The end is upon us? Organisation lists the many ways humanity can meet its end. Check it out!

Written By: Moohita Kaur Garg | Updated: Jul 22, 2022, 01:19 PM(IST)

Life is fragile. We are always at the precipice of something dangerous and possibly fatal. To protect ourselves, we take out health insurance. To protect our families after us, we go for life insurance. But what about major catastrophes on a global level, the ones that can destroy the world or humanity? Can we even do anything to protect ourselves and our loved ones?

Some say knowledge is power. So by that logic, knowing just how the world can end should help us in protecting what matters. The Global Challenges Foundation, which prepares an annual assessment on the dangers of global catastrophe says there are multiple ways "the end" can happen.

Let's find out about nine of the biggest catastrophes that may await us:

Human-made weapons of mass destruction

For the first time in history, a huge part of humanity is capable of wreaking havoc and mass destruction.

Nuclear weapons aren't new, in 1945 these bombs killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today this threat hangs over all of our heads.

Even with non-armament treaties, nuclear weapons are available and as the Ukraine-Russian war has demonstrated, the threat of a nuclear bomb remains very accessible. 

Another possibility is biological and chemical warfare. A pandemic of unprecedented proportions could be brought on by newly created genetically modified diseases -- introduced unintentionally or purposely. Some even allege that the coronavirus pandemic was one such instance.

(Photograph:WION Web Team)

Climate Change

While climate change is now a globally recognised issue, most still don't consider it dangerous enough to trigger a catastrophe. However, it is one of the most fundamental dangers humanity faces.

The effects of climate change are growing and escalating. According to estimates, human activity is changing the planet's climate 170 times more quickly than natural causes.

Global average temperature increases of more than 3°C have been linked to catastrophic climate change. 

According to the Global Challenges Foundation, this level of global warming would likely indicate a significant change in global climate patterns, a loss of landmass unprecedented in history that would result in large migrations of people fleeing the effects of the climate. 

Additionally, serious threats to regional and global food security, a combination of high temperatures and high humidity endangering typical human activities, and massive species extinctions can be triggered. These will have detrimental cascading effects on ecosystem functioning and services essential to sustaining humanity.

(Photograph:WION Web Team)

Ecological collapse

Ecosystems are the cornerstone of human life. They carry out a variety of tasks without which human economies and society could not function. They supply us with the air, water, food, shelter, and energy that we need. 

Ecosystems can endure a certain amount of influence from human use and recover after a period of time with little harm. But beyond a certain "tipping point," sudden and severe disruption occurs, which may result in "ecosystem collapse."

This can impact soil quality, freshwater resources, and cause biodiversity to severely decline, agricultural productivity to plummet, and worsen general living conditions for humans significantly.

(Photograph:WION Web Team)

Pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world a lot about pandemics. Catastrophic pandemics, which are very lethal illnesses that sweep over the world like COVID-19, are incredibly disruptive and in the past were infrequent.

However, now more than everthere is a significant chance that the advent of yet another new infectious illness in humans may result in a significant epidemic or pandemic. This may result in high mortality and rapid spread in our highly populated, urbanised, and interconnected society.

Between the fifth and fourteenth centuries, worldwide plague epidemics killed roughly 15 per cent of the world's population in a short period of time. 

Since then, through systematic immunisation efforts we've been able to eradicate two diseases—smallpox in humans and rinderpest in animals—that had plagued civilization for ages.

Guinea worm and polio are two additional diseases that are close to being eliminated.

(Photograph:AFP)

Artificial intelligence

It's a general concensus that Artificial Intelligence is significantly smarter than humans. It has the potential of taking humanity to new heights, but experts worry that a new low is also possible: Human extinction.

In the tasks they were trained for, modern artificial intelligence systems already exceed humans, especially in terms of time.

It's crucial to emphasise, however, that experts are not concerned that an AI will suddenly develop psychopathic tendencies and start brutally harming or murdering people at random. Instead, experts fear that an AI programme will either be purposefully utilised maliciously or be overly skilled at fulfilling a task that was poorly defined.

(Photograph:WION Web Team)

Supervolcanic eruption

A super-volcanic eruption is characterised by the eruption of at least 400 km3 of bulk material. 

Such large-scale eruptions could occur at any point in the future and could have disastrous effects.

Approximately 74,000 years ago, the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia erupted, spewing billions of tonnes of dust and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. According to experts, it resulted in a 3-5°C global cold for several years and a catastrophic loss of plant and animal life. Some claim that Toba brought our species to the verge of extinction by causing the largest mass extinction in human history.

The latest known supervolcanic eruption, occurred 26,500 years ago in New Zealand. It is estimated that one such eruption happens every 17,000 years on average, so by that estimates it is long overdue. 

Although scientists are keeping an eye on a number of locations, including Yellowstone in the US, which have been recognised as prospective sites of a future supervolcanic eruption, we are currently unable to predict volcanic eruptions more than a few weeks or months in advance.

(Photograph:WION Web Team)

Asteroid impact

How can we forget the grim fate of dinosaurs or ignore the fact that it can happen to us too.

The largest near-Earth asteroids (> 1 km in diameter) have the potential to disrupt global geology and climatic patterns, wipe out human civilization, and possibly even wipe out the species. 

Smaller NEOs (near-Earth objects) with sizes between 140 metres and one kilometre might wreak regional and continental havoc and kill hundreds of millions of people.

As of June 2021, there are more than 26,000 NEOs of all sizes, according to surveys of the NEO population.

Multiple governmental and private agencies are tirelessly working on identifying the risks and putting in place a strategy to deal with them. However, the risk remains humongous.

(Photograph:Twitter)

Solar geoengineering

By modifying the atmosphere, two developing technologies collectively referred to as geoengineering might make it possible to lower the danger of a catastrophic climate change. But they come with their own risks.

The first, known as carbon removal, takes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and, and boasts of a long-term solution to climate change.

Second method, known as solar geoengineering, aims to lower Earth's temperature by reflecting sunlight and solar heat back into space. It proposes to do this by introducing into the stratosphere aerosols or other particles.

The technology carries significant risks, including the possibility of destabilising local and global climates as well as different components of the global environment, about which we know little.

 

(Photograph:Twitter)

Future unknown risks

The future is uncertain. The organisation says there are other dangers that may turn catastrophic. Examples: The fairly new nano-technology, supermassive black holes or rather the possibility of the formation of one near our planet.

Very few people could have foreseen that atomic energy would be one of the primary possible causes of global catastrophe in 1900, forty-five years before the first nuclear bomb detonated.

The same stands for the Covid pandemic, no one could've predicted that a virus would cause millions to die and force us all to confine ourselves to our homes, that too for more than a year.

There may be many unforeseen dangers lurking in the folds, we quite honestly don't know.

(Photograph:Others)

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