prices would skyrocket per barrel, to the point where we would no longer be able to use it to fuel our technological way of life, and civilization would collapse.
When Matthew Simmons, a former energy advisor to George H.W. Bush, literally wrote the book on the subject, Twilight In The Desert, he was convinced that Saudi Arabia had already reached its "peak oil" point at 9.5 million barrels a day. He even predicted an apocalyptic $200 a barrel price by 2010. It was $65 a barrel at the time. The predictions for an Earth without access to oil are dire, and would lead to nothing less than a Mad Max-style lawless and diseased wasteland. The global economy would collapse, and we would no longer be able to produce food on a scale large enough to feed our population, causing worldwide starvation.
Today the catastrophic news is that ... oil got too cheap? That's what caused Venezuela's economy to collapse, after all -- a worldwide glut in oil dropped the price so much that their revenue dried up overnight. What the hell? It's 2019, why aren't we all getting strapped to the front end of a modded-out hot rod while a dude in a clown suit plays a flamethrowing guitar?
First off, as shady as Saudi Arabia may be, one thing they didn't fudge the numbers on was their oil output. Not only was 9.5 million barrels a day not their "peak oil," but they blasted way past that, hitting 10.38 million barrels a day in 2018. Oil production in the USA, meanwhile, more than doubled.
The issue is that it was always almost impossible to tell how much oil is left. Past estimates were always based on A) what oil they had found and B) what of that could be drilled with current technology. As time goes on, though, we keep finding more oil, and more importantly, we keep inventing new techniques for drilling the stuff we couldn't get to before. One problem at the moment is that oil companies aren't spending as much on exploration, because the current price per barrel ($63.29 in April, 2019) is too low to make them their money back. A generation ago, nobody thought that was going to be the problem.
Of course, in the long run, this is all terrible news. Cheap oil makes it that much harder to transition to cleaner technologies that won't belch CO2 into the air. Also, lots of those amazing oil recovery techniques are an environmental nightmare. The point is not that the mass media is too pessimistic, but that it's always oversimplifying or focusing on the wrong problems altogether. There's a whole lot of oil left in the ground, and if we do this right, that shit will stay there.
The Earth's Magnetic Pole Reversal Won't Kill Us
The "magnetic pole reversal" catastrophe might be unfamiliar to you if you don't subscribe to the right YouTube channels or podcasts. Remember that movie The Core, about the team who has to drill to the center of the Earth to avert a worldwide catastrophe? That was about this, kind of -- the Earth's magnetic field getting screwed up, leading to an extinction event.
The thing is, a reversal of the Earth's magnetic poles is going to happen. The geological record shows that it's happened multiple times over the last 20 million years, on average every 200,000-300,000 years. The last flip happened 780,000 years ago. Damn, that means we're overdue! And according to apocalypse enthusiasts, it would knock every satellite from the sky, tear holes in the ozone layer, bombard every living thing on the planet with cancer-causing cosmic rays for hundreds of years, and lead to mass extinctions. Entire portions of the Earth could end up uninhabitable!
Theoretically, the worst-case scenario is possible, in the sense that almost anything is technically "possible." But going back to those periods when the poles flipped, there's no corresponding extinction in the planet's fossil record. Of course, there were no communications satellites back then, and losing those would most certainly suck, but a complete flip can take thousands of years. That's ample time for humanity to kill itself in some other way. In fact, scientists are already studying the effects of weakened portions of our magnetic field on satellite electronics. So don't worry, not even a world-altering magnetic event will stop you from getting caught up on SMILF.
Related: Evacuating A Modern City: 5 Realities In A Real Apocalypse
No, The Large Hadron Collider Won't Create A Black Hole (Not A Big One, Anyway)
Hey, do you like soccer? Of course you don't. You're going to like it even less after the accidental creation of strangelets that cause the Earth to be smashed into a hyper-dense sphere the size of a soccer field. Good luck using your hands then, pal. Or how about a black hole? What are you going to do when you, your cat, and your entire K-Ppp dance crew are sucked inside one and spaghettified, and not in a good way? What's your plan when that happens? You better figure it out, because according to a British cosmologist Sir Martin Rees, either of those things could happen any minute now thanks to the Large Hadron Collider, currently accelerating particles all willy-nilly outside Geneva. According to Rees' book On The Future: Prospects For Humanity, the dangers of those catastrophes are all potentially on the table, thanks to the LHC.
The LHC is a 17-mile ring that smashes protons together in order to detect particles. It's created rare particles like the W-and-Z bosons and the top quark, and it confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in 2012, after it was first theorized in 1964. What it hasn't done, you'll be shocked to learn, is destroy the planet on which it resides.
Yet back when it was about to be switched on 2008, there were plenty of scientists who bravely Ian Malcolmed their way into the fray, even filing lawsuits against CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, in the European Court of Human Rights. Otto Rossler, a German chemist, argued that cranking up the LHC could "violate the right to life of European citizens and pose a threat to the rule of law." Two environmental activists filed a restraining order in Hawaii to keep CERN from flipping the switch on the LHC in March 2008, calling the claim that the particle accelerator was safe "propaganda."
Fortunately, the LHC's particle-smashing doesn't create enough energy to form a black hole, unless everything we currently understand about physics is wrong. If physics happen to be wrong, then a black hole created accidentally by the LHC still wouldn't last long enough to start vacuuming up the Earth. It would immediately decay thanks to Hawking radiation, and it would do it too fast for us to ever know it happened, surviving just 10 to the -83 seconds.
The fact is, even if these mini black holes can possibly exist in nature, the Earth has been getting nailed by them for the last billion years or so, and we don't have so much as a cameo appearance by Old Spock to show for it.
Related: 4 Apocalyptic Crises (Basically Nobody Realizes Are Coming)
The Yellowstone Supervolcano May Never Erupt
An eruption of the giant Yellowstone Caldera is one of the triggering events in the end-of-the-world spectacle 2012. And that was basically a documentary, right?
Apocalypse enthusiasts know that wasn't just a plot device for the movie. The Yellowstone Supervolcano has experienced a super-eruption at least three times in Earth's history: 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago, and around 650,000 years ago. In the worst possible scenario, a super-eruption now would be a worldwide civilization-altering event, wiping out half the United States and possibly engulfing the entire world in a volcanic winter for years. There'd be mass starvation on a global scale. If the volcano erupts every 600,000-800,000 years, aren't we due for a blowout any day?
In fact, back in April, the United States Geological Survey let slip that they'd stumbled upon a new hot spot in the Yellowstone Caldera. It had been forming over the last two decades, idly killing every tree and piece of vegetation in the area, until the new bald spot the size of three soccer fields caught their eye. What seems to have gone unnoticed is that we're now assessing everything in terms of soccer fields. Since when did that become a standard scientific form of measurement?
Also, last year the Steamboat Geyser erupted eight times between March and June. Its last eruption before that flurry of activity was in 2014. That's, like, five soccer fields ago. Could this all be a sign of an impending Yellowstone super-eruption? Is it time to pack up for that long overdue move to Europe? We've already picked up all this new soccer knowledge, no reason to let that go to waste.
Here's the thing: None of this -- the bald spot, the geyser, the 600,000-800,000 year timetable -- means anything. There's a real chance Yellowstone might never super-erupt again. According to that geological record we keep bringing up, it had a regular old non-super eruption 70,000 years ago.
The magma required for an eruption of any kind just isn't bubbling inside Yellowstone's shallow reserve right now. There's been no change in Yellowstone's activity over the last 140 years, and the USGS predicts it should remain stable for "centuries." The Earth has a better chance of getting hit by an asteroid than Yellowstone exploding, and there's a much higher chance that we'll get screwed over by all of the pollution that virtually every scientist on Earth is trying to warn us about.
For more, check out Why The Zombie Apocalypse Would Fail Quickly:
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