Sunday, May 22, 2011

Apocalypse Threatdown!

I admit it: I'm an apocalypticist. I didn't seriously think the world was going to end this weekend, though I'm wary of proclaiming any future event as definite either way – I must have been seven or eight when a teacher undertook to explain to my class that nothing can be predicted with 100% certainty, and while my classmates were offering counterexamples (this period ending, the sun rising tomorrow) I was agreeing, “Right – we could be hit by a meteor and wiped out within the next half an hour.” Half an hour later, the bell rang, and as we scrambled for our next period my classmates shouted in triumph that this proved their point.

Maybe it was my childhood love of John Wyndham and Arthur C. Clarke that gave me my taste for apocalypse (I read The Day of the Triffids dozens of times before I ever saw a zombie movie). Maybe it was my earlier love of dinosaurs and outer space that made me aware of the extinction of species and the eventual death of the sun. Maybe it was my father's work in international development that taught me the finiteness of earth's resources and the unsustainability of our wasteful lifestyle.

Whatever the cause, I've lived my whole life under the assumption that things like long-term plans were irrelevant, because any day now a major event would turn our world into the world of Z for Zachariah or The Day of the Triffids or The Road or Earth Abides. It was a nasty shock last year to find that, at the end of my undergraduate degree, the world as we know it was still here and I was expected to make plans for The Rest Of My Life.

As I said, I didn't really believe that the world would end yesterday. Any self-professed Christian who claims to know the day or the hour of the End Times is directly contradicting Jesus (“you do not know when the time will come”), which is sort of a no-no in most denominations of Christianity. And anyway I reckon Jesus makes it pretty clear that the End Times will resemble the grim apocalyptic fiction of my youth.

So what will end the world? I have a list of scenarios, ordered by increasing likelihood. Apocalypse Threatdown!

5. Total War

Watching movies from the 1950s and 60s, I'm often struck by the fact that, even though disarmament has not happened, we no longer feel the dread of all-out nuclear war hanging over us. When the bomb's remained undropped for so long, mutually assured destruction starts to seem unlikely, but it only takes one megalomaniac dictator with his finger on the button.

As seen in: Z for Zachariah, The Road (?)

Likelihood: 6/10

4. Plague

Modern medicine marches forward, endeavoring to eradicate as many diseases as possible. In response, the diseases are mutating new and terrifying strains as fast as we can develop cures. Looking at all the false alarms we've had over the past few years – SARS, bird flu, swine flu – I'd say we're due a real pandemic on the scale of 1918's Spanish flu. Also, when my brother told nine-year-old me about ebola I didn't sleep for a week.

As seen in: Doomsday, 28 Days Later

Likelihood: 7/10

3. The Undead

Let's face it: as much as we nerds plan for it, world governments are just not equipped for the zombie uprising. We were warned, but we're still doomed.

As seen in: World War Z, Romero's Dead movies

Likelihood: 8/10

2. Robot Revolution

Revolution has been programmed into the whole concept of robots ever since the great Karel Capek coined the term in his play R.U.R.(War With The Newts, fantastic though it is, does not make the top five threats.) This scenario was level-pegging with zombies until a computer won Jeopardy, reminding us that machines are getting ever more advanced. Plus, when I asked Chatbot if it was planning to enslave humanity, it was pretty cagey.

As seen in: The Terminator, R.U.R.

Likelihood: 8.5/10

And the number one probable cause of the apocalypse is...

1. Climate Change Disaster

Yeah, this one's unavoidable. There won't be enough fresh water or food to go around. Places lucky enough to have some food and water will militarize in order to keep out the desperate have-nots, who will turn to cannibalism in order to survive. And all the other scenarios will probably happen just to join in the fun.

As seen in: the future

Likelihood: 10/10

Of course, when I say “unavoidable” and “10/10”, I mean them only insofar as these things can be predicted. Tomorrow we might be wiped out by a meteor. Or tomorrow Jesus might return, just to mess with us.


  1. Here's a fun website I've been linking people to all week: - Just a website that collects hypothetical end of the world scenarios. It hasn't been updated in a while, but there's plenty of reading there. It will either entertain or scare you. Personally, I find it entertaining - and good fodder for possible future writing.

    I find this scenario facinating: Plenty of food! Not the right kind. And the "It's All A Dream!" one under "Tick-Tock!" is pretty cool becuase I sometimes wonder if "reality" is just a dream.

    And all of the obvious ones are on there, including the environmental destruction ones. I think we've got a tough road ahead of us if we don't put more into developing alternate energy quick.

  2. Urgh, weird, I forgot, the site's all in frames so it didn't directly link to the "Grain Apocalypse" - but it's there.

  3. Shadsie, that is a fantastic website! It entertains *and* scares me (but then I'm a horror fan so those two are often the same thing for me...).

  4. I love me some apocalypse and in honor of it, I read (for the first time) Day of the Triffids last week.

  5. This is why one of my favourite songs is REM's End of the World As We Know It :-)