Extremely Plausible, and Some Improbable, Ways the World Will End
Our planet will cease to exist one day. It's just a matter of when. Everything meets its end, but the methods and reasons are impossible to predict. Whether it comes from the cosmos or is already on Earth waiting to take us out, there are plenty of theories about how our planet will meet its demise. And whether it's a man-made or natural disaster, we've compiled a list of plausible, improbable and highly possible ways the world could end one day.
The Population Tipping Point
Our planet's resources are finite. There are around 7.7 billion people on Earth. And the world's population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. According to a United Nations report, longer life expectancy is causing a considerable increase in the number of elderly folks on the planet. Will there eventually be so many people that we run out of resources and die off?
Natural and Human-made Environmental Toxins
Environmental toxins, like BPA and pesticides, are human-made. Toxins also come from nature in the form of lead, mercury and formaldehyde. These chemicals are cancer-causing and can lead to organ failure. They’re also endocrine disruptors and can cause various developmental and reproductive problems.
The Changing Climate
There’s a consensus in the scientific community that Earth's climate is changing. And humans are one of the causes of this phenomenon. People usually argue about two things regarding climate change: the amount of responsibility placed on us and the planet's tendency to drastically change without our help. These points are moot when it comes to our world's survival, though.
The Collapse of Ecosystems
Experts expect the extinction of a million species within a few decades. A United Nations report determined that extinction rates are hundreds of times higher now than they were at any point in the last 10 million years. One-third of marine mammals are at risk. And we’ve taken over plenty of land, making ecosystems uninhabitable for millions of species.
Mass Epidemics and Pandemics
Much of the world’s population lives close together in big cities and booming industrial areas. We’re just one sneeze away from a global pandemic. In 1918, Spanish influenza killed between 40 and 50 million people. There’s currently a worldwide discussion about the effects and use of vaccines. Some people say they're for government control and cause autism, but this has been debunked over and over.
Biological and Chemical Warfare
The United States has been at war for 93% of its existence. We have known 21 years of peace. The odds of war killing us are massive, and chemical warfare is a probable option. Chemical weapons include all toxic chemicals and their precursors. Even protests often lead to the deployment of riot control agents, a little-known classified chemical weapon, so it’s not surprising that various governments have bigger, badder options on deck for large-scale use.
There are currently over 13,000 nuclear warheads in existence; 3,750 of them are considered active. Over 90% of those nuclear weapons are owned by the United States and Russia. Only five of the eight countries with nuclear weapons have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
An Earthquake's Fault
Earth's surface is continually changing. Its oceanic crust and continental crust are thick tectonic plates. And they’re always moving, adjusting and sliding underneath or atop each other — slowly. Tectonic plates create the majestic mountains that appear in our incredible landscapes.
A Direct Asteroid Hit
An asteroid is any planetoid orbiting the sun that’s greater than one meter in diameter. Many in our solar system orbit within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The general consensus among scientists suggests that one of these guys hit Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
An earthquake or an asteroid may not cause the world to end, but a resulting tsunami is inescapable and will likely result in millions of deaths. Tsunamis are massive waves — almost like walls of water — caused by earthquakes and undersea volcanic eruptions. If an asteroid struck the middle of the ocean, the water it displaced could create massive tsunamis.
Around 1,500 active volcanoes exist on Earth. One of the most famous eruptions of all time happened in Pompeii in Italy. The ash and soot from Mount Vesuvius buried the ancient city, killing 2,000 people. And that was just one mountain. A mass eruption of all of Earth's volcanoes isn’t out of the question — think of the potential destruction.
If Earth isn't destroyed by 1,500 volcanoes, it might die from the eruption of one supervolcano. There are 20 known supervolcanoes in the world, including those in Indonesia, New Zealand, Italy and Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
Magnetic Field Reversal
The reversal of Earth's magnetic poles happens often. It's a common occurrence — in geologic timelines, anyway. Based on geologic evidence, the north and south poles have flipped every 200,000 to 300,000 years over the last 20 million years. But the most recent magnetic pole reversal happened 780,000 years ago, so we’re definitely due for another.
Cooling the Molten Core
Earth's core has been continuously (but very slowly) cooling down since the planet first formed. It’ll eventually become wholly cooled and solid. This will have a drastic impact on what happens on the planet's surface. Scientists theorize our planet's atmosphere and surface would become something like those of Mars.
Direct Gamma Rays
Gamma rays aren't all bad. When applied properly, they can treat various forms of cancer. But gamma-ray bursts from the sun could eliminate diseases and all life on Earth. These solar explosions are observable across the galaxy. They’re the brightest electromagnetic occurrences in the known universe and can last from seconds to hours.
Solar geoengineering consists of technologies used to manipulate the environment to combat the effects of climate change. It's not believed to be a total solution, but it could critically supplement more useful strategies. It's comprised of two broad categories: carbon geoengineering, or carbon dioxide removal, and solar geoengineering, also known as solar radiation management.
Death and Expansion of the Sun
Our sun is going to die. It's just a matter of when. The end of the star will happen once the fuel in its interior runs out. The thermonuclear reactions that power our planet will then cease to exist. The sun will begin to expand into a red giant, slowly swallowing up Mercury and Venus before consuming Earth.
Frequently, stars explode into awe-inspiring supernovas from which nothing can escape. If our sun exploded, we would certainly perish in an instant. The sudden decrease in the sun's mass could cause Earth to lose orbit and float aimlessly through the cosmos.
Earth's Orbital Exit
If Earth's orbital speed decreased, it might fly right into the sun. Earth orbits the sun at a velocity of 30 km/s. If the orbit suddenly stopped, the atmosphere and everything on the planet would still have that same inertia. Everything on the planet's leading side would launch into space, while everything else would be crushed against the planet.
Collision With a Rogue Planet
A quick Google search will take you down a rabbit hole of theories about Planet X. Doomsdayers also refer to this planet as Nibiru. Planet X is believed to have a long, elliptical orbit around the sun, which is why we never see it. Theorists expect it to cause a disastrous encounter known as the Nibiru cataclysm.
War of the Worlds
The next space race will see probes, telescopes and missions beyond our galaxy. The likelihood that we’re alone in the universe diminishes with each new galactic discovery. Aliens may not be the short, gray creatures that read our minds or give us probes of our own. But they could still spell the destruction of our known existence.
It’s not a common fear, but it is one some people hold: the rise of robotic overlords. Technological advances in robotics improve by the day. Today, robots are being designed for search and rescue missions, industrial purposes and domestic assistance. Of course, their combat and military applications are endless.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Nanotech has its known benefits for medical procedures, creating safe alternatives to conventional surgery. The ability to see and manipulate atoms is beyond our initial comprehension. But we do know that its applications could also have much more unfavorable outcomes.
Artificial Intelligence Backfires
With seemingly minute-by-minute updates to robotics and nanotechnology, artificial intelligence might be a big threat to our survival. An AI "being" can integrate itself into a network and acquire valuable information, including Social Security numbers and nuclear codes. All it takes is for the AI to become self-aware and consider humans a threat.
Worldwide Mental Breakdown
Perhaps the likeliest of reasons for our world's end is in our own minds. Depression is increasingly common in people over the age of 12. And people with depression are three times more likely to develop an opioid addiction. Aging with depression also leads to more Alzheimer's cases.
Particle Accelerator Mishap
A particle accelerator throws subatomic particles into extremely high velocities for research in particle physics. They’re generally used for high-energy physics, isotope production, low-energy machines and particle therapy. Common examples of particle accelerators even exist in television sets and X-ray generators. But they get much bigger and badder.
The True, False Vacuum
The second law of thermodynamics suggests that energy wants to move from a stronger state to a weaker state. Matter is most stable in its lowest energy state. The false vacuum theory suggests that matter exists in a false low state and still contains the stronger potential energy.
Black Hole Swallowing
Our world could very well get sucked up by a massive black hole traveling through spacetime. The properties of gravity state that a super-compacted mass can deform space and time to create a black hole. They’re near-impossible to observe and could sneak up on our solar system without warning.
The Big Rip Theory
Think of the Big Bang, but the opposite. The Big Rip is a hypothetical model having to do with the fate of the entire universe. In this cosmological model, everything that exists in the cosmos, from galaxies to spacetime itself, would be ripped apart by the expanding universe.
Living in the Matrix
Playing a video game can get a person lost in a virtual world. The graphics and virtual-reality capabilities seem to improve with each release. According to Elon Musk, simulations will inevitably become "indistinguishable from reality." What if humanity only exists in a giant simulation or real-life video game?