10 Things About Post-Apocalyptic Futures That Pop Culture Gets Wrong

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The end of the world has always fascinated people. There’s something compelling about a lone survivor or a small group being forced to fend for themselves in empty cities. But while these shows and movies always put our heroes in danger, there are a few risks they neglect to mention.

10. Fist Fights Are Too Dangerous

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In countless post-apocalyptic stories, the new world is a rough place where dominance is decided through combat. Men and women will punch one another into submission, unconsciousness or even death. But that’s not the best way to settle things, as fights can lead to injuries that would be incredibly debilitating in a world without doctors.

In mixed martial arts, two of the most common injuries are broken hands and broken wrists. These injuries happen even though they’re professionally trained to punch. When someone breaks their hand or wrist, it can take over six weeks to heal and could quite possibly need surgery. After it heals, the effects of broken bones could be felt years later. That’s if it’s treated by a health care professional — unless another survivor is one, it may never heal properly. A survivor who doesn’t have the use of their hand in a world where they have to hunt and scavenge for food is going to be in trouble.

Getting punched in the face would be equally dangerous. With no more dentists, anything that happens to your mouth could be permanent. If a survivor’s teeth get knocked out, it could change what the person eats. Not to mention how bad a broken or dislocated jaw could be. It simply comes down to the fact that fistfights become much riskier thanks to the threat of life-changing injuries. That is, if people fight at all…

9. Humans Would Work Together

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An ongoing theme in post-apocalyptic stories is that the biggest danger is other humans. That’s how The Walking Dead pushes its story along — half the people our heroes encounter turn out to be evil. However, this doesn’t make sense, because humans naturally want to work together. It’s part of both our nature and our biology.

There are countless stories of people banding together when times are toughest. Yes, there are cases of people doing terrible things as well, but more people want to help than they want to hurt. Any time you look at a disaster, you’ll always find more examples of people doing good things and helping others out than you’ll find stories of people cheating and exploiting those who are at their worst. So why would the end of the world be any different? Most people would follow their natural desire to band together, like we have for thousands of years.

8. Disease and Infections

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Survivors better make sure they’re all up to date on vaccinations and shots, because even simple things could kill you. For example, a small cut or even a splinter could lead to tetanus. Without up-to-date vaccinations and proper treatment, tetanus can lead to death. If the survivor is lucky enough they may be able to find antibiotics, but it isn’t as easy as going to a doctor and getting a prescription — especially since drugs grow less effective the longer they sit on the shelf.

While many people get vaccinations as children, there simply aren’t enough adults who get booster shots. For something like tetanus, adults need booster shots about every 10 years. So unless they’re up to date, someone that survived the apocalypse could be taken down by a sliver of wood or the bite of a house cat.

7. Malnutrition

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In most movies and shows, the survivors are usually healthy and athletic. No doubt this is from constantly fighting off other humans and zombies, not to mention the workout they get from hunting and gathering. It would make sense that since they’re constantly doing physical work they would be lean and athletic.

The problem is that the human body is a complicated system that needs many different nutrients. Do you know how much vitamin A you need? Not many people are aware of how much of every nutrient they require, but they can’t just hunt wild animals and live off them indefinitely. That type of diet would lead to things like scurvy and a weakened immune system.

Malnutrition can manifest itself in many ways. The body takes longer to heal, and there’s a greater chance of infection. People would tire easily and probably suffer from depression. People who suffer from malnutrition are also more likely to get painful skin lesions. So unless the survivors have their own garden with a variety of fruits and vegetables, they wouldn’t look very healthy and could be pretty weak and lethargic.

6. Roaming Dog Packs

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The biggest dangers survivors encounter in fiction are other bands of people and whatever creatures caused of the apocalypse. However, one of the biggest problem survivors will have to deal with are roaming packs of dogs. By nature, dogs are pack animals that will naturally form hunting groups. This would happen quickly — in the wake of Hurricane Katrina there were dog packs, and they’re still a problem 10 years after the storm. It’s even becoming a big problem in Detroit, because their population has decreased so much.

In the apocalypse, these packs will begin to starve. If a lone survivor or small group were to come across a pack of big, hungry dogs, they may not be able to fight them off. Especially if they’re rabid…

5. Rabid Animals

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Rabies makes animals more aggressive before ultimately being fatal. It’s passed through saliva, usually via bites, and is easily passed to humans. Society provides inoculation, but after most of the population is wiped out the number of wild animals would get larger. Once domesticated animals would become wild and have a greater chance of catching rabies. This would cause an outbreak and rabies would grow by 30%.

This could be devastating to humans. First, there will simply be more animals that are much more aggressive.They could expose the survivors to rabies, which is almost 100% fatal. There are only three known cases of unvaccinated people surviving, compared to about 55,000 deaths every year caused by rabies. That’s with inoculations and domesticated animals, so things will only get worse in a post-apocalyptic setting. Then there’s the fact that it contaminates a major source of food for people. Eating an animal that was infected by rabies is an excellent way to contract the fatal disease.

4. Gas Disintegrates

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One of the perks of being the only one left alive is that you can take any car you want and speed along the empty highways. But you better enjoy it while it lasts, because gas has a short shelf life. Untreated, gas can go bad within 90-100 days. Unless more gas is refined, after about three months there simply wouldn’t be enough gas for cars and generators.

3. Many Cities Would Flood

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Many “last man on Earth” stories take place in a major city like Los Angeles or New York. While that makes for amazing set pieces, it would be hard to live in a major city because massive flooding would occur if there was no one around to maintain the systems. First would be the flooding of subway tunnels, because subway systems use pumps to push water out. Without someone running the pumps, the New York City subway system would fill up within 36 hours. That would cause major flooding on the streets. The fact that many cities are made of concrete and don’t have much soil to absorb the water would only make the problem worse.

Then sewer systems would flood city streets with raw sewage. Besides raw sewage being full of toxic substances like ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide, it’s also full of chemicals that can be incredibly flammable and could cause explosions. Finally, there are floods from canals and dams controlled by human beings. For example, the Chicago River is a series of canals that manipulate the flow of water. Without anyone controlling it, the river would simply take on more water and flood a major part of the Midwest. Any major city that manipulate water using mechanical systems would be devastated.

2. The Earth is Incredibly Flammable

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Besides flammable raw sewage, cities are full of incredibly volatile substances. Take natural gas, which accounts for 27% of power in the United States. If natural gas lines aren’t maintained, we could witness massive explosions. And once the explosions happen, there would be no one to put the fires out. The fires would continue to consume more as they burned, constantly finding new sources. It would be a huge problem in the suburbs, where houses are much more flammable. The wilderness would have it even worse, as wildfires would spread unchecked through forests.

1. Nuclear Power Plants Would Meltdown

View of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's fourth reactor in this May 1986 file photo. Engineers at Chernobyl nuclear power station shut down its last working reactor a day earlier than planned Thursday, in an impromptu attempt to impress visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. But officials said the plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, would be restarted, so as not to spoil a televised button-pushing ceremony planned for Friday when the power station is finally put to rest. Chernobyl's Number Four reactor caught fire and exploded in April 1986, sending a radioactive cloud of dust over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other parts of Europe.(B&W ONLY) REUTERS/Vladimir Repik  VR/VB - RTRHD1P

The biggest problem, and one which may render every other issue moot, is that there are 437 nuclear reactors worldwide and another 71 being built. A post-apocalyptic world would have deadly nuclear disasters scattered throughout it. In the simplest terms, a nuclear reactor essentially works like a kettle. It boils water, which powers steam turbines, which creates electricity. The problem is that these reactors need to be constantly watched. If they aren’t taken care of, they overheat and create a meltdown.

Without anyone taking care of the reactors, after about 10 days most would start to meltdown. Not only would there be nuclear explosions across the world, but radiation would spew into the atmosphere and poisonous clouds would blow across the planet. Many places, especially in North America, parts of Asia, South America and Europe, would simply be inhabitable. At least the radiation would take care of some of those rabid animals.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime-fiction writer. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or visit his website.

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2 Comments

  1. You need to stop letting Robert Grimminck write lists, everyone of his I’ve read is worthless, unresearched, drivel.

  2. This is actually extremely accurate stuff. I have thought abt all this because I want society to end ascwe know it. I am not cut out for modern society and would fare much nicer if we had to survive only. I have the correct skills, I know how to make candles, grow gardens, I have seeds, I dont mind killing pretty much anyone in that situation and the law is what stops me now, but no law then. I have medical training, culinary training, survivalist training, and I need very little water for whatever reason I have found. I also know what to steal immediately. I dont stockpile becase Ill just grab an automatic gun and raid if needed. I am not scared of anyone nor scared of death. I have an entire plan in place. The animals thing would bother me because I love animals, not people, and rabid dogs would need to be shot etc. Which is very sad to me. I love rats. I would hate to have to ever hurt a rat, tho rats do not get rabid. They do eat corpses. Maybe they can clean up a bit for us. Disease would be my big concern, as it has been my issue even in normal life. I would have to take tons of medication and hope for the best with shelf life. Or learn how to make it. There are natural meds available if the plants are not dangerous or radiated. It depends on what takes place. I do not care abt collecting things like gold, I will raid for alcohol, and TP, and foods like canned bread. Gold will be worthless for a long while after, longer than Ill be around. Get a gang together, promise to meet if the world ends and hopefully you know the correct type of people, and stick together! Gather people with skills, people not afraid to kill, hunt, or die. I bet most will keep their office buddies, Etc and not look to the homeless, the bikers, the criminals for help. Office people do not have end of times skills. If its not radiated going where it snows like crazy could be great. It will ward off a lot of rabid pack animals, freeze zombies if thats the issue, you can freeze food, hunt, and grow veg and preserve it through winter. You can always have water or ice. Your only major needs would be heating and fuel, and vegetables, and weapons. Some paper products, tons of books, and entertainment that takes no electricity. People don’t realize just how valuable board games, books, old magazines, dice etc will end up being then. Also lots of clothing. The pioneers lived through it, it’s entirely possible. Take a cabin or warehouse, gather people, grow some food, shoot rabid animals, hope the nuclear reactors do not degrade near you, get thousands of candles or make your own. Learn to eat less, and do not have too many kids, yes they are a commodity in end times but a liability too. I never had a child never wanted one. Women like me will make it, but most will not. Women will have to be willing to kill on sight because rapists will always exist. Women can also survive longer without food, and die last during times of starvation or cold. Women are not weak at all, and when the world ends that will be realized for once.

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