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10 of the Biggest Threats to Human Existence

Just in case you don't have enough to worry about.
 
 
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AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is at the top of the cultural zeitgeist these days, one of the most popular television series on the air. In the show, a virus has ravaged the Earth, killing most of humanity, with the dead corpses rising to terrorize the few remaining living souls. While enormously entertaining, it is not a likely scenario for the end of the human race. Dick Cheney notwithstanding, zombies aren’t real. The end of humanity, however, could be. While it is difficult to envision a world without “us,” there are multiple scenarios staring at us, right here, right now, not far-fetched, that could wipe out all or most of humanity, leaving a wasteland for Mother Nature to reclaim. Here are some of the possible ways the reign of man- and womankind might end, no zombies needed.

1. Global Climate Change

Climate change is the Big Kahuna of all scenarios in which our presence on Earth is ended. Despite what the climate change deniers would have you believe, climate change is real. It is being caused by human beings, with a little help from lots of farting cows emitting methane, plus that giant well of methane lurking under the Arctic ice. As we burn carbon and increase our meat-eating ways, more and more greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere. It is pretty easy to see the end game of this scenario. Grab a telescope and look at Venus, a planet with a thick, heat-trapping atmosphere and a surface temperature high enough to, well, melt lead. A few decades ago, climate scientist James Hanson studied Venus, and saw some parallels with what was happening on Earth. What he saw alarmed him, and he testified in Congress in 1988, warning our government that unless we changed our carbon-burning ways, we were on a course for disaster. Hanson got through to a single senator: Al Gore.

Meanwhile, the carbon keeps burning, the CO2 keeps rising, resulting in a slowly rising average Earth temperature despite the occasional freezing cold winter. On average, Earth’s temperature has been rising steadily since the Industrial Revolution unleashed our carbon-burning frenzy, resulting in a slow-moving train wreck. The hottest years in recorded history have occurred in the last decade. Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben outlines the situation:

“The Arctic ice cap is melting [releasing more greenhouse gases], the great glacier above Greenland is thinning, both with disconcerting and unexpected speed. The oceans are distinctly more acid and their level is rising…The greatest storms on our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful… The great rain forest of the Amazon is drying on its margins… The great boreal forest of North America is dying in a matter of years… [This] new planet looks more or less like our own but clearly isn’t."

Many environmentalists think we have already passed the point of no return. Once we pass a certain threshold, Earth will continue warming even if we do manage to cut our CO2 emissions. What we do know is that, if we don’t begin reducing the amount of CO2 we are releasing into the air, and at least minimize the damage, a planet-wide disaster is assured. 

2. Loss of Biodiversity

If we don’t melt ourselves into extinction, another possible route to end times is partly a byproduct of climate change: loss of biodiversity. Human activity is responsible for massive extinctions of countless species on Planet Earth. Environment News Service reported as far back as 1999 that, “the current extinction rate is now approaching 1,000 times the background rate [what would be considered the normal rate of extinction] and may climb to 10,000 times the background rate during the next century, if present trends continue [resulting in] a loss that would easily equal those of past extinctions.”