Getting ready for the end of the world – Part 1 – The Cause

With the financial markets in ruins, the stock market taking a dive and the western world owing more money than it is able to produce it doesn’t take too much imagination to come to the conclusion that our way of life is in a bit of a state of flux. Fortunately the arts world has long been foretelling this sort of scenario, so there are at least a number of ways to mentally prepare for such eventualities. There are a number of movies, books and computer games out there to help you get your mind ready for a transition from a time where many of us can waste food; can’t hunt; know little or no self defence and know little more than how to make coffee and use MS Word, to a time where we have to hunt; kill or be killed.

The cause of “The End” has often been seen to come in a variety of forms – it could be an asteroid or a comet – something large enough to throw a huge amount of matter into the air, block out the sun and put us into a state of nuclear winter. It could also be a virus, such as a mutated influenza virus or even a major climate shift. Lets look at each one in turn.

The big rock from space

Whether it is an asteroid or a comet, it makes very little difference. If it is large enough and hits land, it is going to displace huge amounts of soil and debris and send it skyward. This dust will be carried around in the various trade-winds in the upper atmosphere and block out a lot of sunlight, causing a very long winter. Crops will inevitably fail, plants will die and therefore starve the herbivores, so the carnivores also go hungry and we at the top of the food chain are forced to scurry around trying to survive on what is left – probably Pot Noodle.

This sort of scenario is dealt with quite well by Deep Impact. It’s getting a little old now, but the effects were breathtaking when it came out. Still, it covers the scenario where they try to destroy the comet with nuclear warheads and fail, as well part of the comet hitting the ocean. It stops at that point and doesn’t turn into a global killer, but still, it’s impressively done.

Whereas the world was saved in Deep Impact by some selfless astronauts, we’ve just seen the end of the shuttle programme and the end of the public sector heading into space. If we are going to put people into orbit these days, it’ll likely be funded by the private sector. I don’t hold out much hope of a private sector organisation performing such a selfless act.

A really nasty cold

Another scenario that could quite easily wipe out the vast majority of humans on this planet involves the flu. The Influenza virus is perfectly suited to taking down humanity. It can be passed from person to person by water droplets in a sneeze. It can mutate to evade the body’s immune system and it can be carried around the world quickly thanks to the public transport network.

There are two films that deal with this in different ways. The first way is a typical outbreak scenario where the vast majority gets infected and dies. The Stand is a Stephen King movie (and book), so there is always going to be more to it than a simple virus outbreak. There’s a “Dark Man” and two sides aligned on different sides of the moral compass, but it deals with the outbreak and rapid spread very well.

Whilst there might be people with a natural immunity to a superflu – rather like some people have an immunity to HIV, there is unlikely to be enough to keep the western world running – the utilities and the hospitals all need people.

Man’s tampering with a nasty bug

Another scenario is also possible. With cancer on many people’s minds these days, the search for a cure that doesn’t strip the body of its immunity or its healthy cells is a priority. Using bacteria or viri as a cure is already being investigated, but this could have unforeseen side effects of its own. This is where I am Legend comes in (based on the book by Richard Matheson). It tells the story of man’s breakthrough in cancer treatment – a mutated measles virus – resulting in an army of vampiric creatures that stalk the living at night.

This is quite dramatic I admit, but if you consider the “vampires” as a euphemism for a bunch of desperately hungry humans – as in The Road, it becomes a little more plausible.

Nuclear War

Another scenario involves nuclear weapons. Whilst it is true that there is pressure out here in the west to decommission our nuclear arsenals, parts of the middle and far east who live under a very different style of government are actively developing their own. North Korea has its fair share of nuclear weapons and Iran is allegedly working on nuclear proliferation too. It is not inconceivable that either one of them could send a few armed nukes our way as a way of protest against the US/Nato’s foreign policy. Conveniently Squidoo has a list of the top 10 nuclear war movies here. Here’s a clip from “Threads”

Of all of the “Judgement day” scenarios, I think this one is the least likely to happen, especially as it would require mutual retaliation from a number of sides to wipe out much of the planet. There is of course the potential for nuclear winter, but I think the next scenario is more likely to happen in our lifetime.


There are a number of very large, active caldera’s bubbling away under the surface of the planet. This article lists the six known supervolcanoes that we know about, but perhaps the most famous is the Yellowstone caldera. A supervolcano is one that is capable of spewing over 1000 cubic kilometeres of rock and dust into the atmosphere. Such an event would first disrupt airlines and drop ash onto homes and buildings, but then lower the earth’s temperature and threaten crops and the rest of the food chain.

The Mayan Scenario

Of course, the Mayan’s predicted that the world is going to end in 2012, which doesn’t give us a lot of time. There’s a fun page here full of terror and a link to a related video, so go have a look. I don’t hold out much hope for it really, although some things are expected to happen – such as sunspot activity peaking in 2012, but I think most of us will still be here in 2013.

It’s not a bad movie and the effects are nicely done, but it doesn’t seem all that feasible to me.

Global Warming

There is a good chance that a shift in our climate will make life very difficult indeed. Here in the UK we rely on the north atlantic current which is driven by the Thermohaline Circulation (THC). This brings warm air up from the tropics, drops to the bottom of the ocean as it cools and then makes its way back south again. This current is apparently disrupted by fresh water flowing into the ocean from melting polar ice. As temperatures increase, more ice will melt and disrupt the flow of warm water. This scenario has been covered by the Day After Tomorrow. Much of the science has been debunked – there are no freezing cold hurricanes, but the THC could shut down and make things rather nippy here in the UK. Still, it’s unlikely to signal the end of the world. Then again, what do we really know?

So, I think that’s a lot of the end-of-the-world scenarios covered. Feel free to comment with anything I may have missed. On with the consequences.

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