When people think of the world ending, a common thought is that, in billions of years, life will shrivel away, either from the sun finally exploding or repetitive, severe natural disasters. It is thought of as something far in the future, barely imaginable, but what if the end of the world is closer than we think?
For hundreds of years now, humans have been harming the Earth and the environment we live in. It isn’t far-fetched to say we would be the reason behind its destruction. With increasing tension between political powers, the idea of warfare hovers around constantly, and with today’s modern technology, warfare on a large scale could very well end life as we know it. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave a look into the immense destruction that nuclear war could cause. One of the bombs held in the US arsenal now is 60 times more powerful that the one dropped on Nagasaki Little Boy. As of now, hundreds of bombs are ready to be released within minutes. Besides the immediate deaths these explosions would cause, they could also result in something called a nuclear winter, where clouds of dust and smoke from the explosion block out sunlight, causing temperatures to drop for years and food growth to be stunted. This would result in mass starvation affecting millions.
Other than just nuclear warfare, modern technology also allows for chemical and biological warfare. Chemical weapons like sarin or chlorine have been used by the Syrian government, killing hundreds of people during their civil war. These attacks could be used to poison the air or water supply of certain areas, causing death or prolonged health defects. Biological warfare discussions gained popularity in 2020, with suspicions of COVID-19 being released purposely by the government. Regardless of the logic behind those theories, they show what biological warfare could hypothetically look like on a much smaller scale. If it were to actually occur, it would likely be with much more deadly and contagious viruses. The effects of this would be exponentially larger than COVID, and could completely shut down countries for years and unleash worldwide panic.
Nearly everyone has heard by now that global warming and climate change could end the world, but how exactly would that happen? Most people know that things like cars and factories produce fossil fuels, and when large amounts of fossil fuels gather in the air, they trap heat inside our atmosphere. In the last century, this has led to a two degree Fahrenheit increase in the global temperature, but scientists have said that this itself isn’t enough to lead to the extinction of humans. And, to the average person, this doesn’t seem major.
Masuk sophomore, Alexa Gill, says, “I believe in climate change, and that it’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s the reason the world is going to end. There are bigger issues than climate change – it’s still cold out.”
In truth, it isn’t the warmer temperatures that environmentalists are afraid of – it’s their effects. Dina Franceschi, an Environmental Science and Economics professor at Fairfield University, states, “Higher surface mean temps are trouble. The combined effects of melting ice caps, increased intensity and frequency of storm events and shift in agricultural production will have increasingly costly impacts into the future.”
A warmer Earth means warmer oceans, and warmer oceans lead to sea ice melting. Predictions show that by 2100, only 78 years from now, a third of Florida could be underwater. That’s around nine million people who’d need to relocate, just from Florida alone. Franceschi continues, “By adapting slower and later, rather than sooner and faster, we are preventing ourselves from living prosperous lives in the future.”
Other than coastal flooding, melting ice may release hundreds of viruses – some of which modern immune systems may not be able to combat. During a heatwave in Siberia, where temperatures reached over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, there was an Anthrax outbreak that killed over 2,000 reindeer, and spread to the human population, too. When investigating the issue, scientists found that the virus was likely from a frozen reindeer carcass that had died of anthrax, and that the body had thawed underground during the heatwave with the virus still alive inside it. This spread through the grass, which other reindeer consumed. Before this incident, anthrax hadn’t been present in Siberia since 1968. While the outbreak didn’t result in any human deaths, it shows what melting ice has the potential to do.
With the growing population of Earth, a stable food source is more important than ever. The increasing global temperature means longer, hotter and more frequent heat waves, which can lead to extended droughts and crop failures. Global famine will become an increasingly large issue. Along with this, studies have shown that the Earth only has the resources to support ten billion people. While this may seem like a lot, estimates show that we will reach this number in 2058. Franceschi mentions, “We as a society are certainly utilizing the planet beyond its ability to continue to support us in the same way it has.” By not addressing this problem now, we are forcing ourselves to do more in the future.
“The question of whether today’s generations care about future generations is central,” Franceschi states. “Again we’re back to greed – by needing more and consuming more today, we’re asking others to live with less tomorrow.” No one can predict exactly how and when the world will end. While it may not be the present generation, or even their great grandchild, the more humanity takes today, the less it will have tomorrow. Our doomsday could be in a matter of hours, or it could be in a million years. Humans could survive to see the sun explode, or die tomorrow at each other’s hands. Humanity now has the power to end the world – but do we have the power to fix it?