We have all visualized the end of the world at some point or the other. Hollywood constantly dabbles in movies depicting apocalyptic events where our favorite hunky actor and his equally beautiful love interest survive against all the odds. The setting of the post-apocalyptic world is also very popular where our favorite characters strive to survive against all ends. But the possibility of the world actually ending, of a cataclysmic event that nearly wipes out the entire human civilization, is actually quite high. Researchers do not have evidence of humanity being wiped out before, but there are several existential risks that can end the world in the future. Some very popular and viable ways of extermination include:
10. Overpopulation and Agricultural Crisis
Recent centuries have seen an exponential growth in human population due to medical developments. There has also been a massive increase in agricultural productivity due to the Green Revolution. The increase in food production has helped keep the pace with the population growth and actually enabled population growth. Studies believe that an agricultural crisis will impact us after 2020 and will become critical after 2050. If the world population is not reduced soon, it might lead to massive starvation. In such a disastrous scenario, it is very possible that humanity might just become extinct.
9. Biologically Engineered Pathogens
Humanity has survived the Black Plague, SARS and several different kinds of epidemics and came through it strong. However, the potential risk of a biologically engineered pathogen or even a natural one that humans may not be able to survive against, is quite possible. At this current point, exponential growth has been observed in Biotechnology, and biological warfare is not just a thing that happens in comics. As several zombie flicks have shown us, experimenting with potentially deadly viruses can lead to catastrophic events. Biologically engineered threats are harder to control and easier to mass produce and if unleashed, can lead to a rapid destruction of humanity.
8. If The Universe Wipes Us Out
The possibility of a cosmic event destroying Earth are actually quite high. A close encounter with massive objects in the Solar System, like a Black Hole, would certainly be catastrophic. In 2008, it was observed that Mercury’s orbit could become unstable due to Jupiter’s gravitational pull and this would cause a collision with Earth. Lars Von Trier’s film, Melancholia, depicts the event of a planet colliding with earth and wiping out existence as we know it. Other possible cosmic events that could kill us include fluctuations in the solar power output, like a solar flare. Though such events are unlikely in the near future, they’re very much possible.
7. Global Warming
Winters now feel like summers and summers are now equal to Satan’s lair in hell. These are the actual effects of global warming and every consequent summer is the hottest one to ever come. The ice caps at the North and South Pole are melting, and the already endangered polar bears are on the brink of extinction. All around the globe, sea levels are rapidly rising, and predictions show that coastal countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar might soon be submerged in the sea. Extreme climate change might result in Earth becoming extremely hot like Venus and thus cause the end of civilization.
6. Annihilation by Nuclear Weapons
The possibility of the world being wiped out by nuclear weapons has been one that has plagued the world ever since nuclear weapons first became a thing. The 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis was exactly this fear, when Russia and the United States of America were on the brink of war. According to experts, there is a low probability of human extinction that can be assigned to nuclear weapons. But the very fact that they are so potent is one that is troublesome. Despite the fact that we have avoided destruction by nuclear weapons, we have amassed around 15, 700 of them worldwide. If even one of them is detonated, the death toll will be in the hundred millions.
5. Alien Invasion
Although we have never actually encountered an alien species, it is argued that extraterrestrial life could invade earth and try to exterminate human life. A very popular genre for Hollywood, movies like Men in Black, Independence Day, War of the Worlds, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers portray exactly this fear. Aliens with systems more advanced than ours can try to supplant human life, enslave mankind under a colonial system, steal the resources of the planet or even destroy the planet altogether. Reputed scientist Carl Sagan has postulated that the existence of extraterrestrial life is very likely. And one of the reasons that we have not found any sign of aliens yet could be that their civilizations were destroyed before ours!
4. Ice Age
The Earth’s climate has ranged from ice ages to periods so warm that palm trees grew in Antarctica. There have occurred 12 ice ages in the history of earth, wiping out existence and causing life to start all over again. However, since civilization occurs during a period of stable climate, a change in this stability could pose a threat to humanity. The last major ice age occurred around 10,000 years ago and wiped out several species including mammoths. If an ice age were to occur, it would render vast areas of land uninhabitable and wipe out several ecosystems. Thankfully, scientists have predicted that a natural ice age will not occur any time soon.
3. Asteroid Impact
The most popular theory of the extinction of the fearsome dinosaurs is the collision of the Chicxulub asteroid with the earth around 66 million years ago. Several asteroids have collided with Earth in recent geological history. And if any such asteroid were to collide with earth, it would have a serious impact on civilization. In fact, it could complete destroy humanity. The asteroid needs to be only 1km in diameter to cause complete destruction. Large asteroids like this impact the Earth on an average once every 500,000 years. Who knows how soon the next one would head towards us!
2. Artificial Intelligence Taking Over the World
Whether it is Skynet from the Terminator series, or the sentient machines of the Matrix, the idea that machines will take over our world and enslave humanity is actually an increasing cause of fear. Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest physicists of our time, has theorized that Artificial Intelligence can evolve beyond the point of control. This could lead to the end of the human race, as computers and robots that have acquired autonomy can develop their intelligence and can foil any attack that is made on them. AI is generally underestimated as a potential threat, but if they actually develop to become self-sufficient, it might mean extermination of humanity!
1. A Global Pandemic
The possibility of extermination by a rapidly spreading virus or pathogen is equal to its deadliness. Most Hollywood creations of zombie movies are based on this scenario, where an unstoppable virus takes over the human population and leads us to dying out. Scientists have theorized that usually a naturally evolving pathogen has an upper limit to its deadliness, and if the virus is too deadly, it will kill up its host before spreading out. However, the evolution of such a pathogen is can be an accidental event too. And there have been several historical examples of pandemics that have had a devastating effect on a large number of people. So, the possibility of a global pandemic is a realistic threat to human civilization!