Top 10 Craziest Ends to Civilizations As We Know It

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Unless you’ve been living under a large rock (or, for that matter, a fallen meteoroid) for the majority of your life, you’re probably uncomfortably aware that humanity, as a whole, just doesn’t seem to be too confident about its ongoing survival.  Let’s face it: here on Earth we spend a wildly disproportionate amount of time worrying about all sorts of cataclysmic events blowing us all to Kingdom Come, ranging from ancient Mayan calendars, to zombies or robots gone wrong, all the way up to international wars, global warming and unfortunate cosmic collisions.

Rather than reassure you of the relatively low probability of you actually experiencing these calamities within your dwindling mortal lifespan, we’d like to take the time to remind you that it isn’t only the disasters you’re aware of which can well and truly ruin your day.

10.  Super-diseases

superbacterium

The theory of natural selection is simple but brilliant; traits which lead to survival are passed on to the next generation, while traits which would hinder an organism’s ability to survive tend to die out.  Natural selection has gifted us humans with plenty of fantastic advantages over other animals, such as opposable thumbs, highly-developed brains and…well…we do have nice thumbs and brains.  Where things get ugly is when natural selection is applied to nastier organisms, like poisonous snakes, insects, lawyers…and humanity’s eternal foe, bacteria.

Mankind’s development of antibiotics has been, in recent history, to great effect against a great range of malevolent microorganisms, killing off the hostile bacteria before they can spread and damage your body.  A side effect of this, however, has been something observed by scientists as “antibiotic resistance.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: subjected constantly to the trial-by-fire of antibiotics, the bacteria must continue to evolve to resist more and more antibiotics, slowly evolving into millions of tiny versions of the Terminator.

With the number of new medications being developed dwindling due to a marked decrease in medical R&D, it could only take an unfortunately lethal bacterial strain with antibiotic resistance to leave civilization as we know it choking and coughing for breath.

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9.  Geomagnetic Reversal

solarstorm

Every 10,000 years or so, the Earth’s magnetic poles have switched, an event known as a geomagnetic reversal.  This is extremely likely to be accompanied by a greatly diminished magnetic field, opening the Earth up for a bombardment of cosmic radiation.  While this is unlikely to harm us humans, the real danger lies in how it affects our technology.  If electricity and communications grids are damaged or disrupted, a real risk exists that the technology our society is constructed upon could temporarily cease to function.

Aside from the more obvious implications of this, such as life support systems failing and water pumps breaking down, the real risk here comes from ourselves.  During blackouts of the past, such as the New York blackout of 1977 (which lasted only two days), city-wide looting and chaos reigned.  What would happen to civilization if the blackout was global, and lasted for longer than a few days?

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8.  Ecological Disaster

colonycollapse

It’s sometimes easy to forget just how much we depend upon our ecosystem to survive.  A phenomenon termed “colony collapse disorder”, where worker bees simply disappear from hives, could very possibly prove a major disaster for world-wide food supplies, which depend upon these bees to pollinate critical crops food-providing crops.  In short, bitches bee crazy.

Other (less exciting) examples include things like pollution, overfishing and deforestation; or pandemics among cultivated plants.  As our population grows and food shortages become more problematic, a sudden disruption in a major source of food could result in mass starvation, not to mention the associated fear and violence which could be caused by such a disaster.

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7.  Hypercane

hypercane

A hypercane is an awesomely-named, hypothetically massive tropical cyclone resulting from increased ocean temperatures.  Such increased temperatures could be caused by things like volcano eruptions or asteroid impacts, or by more mundane causes such as global warming. Computer models have demonstrated that, if oceans were warmed to a temperature of 45 or 50 degrees C, winds averaging an astonishing 600 kilometres an hour could be produced.  Even more staggering is the size of these hypercanes, which are theoretically massive – we’re talking size-of-North-America massive, and with an exceptionally long lifespan to boot.

Hypercanes have been used as an explanation for mass extinctions in the past, where huge numbers of species have been wiped out at a time; who is to say it couldn’t happen again? In today’s highly-connected global civilization, even if only a single continent were effected, the implications could be massive.

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6.  Coronial Mass Ejection

coronialmassejection

A coronial mass ejection is like a solar flare on steroids.  While these are harmless to humans, they are capable of knocking out electrical systems and destroying silicon-based computer parts, essentially crippling civilization as we know it.  We live in an age where everything from cars to phones contain computer parts, and all of these contain silicon – the implications such an event could have on our society are enormous.

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5.  Megatsunami/Supervolcano

megatsunami

A megatsunami is one of those things which is exactly what it sounds like: a tsunami big enough to destroy, for instance, the entire East Coast of the US, caused by huge impacts such as cosmic collisions, massive earthquakes and more disturbingly, large landslides.  The devastating effects which such a huge tsunami would cause are pretty obvious, and there’s very little we can do to prepare for such an event.

For a bonus disaster, a somewhat similar geographic world-changer is known as a supervolcano. Their less-than-creative name is nonetheless pretty accurate; these volcanoes are so big that their eruptions are literally thousands of times larger than that of an ordinary volcano, and are big enough to literally bury global civilization (from both the vast eruption itself, and the huge dust clouds likely to be kicked up). T here are about seven in the world, and any of them could theoretically awaken at any time.  Sleep well!

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4.  Biotechnology Disaster

superweeds

No, we’re not talking zombies here.  There have been cases recorded were genetically-modified crops have crossbred with competing weeds, resulting in pesticide-resistant, fast-growing superweeds (not the kind which get you superstoned), which could in turn result in an agricultural and economic disaster of a massive scope.  Even more frightening is the possibility of the misuse of biotechnology in creating dangerous and resilient diseases, pests and weeds.  This could be done deliberately as a means of bioterrorism or accidently by some overzealous idiot in a lab coat, if disaster movies have taught us anything.

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3.  Gulf Stream Shutdown

gulfstream

The Gulf Stream is a huge global current, which carries warm water northwest across the Atlantic Ocean, warming Western and Northern Europe.  However, global warming is causing problems for this (and just about everything else in the world) – by heating and melting ice caps into the Gulf Stream, global warming ironically slows it down, and there is evidence that if the trend continues it could eventually totally stop.  As well as making Europe even colder and greyer than it already is, this could result in disasters ranging from huge climate changes (including massive storms) to a mass phytoplankton extinction (you may recognise phytoplankton as the things which everything else eats).  Did we mention Europe was cold enough already?

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2.  Methane Burps

permafrostmethane

Perhaps the most deceptively-named item on this list, methane burps are far from as harmless as they sound.  Also (more suitably) known as “the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis,” this is an event where unbelievably huge amounts of methane previously contained in deposits in the ocean floor or permafrost are suddenly released into the atmosphere.  As methane is a much better greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, this results in massively increased global warming.  Even worse, this temperature increase causes other “methane burps,” compounding the effects to terrifying (and deadly) heights.

The good news is that it’s only ever happened twice before, so it’s an incredible rare event.  The bad news is that when it does happen, everybody is pretty much screwed.  Think of it as a time bomb, and hope you’re not alive to see it go off.

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1.  Nanotechnology Crisis

nanotechnology

The crux of nanotechnology is taking philosophy that “smaller is better” and applying it to robots, to serve all sorts of useful tasks, including repairing themselves and replicating.  Nanotechnology has some incredible implications in our everyday lives, from healing ourselves and maintaining our health to creating clothes which never require cleaning.  As with all great things (such as chocolate, alcohol and arson), this has the potential to harm people greatly.  Such versatile technology has the power to backfire and create all kinds of civilization-crippling problems, especially when one considers the possibility of deliberate misuse of this technology.

Perhaps the most terrifying possibility is that of so-called “Grey Goo” – an out-of-control mass of self-replicating nanobots which consume all of the matter on Earth while constructing more of themselves.  The scenario is perhaps best explained by molecular nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler: “Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself…the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight.  At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion.  In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined?—?if the bottle of chemicals hadn’t run dry long before.”

Yikes.

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Written By Hamish McDonald


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26 Comments

  1. People are STILL on this global warming trip? I thought 1987 would have been long enough ago. I personally think if your going to mention global warming…you should mention maybe…at least 1 of the thousands of scientists that disagree with it? “However, global warming is causing problems for this (and just about everything else in the world)” Please do elaborate and add some sources?

    • since climate change is accepted by the vast majority of scientists in the field, i think it would be up to the detractors to provide sources

      • Climate change is not global warming. Hippies started calling it climate change when global warming fell on its face. Climate change has been occuring since the dawn of time and will continue until the end of time.

        • Yup it is, the question has remained to be answered, though, as to how much humans are playing a role in this natural cycle. Oak is right though, the vast majority of scientists believe we have impacted the cycle, a question still remains as to what the implication of this impact is going to have. Also, a large proportion of the scientists that don’t believe we will have an impact, or the consequences of that impact will not be that large, receive their funding from companies that profit from CO2 or CO2 equivalent emissions.

      • “since climate change is accepted by the vast majority of scientists in the field, i think it would be up to the detractors to provide sources”

        Easily done.

        31,000 scientists reject ‘global warming’ agenda

        More than 31,000 scientists across the U.S. – including more than 9,000 Ph.D.s in fields such as atmospheric science, climatology, Earth science, environment and dozens of other specialties – have signed a petition rejecting “global warming,” the assumption that the human production of greenhouse gases is damaging Earth’s climate.

        http://www.wnd.com/2008/05/64734/

        • Also, just because not all petition signers where climatologist dosn’t mean there not educated
          1. Atmospheric, environmental, and Earth sciences occupy over 3800 signings. I would think they know a little somthing about the subject, wouldn’t you agree?
          2.The sciences of computer mathmatics offers 935 signers. All of the the theory’s scarse evidence rests on statistics, aquired with MATH!
          3. Physics and aerospace sciences hold steady at 5812 signatures. The theory of global warming states that green house gases are trapped in the atmosphere, and retain heat from the sun. Physisist and aerospace scientists are greatly knowladgable of the proprties of matter (gases included).
          4. Chemisists are sitting pretty with over 4500 signatures. Chemisists are well trained in the behaviors of chemicals found in green house gasses.
          5. Biology and agriculture acount for almost 3000 scientist. Biologist know the proper living conditions of nearly all things on earth
          6. Those trained in medecine are a major factor, with just of 3000 signatures. I can only hope they know the proper living conditions for a human being
          7. Finaly, general science and engineering are number one with a whopping 10102 signatures. General science. Need I say more.

  2. Peter Boucher on

    Well, there is already one thing that exists that is capable of ending civilizations………its called a Nuclear Bomb(s)

      • Peter Boucher on

        TopTenzMaster. You are absolutely right about it not being crazy. What I do worry about is Nuclear Capability in places such as North Korea, Iran, Syria and God knows who else that has that mind set

        • I`m not bothered about North Korea, Iran and Syria (the world`s new bad guy) having the Bomb. America, Russia, the UK, China, France, India, Israel and Pakistan all have them. And isn`t it a tad hypocritical to call North Korea for having nukes, and Iran a secret nuke programme, when all the other countries that have nukes also developed them in secret?

        • Peter Boucher on

          @ Dave. Its a very good point that you have made and I jumped the gun not realizing about the secretiveness of the whole ordeal. But I will say this, if I were to have to make the mortal choice of dying, I would go with dying in my sleep, or being in the epicenter of a Nuclear Bomb and evaporate in less then 1/10th of a second. There is a list that I believe that is on here about a Japanese man who survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and lived to be into his early 90’s and is believed to be the only person that survived both.

  3. I do not believe the number one is right. Because if the nanobots has to build, or replicate then they need materials to build them with. Let us say they can use any element which is present inside the bottle for this purpose, even then when material is used up, then the production has to stop. Doesnt it. Let us say it some how managed to use the bottle itself for the purpose. Even then after the destruction of the earth and it’s atmosphere, it runs out of the material. Am I wrong?

  4. A question on Number 1, how is arson a great thing? I know i have a sarcastic streak, and I enjoy the sarcasm in the lists on this site, I just don’t get it. Maybe I’ve been up to long today…

  5. Even if you let all the scientific aspects aside, I would argue like this. That there is a vast climate change coming is completely sure, very few honest scientists would refuse to agree with that. The only question is whether mankind’s CO2 emissions take a vital role in causing this climate change.
    From there on, it’s easy:
    If the CO2 emissions are no big part of the causes for the climate change, we can do nothing about it. Then we should just prepare for what is in for us and invest in securing threatened countries. But we know we don’t do that.

    But if the climate change is at least partly man-made we can do something about it and should, because even though we won’t get Hollywood-like end-of-the-world scenarios countries will get flooded, crops will die and areas will get inhabitated. But we know we don’t do that either.

    So all in all, we should prepare for the worst case scenario – that the climate change is not man made – while hoping the best – to reduce it’s effects by acting like it is man made.
    But we do nothing.

  6. Global climate alteration is a simple fact; even the scientists who dispute it only argue whether or not it’s caused by human action. Which is, for our immediate purposes, irrelevant. We know that the process is spurred by the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Lower that amount and you slow the process.

    Incidentally, there’s an enormous amount of methane locked up in the frozen tundra. When the tundra thaws and that methane is released, we’re in trouble.

  7. I didn’t really enjoy this list IMO, several other “crazier” choices that could have ended up there such as a gamma ray burst. Or if you want to go crazier you could go for the hypothetical verneshot, where a explosion of compressed gas under the surface sends a landmass into the sky, and back down to cause havoc.

    Otherwise well written list though.

  8. I would of put all world governments at the number one spot, they are all a big disease infecting everything, breaking things that aren’t broke…the end of the civilisations will be caused by some government throwing a hissy fit over something that doesn’t concern them…end of.

    • One country wont end it. And we have created many nuclear warhead countermeasures, such as lasers that can effectively make the nuke useless, things like that do exist.

  9. Lucky Joestar on

    Number 3 is wrong. What keeps Europe so uncharacteristically toasty during the winter are the prevailing westerlies, which does likewise for Washington and Oregon. The Gulf Stream is the result of these winds. Arctic melt, even if it cuts off the Gulf Stream, can’t stop the prevailing westerlies from keeping Europe warm. In fact, even if it could, the global warming would still be enough to offset the loss.

    • Peter Boucher on

      @ Lucky Joestar. Finally, somebody who knows exactly what he / she is talking about.. The Gulf Stream which regulates the temperatures of certain parts of the United States. If you live in the North, then why do lakes freeze and the ocean does not ? (Salt in the ocean’s water has a little bit to do with it). But Kudos to you Lucky JoeStar on finally posting something that’s crystal clear and understandable.

  10. Verneshot really deserved a mention, imagine gas compressing under the earth’s crust, with nowhere to escape, until the pressure builds higher and higher and higher until it’s unleashed, launching a chunk of the earth into space. If you’ve seen a tire go boom, you’d know compressed gas has quite a lot of power.

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