We asked us this open question to our readers a couple of weeks back. We got a lot of great responses. Here are some of them.

1-5 Catastrophes Waiting to Happen

Saudi Arabia

01. The political collapse of Saudi Arabia. They have:

  • an already high unemployment rate of 12%.
  • a rapidly growing population with millions of more jobs needed just to maintain current employment rates.
  • an economy where 80% of Saudi nationals work for the public sector or the state oil company.
  • a government that was 90% funded by oil revenues.
  • an oil price that has collapsed by two-thirds and isn’t likely to increase substantially any time soon.
  • a population that has become accustomed to a very high standard of living, and will not accept the work ethic or lower living standards required in future.
  • a dysfunctional government system that is unwilling to undertake major reform to change this system.
  • a current monarch that is currently 80 with dementia, with no well defined system of succession and dozens of potential monarchs who will not want to lose out if the succession goes down another line.
  • a monarchy that only maintains its support because the people are doing economically well due to widespread knowledge of the corruption and venality of the royals.
  • an official system of legitimacy where the monarchy are supported in power because the clerics endorse them as being properly Islamic – an endorsement that can be removed at any moment if the clerics feel they are being harmed by the monarchy’s unpopularity.
  • a culture of extreme hard-line Islam, with much of the population wanting to return to an even more aggressive version of the faith, and something that could gain a lot more traction with young, angry, unemployed men.
  • a complete absence of any moderate opposition, with the most likely alternative power bases being either Al-Qaeda or ISIS

If you think Syria and Iraq are bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.

02. Massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. No one besides the scientists studying it seems to be taking it seriously, and it’s going to be absolutely devastating when it does happen. Here’s a link to the article that went around about this last summer if anyone is interested – it’s a really good read. The earthquake is going to be bad, but what is going to cause devastation is going to be tsunami. There are ghosts forests up there, miles inland, where the saltwater came in. A bunch of the NA/First Nations people in the area have oral history about it and the Japanese, meticulous in their record keeping, recorded an earthquake-less tsunami a few hundred years back, i.e., the last one made it all the way across the Pacific.

03. Mosul dam in Iraq is a huge dam that might fail any day and kill a million people. It’s been nothing but trouble since the beginning, requires constant maintenance and repair. I’m surprised it didn’t collapse under IS control.

04. A super-strain of drug-resistant bacteria that’ll sweep through the world’s population like wildfire.

05. If something doesn’t change, the college bubble is going to collapse in the near future. This isn’t to advocate for a certain political party or candidate, but the student debt crisis and the rising cost of college is going to make it a nonviable option for a lot of Americans. They face the prospect of taking out massive amounts of debt that the job market won’t allow them to repay. I already shudder to think what college is going to cost when I have college-aged kids.

6-10 Catastrophes Waiting to Happen

On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled at over 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth's magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3. Picuted here is a lighten blended version of the 304 and 171 angstrom wavelengths. Cropped Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO <b><a href="http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/features/MP_Photo_Guidelines.html"rel="nofollow">NASA image use policy.</a></b> <b><a href="http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index.html" rel="nofollow">NASA Goddard Space Flight Center</a></b> enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. <b>Follow us on <a href="http://twitter.com/NASA_GoddardPix" rel="nofollow">Twitter</a></b> <b>Like us on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Greenbelt-MD/NASA-Goddard/395013845897?ref=tsd" rel="nofollow">Facebook</a></b> <b>Find us on <a href="http://instagrid.me/nasagoddard/?vm=grid" rel="nofollow">Instagram</a></b>

06. The next Carrington Event. One well-timed burp on the sun and there goes the world’s electric grids. Even with adequate preparations, and NOAA does a pretty good job at giving prior warning (luckily we haven’t had to actually respond to any recent solar storms, the one in 2012 missed us and would have caused potentially several trillions of dollars in damages/reparations), but the majority of the world would most certainly be fuc*ed.

It is speculated that if the US power grid is not taken offline in the event of an X-Class flare, everything would undoubtedly be fuc*ed, likely for several months, if not several years. Countries with worse infrastructure would be even more fuc*ed, and would not have the finances to deal with bringing everything back online (oh by the way, financial clocks are meant to be so precise so that transactions don’t get fuc*ed up, but in the case of the storm all of this geomagnetic precision would be messed with too, so world finances would likely go to sh*t).

I don’t know the exact number or percentage yet, but most satellites do not have the proper geomagnetic shielding to survive through a storm of this size. Not like it would really matter anyway, because we would have no power, but most, if not all, satellites would likely be destroyed in the event of a storm, meaning GPS and modern communications will no longer work. For planes and ships in transit at this time, there are always manual methods of navigation, but could still potentially cause issues (passengers in flight could also be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation). So much of the world is dependent on international trade and communication, so this would slow things down more than drastically.

We have some satellites, transformers, in reserve/production that could be used in the case of this event in order to get us started on our feet again, but they would be only baby steps to getting back to where our civilization is now. Also data centers that are not backed up properly would be completely fried too.

So basically, even if we are prepared, there is only so much we can do, and we are going to likely require years in order to recover from this, whenever it may happen. My project is theorizing if this were to happen in 2020, and so far I’ve concluded that we are going to be fuc*ed harder in more ways than we are ready for.

07. Yellowstone super volcano. The caldera collapse will be a global event. It’ll release enough ash and soot to cool the earth a significant amount, changing global climates. In a very twisted way it will help the environment in the long run by adding nutrients back into the soil across great parts of the US.

08. Lake Taupo in New Zealand is 238 sq miles in size and is NZ’s largest lake. It’s also the crater rim of what was thought to be the world’s largest volcanic eruption 26,000 years ago. When it erupted, it changed global weather patterns and buried much of New Zealand. I know it’s not the most populous country in the world but a similar eruption would devastate New Zealand and have global consequences. It’s considered dormant and also overdue to erupt.

09. Ocean acidification. And it’s kind of already happening. CO2 doesn’t just retain heat, it also reacts with water to form carbonic acid. Everything with a shell in the ocean (I.e. 90% of life forms) are going to start dying off in greater and greater numbers, since they can’t make shells without them dissolving away. Coral bleaching is a symptom of this.

These creatures are the base of the food web. No more commercial fishing; barely any whales; nothing but dead seas and jellyfish. Any nation or community that relies on the ocean for food will be out of luck. This will be a true, global catastrophe and unlike an earthquake or asteroid, we’re watching it happen, and unable to organize the will to stop it.

10. We live in a golden era at the moment. We take what we want from the ground. Oil, coal, iron. rare earth materials, etc. We bury our garbage in the holes we dig, nuclear and common trash. It will one day soon peak. Nothing can grow forever when resources have a finite amount. Basically, most of the easily accessible natural resources required for an technological society (fossil fuels, metals, etc) have already been acquired and spent. If some disaster causes our current society to crash whoever remains would never be able to access resources needed to reindustrialize on any major scale. Essentially this civilization is our last shot.

11-15 Catastrophes Waiting to Happen

Polar Ice Melting

11. I know it’s probably already been put on here, but global warming is definitely one of the most real and dangerous threats we’re facing today. If the polar ice caps melt completely, sea levels will raise over 200 feet. So imagine what would happen to places like California and Florida. Not only would humanity be adversely affected, but the ocean swallowing entire human cities would cause a huge environmental impact (i.e. pollution).

The worst part is many politicians are avoiding confronting this issue, some denying it completely, to stay in office. And since global warming is a global issue, it’s going to require international cooperation to be avoided.

12. Gamma rays could fry us all instantly and we would never see it coming. A huge gamma burst will incinerate half the planet instantly, the other half will have 20 seconds of brutal and agonizing torture before turning over into oblivion. We can all die at any minute with no way of detecting such a blast for it travels at the speed of light.

13. The Massive New Madrid Earthquake will devastate the mid west. With fracking, it will be here before we know it and the midwest is not ready for such things. It will be devastating, and sadly in the chaos we won’t truly prosecute those who pushed places like Oklahoma from 3 3.0+ earthqauakes a year to 550+ last year.

14. Most people out there are worried on how man-made global warming will affect us and the world in the year 2100. But scientists fear that an even more rapid (in geological terms) and catastrophic climate change will occur in our lifetime. Dubbed the “The Clathrate Gun,” scientists have observed that the current global warming has caused an irreversible melting of permafrost regions containing an estimated 1,000 gigatons of trapped methane. Such a discharge would have an impact equal to a 10x increase of CO2 and trigger a clathrate gun runaway chain reaction. This would then spread to the (estimated) 10,000 gigatons of frozen methane clathrate on the ocean floor, and raise temperatures by up to 54°F(30°C) and creating a climate similar to that of Venus. Scientists say there is strong evidence that the clathrate gun may have happened on a number of occasions in the past. Source Source 2

15. Indian Point. A nuclear power plant 25 miles from New York City and it’s safety systems are really outdated. There have been 4 bigger incidents in 2015 alone! If anything happens there you’ll have to evacuate New York City (probably permanently) and I don’t have to tell you what that would mean.

16-20 Catastrophes Waiting to Happen

Forest fires

16. The prevention of forest fires. They are natural, and they are totally necessary for the repopulation of certain trees. Preventing them has created something of a buildup, which is why recent fires in the west have been so devastating.

17. Interaction between [pigs and/or domestic birds] and [wild birds and/or bats], will produce a lethal air-borne pathogen that will obliterate the third world.

We’ve come close a few times. H5N1 was almost right, but by luck it lacked the ability to infect the cells found in the human trachea and could only infect deeper parts of the lung. This made it hard to spread person to person as most coughs are shallow enough not to expel particles so deep. If it had infected the trachea, and every cough shot out millions of virions, we’d have been in deep sh*t. Novel coronaviruses like MERS and SARS were likewise not particularly good at person to person transmission, but I’d bet a few small polymorphisms could change this.

While possible, I don’t think the West will really be hit by another fast moving super pandemic (think Spanish Flu, Black Death, not slow moving HIV). Even if we can’t fight it with pharmaceuticals, we have the capacity to isolate and quarantine. But this is not the case in the developing world.

One of these diseases would obliterate super high density poor areas like the slums of India and Bangladesh, or the poorer parts of urban Indonesia and Malaysia. The Chinese are on the edge, they are also high density and have very poor areas, but they are extremely good at quarantining (government uses an iron fist when needed, often overdoes it with culling and spraying).

When my lab was working on Ebola, we had almost no concern that it would cause problems in the USA or Europe, but we were terrified at the prospect of it reaching India or SE Asia. Ebola is not air-borne, and kills fast, and even then it would devastate the super high density areas. Even in small cities like Monrovia and Free Town it was hard to control, imagine if the slums of Dhaka (19x the population density) got hit.

An airborne pathogen like the 1918 Spanish Flu (H1N1), if it were as spatially well distributed as it was in 1918 and got a foothold in the super high density developing world, could kill hundreds of millions. Even if we magically made a vaccine for it overnight, how do you manufacture and distribute 500 million jabs to the slums? Even if Tamiflu worked on it, how could you make and distribute enough in the few weeks of warning time you have? Even if supportive care is enough to save people, where are you going to get millions of ventilators and professionals who can intubate patients?

18. Massive collapse of America’s infrastructure. Roads, bridges, pipelines etc are all years behind the times with no funding for improvements or repairs. Majority of the population has no idea how screwed the infrastructure is. Don’t even get me started on the nation’s water quality.

19. The Ogala aquifer in the Midwest is used to water crops across multiple states in what’s considered a bread baskets of the world. Tapping this ancient aquifer that took millions of years to collect has made it possible to overfarm the area. Unfortunately we’ve used up over half its capacity in the last 60 years. When it runs out the next multi year drought could easily create another dust bowl.

20. Enbridge Line 5. It is an oil pipeline built in 1953 that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Given Enbrdge’s incompetence with other pipelines, many are calling for it to be turned off. While Enbridge maintains the pipeline was built to last forever and doesn’t need maintenance going on 60+ years later,we are now finding out that may not be the case.

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Last Update: May 1, 2016

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