We’ve been trying to predict the end of the world – or at least the end of human civilization – for as long as we can remember. Our fascination with doomsday theories is way older than any conspiracy website, even if we’ve never been right about any of them.
However, with science and technology progressing at a faster rate now than ever before – especially wartime technology – the end of the world scenarios of today are more plausible than they’ve ever been. Gone are the days of sloppily written stories about super floods or biblical plagues – even if they may well still happen – doomsday theories now involve experimental weaponry, theoretical physics, nanobots, and AI.
EMP – or Electro-Magnetic Pulse – refers to a short, high-intensity burst of energy that could take out all the electronics in a given area. While it may sound straight out of science fiction, the phenomenon occurs abundantly in nature. Just take lightning strikes. Even if most communication towers are built with shields to protect against it, quite a few of them still end up getting damaged by it, especially in regions prone to storms.
Of course, that’s nothing to worry about, as it only affects small, isolated areas and the damage could be easily fixed. It’s a problem, though, if that could be done on a global scale. An EMP that wipes off every digital device in the world may not sound too scary, though think about everything today that requires electricity to work. A large-scale, powerful EMP could permanently disable everything from our food production systems to medical facilities to military security systems, ending life on Earth as we know it.
If that sounds scary, it is. Fortunately, we haven’t yet been able to build anything like that. Unfortunately, we may not need to, as the Sun regularly emits massive solar flares that could manage to do that long before we do. They’re not that rare, either; the last one happened less than one and a half centuries ago. Known as the Carrington Event, the solar storm of 1859 affected telegraph lines across Europe and North America, causing them to overload and – in some cases – catch fire.
9. Prehistoric Super Diseases
One of the most pressing dangers of global warming – and there are many – is the melting of the Arctic permafrost; a permanently frozen layer made up of ice, soil and gravel with millions of years of dead plants and animals still preserved under its surface. While that poses the more obvious risk of all that biomass decaying and releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, there’s another lesser known danger hiding in there – prehistoric super microbes.
While past epidemics such as the bubonic plague and Spanish Flu have been devastating for our civilization, they might be nothing compared to the eons of diseases that may be unleashed if the permafrost is allowed to completely melt, and we may have no resistance against many of them. It’s not just theoretical, either. In 2016, an Anthrax outbreak in Siberia that affected eight people and killed one was traced back to samples going as far back as 1941. They had come to the surface due to the unprecedented heat wave in the region that year; a phenomenon that has been happening more and more often in recent times. In another case from 1997, perfectly-preserved samples of Spanish flu from 1918 were found in a woman’s dead body in Alaska, which allowed scientists to sequence the genome of one of the deadliest diseases in our history for the first time.
As the currently ongoing Covid pandemic has proven without a doubt, a super strain of particularly deadly diseases – such as Ebola – may wreak havoc on a world that’s more connected and populated than ever before.
8. Gulf Stream Slowdown
The Gulf Stream is a strong ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, traversing along the east coast of the United States all the way to Europe. The Gulf Stream is why European climate – especially in western and northern Europe – is warmer and milder than it otherwise would be, though with climate change already disrupting weather patterns around the globe, that may change very soon.
If recent studies are to be believed, the Gulf Stream is already slowing down, and may come to a complete halt some time in the future. While that’s not a doomsday scenario on its own, what follows once that happens definitely is. The shutdown of the Gulf Stream would potentially plunge most of the northern hemisphere into an unending ice age, as temperatures fall at an average of 44 degrees Fahrenheit or more and displace close to two billion people, ending life on Earth as we know it, if not entirely.
The good news is that the scientific community is divided on when that would happen, as it could take hundreds, if not thousands, of years for such a scenario to unfold. The bad news, however, is that we simply don’t know for sure. Moreover, it would happen parallel with other climate change prediction models. That means that while one half of the world would be completely covered in ice, the other would be turning to desert, as the overall temperature of the world would still be on the rise.
7. The Higgs Boson Doomsday
The discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 – also called the ‘God’ particle by the media – was a momentous achievement in our understanding of the universe. It proved the existence of the Higgs field – first theorized by a British theoretical physicist, Peter Higgs, in the ’60s as the all-pervading force responsible for mass in subatomic particles – paving the way for further research into one of the longest-standing mysteries of quantum mechanics.
How does that spell the end of the world? The particle also happens to be at the center of a particularly worrisome doomsday theory that, if true, could wipe out the entire universe at no less than the speed of light. Known as the Higgs Boson Doomsday, its proponents maintain that the mass of the boson is barely at the edge of what’s keeping the universe stable, which may change at any time, resulting in a vacuum bubble that originates somewhere in the universe and expands at the speed of light, eventually destroying everything in its path until only hydrogen atoms are left.
While it’s all too complicated to fully explain – or even understand, as advanced particle physics is… advanced – the important thing is that this theory doesn’t come from the conspiracy corners of the Internet. Stephen Hawking – perhaps the most well-known physicist of our time – believed in it, along with quite a few other physicists who know what they’re talking about.
As we go through other, advanced ways that the world could come to an end, we may be ignoring one obvious, more primitive manner it could happen – widespread, global infertility. According to many recent studies, infertility is on the rise across the world, with more and more couples simply unable to conceive as compared to even 20 years ago.
According to the numbers, globally, about 15% of couples trying to conceive for a year are unable to do so, and the problem has only been on the rise since at least 1990. By 2025, around 10 million couples would be unable to have a baby, which is – without any exaggeration – a global public health crisis at this point. The problem is particularly acute in the more impoverished regions of the world, and the worrying part is that we don’t fully understand exactly what is causing it.
The threat of artificial intelligence has been widely discussed and dissected in the scientific community in the past few years, and for good reason. A super AI that could teach itself how to take over the world is by no means a threat to be taken lightly, though it’s discussed so much at this point that it’s safe to say that any such tech would be built with checks in place to never allow that to happen.
Deepfakes, however, are one implementation of artificial intelligence that may threaten global stability in ways we may not fully understand, yet. For the uninitiated, deepfakes are – as the name suggests – convincing fakes of media made with machine learning and artificial intelligence. One could, for example, use a photograph of a person to make it do or say anything on video, which is already being widely used online to manufacture fake revenge porn. While that’s a pretty horrifying scenario in its own right – especially for women – once we consider the full spectrum of what the technology could do, it could jeopardize global stability and downright threaten the survival of our species if left regulated.
Imagine a world where no evidence is admissible in court anymore; where major geopolitical leaders could be morphed into saying or doing anything you want; where the implicit social contract of our shared reality being uniform for everyone no longer exists. In the 2020 statement released by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – the non-profit organization of scientists that maintains the famous Doomsday Clock – deepfakes were cited as one of the reasons for moving the clock forward to just 100 seconds before extinction. That’s not it; one study done at University College London ranked deepfakes as the most worrying potential use of AI in crime or terrorism, which could easily devolve into widespread global chaos – or even nuclear war – if left unchecked.
4. The Gray Goo Hypothesis
Much like AI, nanotechnology is yet another frontier of science we’re on the cusp of exploring. Unlike AI, though, we’re not entirely sure of all the ways that it can kill us, which has kept media and industry attention largely away from its most damaging potential applications.
One of them is the Gray Goo Hypothesis; a worst case scenario of advanced, self-replicating nanobots getting out of control. It’s not an alarmist conspiracy, either; there are many industry use cases of tiny machines – called assemblers – that could rearrange molecules to build or repair anything we want. Combine it with other tech like AI, and these assemblers could be programmed to consistently get better at their job on their own, as they build more and more copies of themselves without any human supervision.
While all that sounds futuristic and awesome – and it is, as it does have quite a few genuinely useful applications, especially in medicine – it’d be a problem if these bots could somehow gain the necessary motivations to start doing that to everything around them, either due to an error in the code, or bad actors gaining control over and reprogramming them. Under such a scenario, the nanobots would simply start turning everything they come into contact with into copies of themselves, eventually turning everything in the world into a giant blob of assemblers within days, including organic matter.
Thankfully, we’re far from developing anything so advanced, so such a scenario at least lies quite a bit into the future if it ever happens. There’s also the question of exactly why we’d allow anything so dangerous to be built, as any such technology – if made without any checks or regulations – would face immense backlash from the global scientific community before it could reach that stage. However, if it’s built in a classified military lab, we may not know until it’s already manufactured and in use by one of the many nations currently in the nanobot arms race.
3. The Big Time Freeze
For years, we’ve been trying to wrap our heads around one particularly-baffling phenomenon observed in space. When we observe distant stars, they seem to be moving away from us – as well as each other – faster than objects that are nearer, which shouldn’t be possible, as gravity should be slowing all that matter down. While some scientists have suggested that it has something to do with dark energy, one theory put forward by a group of researchers from Spain offers a much simpler solution.
As our telescopes are essentially looking into the past, the researchers theorize that distant objects seem to be moving away faster simply because the passage of time used to be much faster back then. That means that time is slowing down with… well, time, and one day, it may come to a complete halt. Of course, anything of the sort would take millions – if not billions – of years to happen, though that’s assuming it’s slowing down at the same rate as back then. If the phenomenon is accelerating, however, our species may remain alive to see everything around us come to a grinding halt at some point in our distant future, with everything around us forever frozen in a sort of an inescapable snapshot.
2. The Verneshot Hypothesis
The extinction event that caused the wipe-out of the dinosaurs – also called the K-T extinction – happened about 66 million years ago, and we don’t quite understand exactly what caused it. The scientific community is still divided on whether it was due to volcanoes or an asteroid impact, as evidence found from that time points towards both as possible culprits.
According to some experts, it’s too much of a coincidence for both of those things to have happened at the same time. Instead, they postulate that most – if not all – extinction events in our history, including the K-T extinction, weren’t caused by either volcanoes or meteors, but rather by something called a Verneshot.
Named after Jules Verne of Journey To The Center Of The Earth fame, Verneshots – at least in theory – are massive ejections of volcanic gas through a relatively-stable and ancient layer of rock under the Earth called cratons. While they may sound exactly like volcanoes, the difference lies in the scale, as well as the fact that volcanoes usually happen through more unstable and shallower parts of the Earth’s crust.
If true, it could explain why the K-T extinction event bears signs of both a massive volcano as well as a meteor impact. A Verneshot would eject massive amounts of rock and lava high into the atmosphere – accompanied by other, relatively-smaller volcanoes nearby – which would eventually come back crashing down.
According to the theory, this could happen at any time in the future, too, as we still don’t have the equipment required to study that part of the Earth’s crust, resulting in yet another extinction event which – much like the unsuspecting dinosaurs – no one would see coming.
1. The Snowball Effect
While it’s fun to imagine separate doomsday scenarios that may or may not happen on their own, with the effects of climate change now moving into the uncharted territory, it’s more likely that the end would instead come from a self-amplifying loop of a combination of those possibilities. As our focus lies only on keeping global temperatures low and reducing greenhouse emissions, some scientists believe that once that feedback loop starts – which it may have already, for all we know – the resulting catastrophe would snowball into a bunch of end-of-the-world scenarios happening all at once.
According to a study by climate scientists from different countries, even if we stop the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius as per 2015’s Paris agreement, that may still end up triggering multiple feedback loops that’d raise global temperatures by at least five degrees Celsius, causing a multitude of other end-time events happening at the same time.
That means a snowball effect that results in multiple end-time scenarios, including – but not restricted to – accelerated carbon emissions from the melting of the permafrost, infectious, untreatable diseases due to widespread antibiotic resistance wreaking havoc on regions with lax healthcare facilities, halted food production due to massive heatwaves in once-fertile regions of the world, a global nuclear winter due to an increasingly divided and conflict-prone world, with automated weaponry overtaking conflict zones we no longer control, and rising sea levels that completely drown out some of our most populated urban centers.