Things seem to be getting better. The economy is recovering, people are traveling, restaurants are full, and the CDC says that vaccinated people can dispense with their masks and social distancing. We’ll see what the future holds, and I’m cautiously optimistic.
However, . . . maybe it’s human nature, but these latest doses of good news and optimism have me pondering what the future could have in store that would be way worse than COVID 19. Here’s my list:
1. Another pandemic that is much deadlier than COVID 19. COVID sucks, but it could be much worse. According to the World Health Organization infection fatality rate for COVID is about 1% (it varies by age group, country, etc.). Imagine a virus that is more contagious and deadlier. That would suck. And a deadlier virus causing a worse pandemic in the future is possible (probable?).
2. A Super Volcano. Yellowstone is a potential super volcano. If it erupted it could wipe out our species. Here’s an IFOD about that: Yellowstone the Super Volcano.
3. Major Asteroid Impact. A big asteroid or comet may have wiped out the dinosaurs. A future impact at some point in the 5 billion or so years before the earth is consumed by the sun as it expands into a red giant is nearly inevitable. Will such an impact be soon? Hopefully not. On a related note, I’d highly recommend the book Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s first line is “The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” Great book.
4. Attack by Aliens. There’s been an increased number of reports from the military and U.S. government over the past few years acknowledging UFOs. Who knows that that means. How likely is it that alien life exists somewhere in the universe? Check out this IFOD about the probability of intelligent alien life: Is There Intelligent Life Elsewhere in the Universe?
5. Climate Change. This is already happening and left unchecked could have devastating effects for humanity and life on earth. But unlike the threats above, this is one we can actually do something about. Here’s what Stephen Hawking had to say about climate change in a book he published just before his death a few years ago:
Global warming is caused by all of us. We want cars, travel and a better standard of living. The trouble is, by the time people realise what is happening, it may be too late.
[M]any politicians are denying the reality of man-made climate change, or at least the ability of man to reverse it, just at the moment that our world is facing a series of critical environmental crises. The danger is that global warming may become self-sustaining, if it has not become so already. The melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps reduces the fraction of solar energy reflected back into space, and so increases the temperature further. Climate change may kill off the Amazon and other rainforests and so eliminate one of the main ways in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The rise in sea temperature may trigger the release of large quantities of carbon dioxide. Both these phenomena would increase the greenhouse effect, and so exacerbate global warming. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus: boiling hot and raining sulphuric acid, with a temperature of 250 degrees centigrade (482 degrees Fahrenheit). Human life would be unsustainable. We need to go beyond the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement adopted in 1997, and cut carbon emissions now. We have the technology. We just need the political will.
We can be an ignorant, unthinking lot. When we have reached similar crises in our history, there has usually been somewhere else to colonise. Columbus did it in 1492 when he discovered the New World. But now there is no new world. No Utopia around the corner. We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds.
Good news is that we’re seeing huge amounts of investment in climate tech.