Some say the world will end in fire,Some say in ice.From what I’ve tasted of desireI hold with those who favor fire.But if it had to perish twice,I think I know enough of hateTo say that for destruction iceIs also greatAnd would suffice.–A Stale Pale Male
I’ve always liked to think of the Hebrew Bible as mostly a collection of doomsayers who got lucky and were right. Lost to the mists of time are the thousands of guys who stood around Israel claiming that the end was near, only to live out their lives never seeing things get worse, much less come to an end. Ahijah the Shilonite’s grandfather spent his time claiming the son of David would turn out to be a no-goodnik so no one bothered to write his story.
Doomsaying seems to be a part of the human condition. John Derbyshire places it within the conservative tradition and that makes some sense. The Rousseau-ists imagine Utopia is just a few more committee meetings away from reality so doomsaying does not fit their style. Conservatives are naturally skeptical and therefore would imagine that disaster is much more likely to be awaiting the schemes of man. Then again, it’s easy to be skeptical of the doom and gloom claims too, so maybe Derb is wrong.
Still, you cannot deny that things have, from time to time, gone terribly wrong for mankind. The collapse of Rome set back human development for a thousand years. The Mongol Invasion exterminated Islamic intellectual life. It never did recover. The Black Plague killed off a third or more of Europe. The Sea People swept in from somewhere north of the Mediterranean, we think, and ushered in the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations.
That said, the last real threat to humanity was the Black Death and it probably made humans west of the Hajnal Line better in the long run. That’s hotly debated, but we did survive it. I guess you could put the nuclear standoff between the Russians and the US down as a near death experience for humanity. Whether or not it would have happened is debatable, but we survived that one too. So far, the doomsayers have been all wrong.
Then again, maybe we are long overdue for a great reset of the human condition.
The rise of robots and deadly viruses are among the threats that could wipe out swathes of humanity – but governments are failing to prepare properly for them, a new report warns
Catastrophic climate change, nuclear war and natural disasters such as super volcanoes and asteroids could also pose a deadly risk to mankind, researchers said.
It may sound like the stuff of sci-fi films, but experts said these apocalyptic threats are more likely than many realise.
The report Global Catastrophic Risks, compiled by a team from Oxford University, the Global Challenges Foundation and the Global Priorities Project, ranks dangers that could wipe out 10% or more of the human population.
It warns that while most generations never experience a catastrophe, they are far from fanciful, as the bouts of plague and the 1918 Spanish flu that wiped out millions illustrated.
Sebastian Farquhar, director at the Global Priorities Project, told the Press Association: “There are some things that are on the horizon, things that probably won’t happen in any one year but could happen, which could completely reshape our world and do so in a really devastating and disastrous way.
“History teaches us that many of these things are more likely than we intuitively think.”Many of these risks are changing and growing as technologies change and grow and reshape our world. But there are also things we can do about the risks.”
If there could be such a thing as a betting market for the next great calamity for man, I’d put my wager on disease. We have the technology now to look out into the heavens for asteroids and we know we are safe for now. Space aliens are probably too far away to ever be a threat, assuming they even exist, which is looking doubtful. That leaves the things that can occur locally as sources of the Apocalypse.
A financial crash is a good bet. The highly complex economic arrangements we have today have no plan B if things go wrong. A century ago, electronic transactions did not exist. Today they are the heart of commerce. If that breaks, we suddenly live in a world without money. That will spiral out of control so fast government could never respond in time to head off calamity.
Another take on this is a collapse of the electrical grid. The real currency of the West is the electron traveling over copper wire. If some Exploding Mohameds set off a nuke and collapse the grid, western civilization stops. A world without cellphones, computers and television becomes a world of shotguns, food riots and warlords. Just take a second to imagine a world without TV and the internet.
Of course, this brings up the old standby from my youth, the nuclear holocaust. This has dropped from the culture, but there are more than enough nukes in the world to wipe out humanity. The Pakis have nukes. The NORKs have the bomb and maybe an ICBM soon. The Russians have nukes and they are due for have a crazy Ivan gain control of the country. We don’t talk about it anymore, but nuclear holocaust is still an option.
For my money, the best bet seems to be disease. The Zika virus now flowing north from Brazil is a good example. Disease spreads best in high density areas. The modern world has loads of high density areas for diseases and all it takes is one lucky mutation and blammo! We have a new plague ravaging mankind. Something like Zika that is spread by mosquito is a great example. Even quarantine will not work against this kind of plague.
Another element we have to day that works well for pandemics is the mass movement of people. The Spanish Flu was most likely the result of the Great War. Troops carried the disease all over Europe and then back to their home countries. The exact source of this strain of flu is still unknown, but the mass movement of people is certainly the way it spread.
Millions of Muslims pouring into Europe, as well as millions of South Americans pouring into the US is already increasing disease rates. Things like Whooping Cough have shown up in America after a long absence. Some new flavor of an old disease, like Zika or Ebola, that can be spread by mosquitoes could easily unleash a new plague on humanity. In weeks these guys would suddenly expect to have books of the new Bible named after them.