The world coming to an end is an incredibly rare event, only happening once in a lifetime. However, in the fascinating realm of fiction, the world has met its doom in response to every kind of threat humanity has faced. From epic battles and natural catastrophes to rogue artificial intelligence, if all the imaginative tales were true, the apocalypse would have happened countless times.
Apocalyptic stories are incredibly popular, capturing the attention of readers from all walks of life. And why wouldn’t they? These tales delve into our deepest fears as a society and offer a unique perspective on social, political, and environmental issues. Sometimes, they even present solutions through heroic characters who work tirelessly to make the world a better place. But more often than not, they take our real-world fears and amplify them to extraordinary, and sometimes absurd, levels. In a way, they give voice to the profound anxieties that visit us during those sleepless nights.
What makes these apocalyptic tales even more spine-tingling is that they often have a basis in reality. Whether it’s an infectious outbreak, an energy crisis, or the looming threat of climate change, there’s usually a shred of truth behind the imagined catastrophe. This reality-based foundation adds an extra layer of terror to these stories, making them all the more compelling.
So, let’s get to the heart of the matter: which fictional apocalypse keeps you up at night, terrified of your own demise?
1. A Highly Contagious Zoonotic Virus Eradicates Human Life
The Movie: 28 Days Later
A group of eco-tourists accidentally release a zoonotic disease called “Rage” when they free a chimpanzee from a Cambridge laboratory. This disease quickly spreads and causes society to collapse.
Is it possible?
Yes, it is possible for a highly contagious zoonotic disease to infect a large percentage of the population. Humans are often unprepared to handle such deadly diseases. There are also zoonotic viruses that can induce aggression, although they may not have the same level of contagion as depicted in the movie.
Experts believe that 75% of emerging viral diseases in the last decade have originated from animals. Diseases like Zika, Ebola, H1N1, and COVID-19 have had devastating effects on public health and the global economy. Despite experiencing regional outbreaks and a global pandemic, the world, particularly the US, remains ill-prepared to handle zoonotic diseases or any highly contagious illness.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, another zoonotic disease called H5N1 avian flu has been affecting wildlife and livestock. H5N1 has infected poultry and wild birds worldwide, resulting in the culling of over 100 million poultry. While the economic impact is concerning, public health officials are more worried about cases where the virus has transmitted to mammals such as minks, seals, bears, and other animals in close proximity to humans. While H5N1 has not been highly contagious among humans, there have been cases, including one in the US, and it carries a high risk of death.
Preparation and coordination will be crucial in the future. Zoonotic diseases have always been a part of human history, but in recent years, there has been an increase in newly emerging pathogens. Urbanization, changing agricultural practices, and demographic patterns influenced by climate change have accelerated the transmission rates. Additionally, the US has been the origin of more zoonotic diseases than any other country in the second half of the 20th century, and it is unlikely that the rate of novel zoonotic pathogens will decrease.
In 2022, the US processed over 10 billion livestock, a significant increase from the previous year. However, the regulation of food animal production is inadequate, and the various agencies responsible for protecting the public from zoonotic pathogens lack coordination and the authority to make the necessary large-scale changes.
Regarding the aggression-inducing “Rage” virus, there are indeed pathogens that can make hosts hostile and aggressive. Rabies, for example, attacks the central nervous system of mammals, including humans, causing behavior-changing symptoms like aggression, anxiety, paralysis, and hydrophobia. However, rabies is not contagious from person to person, and vaccines are widely available in most developed nations.
2. Environmental Neglect And Pollution Turn The Earth Toxic
The Movie: Wall-E
What Happened: Megacorporation Buy n Large turns the Earth into an unlivable wasteland filled with trash. BnL’s attempts to fix the problem fail, and Earth becomes uninhabitable due to its toxic atmosphere.
Is it possible? Yes. Earth is already considered a “toxic planet” due to the massive amount of chemical pollution we produce. We create 50 times more chemical pollution than in the 1950s, and experts predict this could triple by 2050. The pollution we emit is already harmful to human health.
Air pollution alone causes short-term health issues like pneumonia and asthma, as well as long-term conditions like heart disease and lung cancer. Over 12 million people die each year due to pollution-related diseases.
Pollution doesn’t only affect humans, but also plants, animals, and ecosystems. Mercury levels in fish, polar bears, and honeybees are dangerously high. Important pollinating insects are dying due to chemical insecticides. Water and soil are becoming acidic, and the climate is warming.
Pollution’s effects have been feared and publicized for decades. The Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency were established in response to pollution. Acid rain, rainforest destruction, global warming, and ozone depletion have been highlighted as environmental concerns.
Despite progress, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global warming is irreversible and could make parts of the world uninhabitable. Industries and large companies, major contributors to pollution, are now competing to create profitable space missions, which could further harm the environment.
3. Nuclear War Against Robots Causes A Nuclear Winter
Turbo Kid portrays a world devastated by a nuclear war against robots, leading to a nuclear winter and water scarcity. While the movie’s themes may seem far-fetched, it touches on real-world concerns such as the possibility of a nuclear winter and the growing scarcity of fresh water.
Nuclear Winter and Water Scarcity:
Nuclear winter, though not entirely testable, is a theoretical concept that suggests a nuclear war could lead to a global cooling event. Historical events like the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora demonstrate the long-lasting effects such an event could have on climate. While a full-scale nuclear winter remains uncertain, the movie’s portrayal highlights the potential consequences of such a catastrophe.
In terms of water scarcity, the world is indeed facing a growing crisis. Climate change, coupled with a rapidly increasing human population, has resulted in dwindling freshwater supplies. Even without a nuclear winter, the movie’s post-apocalyptic scenario reflects a possible future where water shortages are a pressing issue.
The Role of Nuclear Weapons:
While the movie depicts a war against robots, the actual threat of a nuclear war would most likely arise between nations. The global nuclear arsenal has decreased over time, but the existing 12,500 weapons are still potent enough to cause significant damage. Experts suggest that a large-scale conflict involving 50 explosions in two countries could potentially trigger conditions similar to the “Little Ice Age.”
Although Turbo Kid presents a fictional world, it sheds light on real-world concerns. The movie’s depiction of a nuclear winter and water scarcity serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of nuclear warfare and the urgent need to address freshwater shortages exacerbated by climate change.
4. A Comet Falls To Earth And Annihilates All Life
The movie “Deep Impact” tells the story of a comet hurtling towards Earth, posing a threat of mass extinction. While it is improbable that the comet would destroy all life upon impact, experts acknowledge that an asteroid or comet 500 feet wide could potentially devastate a major city. History has shown that such collisions have occurred in the past, such as the Chicxulub impact 65 million years ago, which is linked to the extinction of 75% of animal species worldwide.
Currently, there are no detectable asteroids or comets of this magnitude heading towards Earth, and it is unlikely that there will be any for at least 1,000 years. However, physicists and astronomers take this threat seriously and are actively testing strategies to prevent such catastrophic events.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched a mission on November 23, 2021, to investigate if an autonomous rocket could successfully collide with the asteroid Dimorphos and alter its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos. After almost a year, on October 3, 2022, NASA confirmed that the rocket impacted Dimorphos as intended, effectively slowing down its orbit by 32 minutes. This groundbreaking test is seen as a significant milestone in planetary defense and has garnered praise from NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who called it “a watershed moment for planetary defense and all of humanity.”
In conclusion, while the possibility of a deep impact event causing mass extinction is remote, the scientific community remains committed to researching and implementing precautionary measures to safeguard our planet.
5. Global War Causes An Energy Crisis And Societal Collapse
The movie “Mad Max 2,” also known as “The Road Warrior,” takes place in a world where a global war has led to a severe energy crisis, causing the collapse of civilization and the rise of car-based barbarism.
This scenario is not far-fetched. Our modern world heavily relies on oil for manufacturing, travel, and various industrial processes. If there were a shortage of this essential energy resource, it would have devastating consequences. In fact, “The Road Warrior” was developed during the 1979 Energy Crisis that followed the Iranian Revolution.
During this crisis, the insurgency in Iran disrupted oil production, resulting in a change in the country’s relationship with the West and the distribution of oil. This caused a worldwide panic, with crude oil prices skyrocketing and gas stations resorting to rationing in some places.
Although the crisis had negative effects, it also had some positive outcomes. People began consuming less gas, seeking alternative energy sources, and it highlighted the concept of scarcity in a world where natural resources were becoming increasingly limited. With less oil available, the demand exceeded the supply, prompting the question of how to distribute it effectively.
Not only oil but also water, food, and other resources are becoming scarce as the population continues to grow. Economists predict that clean air and suitable climates for human life will also become scarce in the near future. Humanity is still grappling with finding solutions to these challenges.
While it may seem cliché, engaging in war is not the answer to these problems. The Russia-Ukraine War, for example, demonstrated how conflict can have a significant impact on resource scarcity. Russia, as a major natural gas supplier, slowed down production with its incursion into Ukraine. In response, the European Union and the US imposed sanctions on oil and natural gas, leading to skyrocketing gas prices for consumers in Europe and the US. Blaming specific politicians for these issues is convenient, but the root cause is resource scarcity.
However, it is puzzling why a post-apocalyptic world with a scarcity of gasoline would heavily rely on cars. While cars may provide temporary advantages in terms of speed, the limited resources would quickly deplete if everyone drove gas-guzzling muscle cars. In such a world, it would be wise to invest in bicycles, as they would likely be a more sustainable long-term mode of transportation.
6. Humans Make A Mistake Trying To Fix Climate Change
The Movie: Snowpiercer
What Happened: So, basically, in an attempt to stop global warming, humanity thought it would be a good idea to spray some stuff into the atmosphere. Well, surprise surprise, it backfired big time and resulted in the whole world turning into a giant ice cube.
Is it possible? Well, maybe. Some scientists have actually proposed this idea called stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) as a way to combat climate change. The idea is to release particles into the atmosphere that can reflect sunlight back into space. There are different ways to do it, like shooting sulfur dioxides or other chemicals into the air from planes or artillery guns. But here’s the thing, these proposals are all just theoretical and don’t really address the root causes of climate change.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Researchers have warned that while SAI might cool the planet, it could also have some pretty disastrous side effects. Like, we’re talking major droughts in Asia and Africa that could seriously mess with the food sources of about 2 billion people. Yikes!
And here’s the kicker: we don’t actually know if SAI could bring about a global ice age. There’s just not enough research to know what kind of crazy things could happen if we start releasing aerosols into the atmosphere. Plus, depending on how much cooling we’re talking about, different regions of the world could be affected in different ways. It’s a total gamble.
Scientists are definitely not taking this lightly. They’re warning that messing with the planet’s climate on such a massive scale could be downright catastrophic. That’s why many countries have agreed to put a halt on researching this stuff until there are some serious regulations in place. We definitely don’t want any unintended consequences or someone turning this technology into a weapon. That would be disastrous, to say the least.
7. Abrupt Climate Change Causes Superstorms Around The World
The movie “The Day After Tomorrow” is about global warming causing three major superstorms in the Northern Hemisphere. These storms lead to sudden climatological disasters worldwide.
Is it possible for this to happen? Well, yes and no. The film is based on real possibilities of climate disasters, but it takes the valid theory of abrupt climate change to extreme levels. Normal climate change occurs over long periods due to various factors like solar fluctuations, volcanic activity, and changes in ice, snow, and vegetation cover. These changes happen over thousands of years. In contrast, abrupt climate change, as shown in the movie, is a major upheaval that occurs within a few decades.
It is highly unlikely, and maybe even impossible, for natural disasters of this magnitude to occur rapidly and simultaneously across the entire planet without any warning. However, this doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t impacting Earth’s weather patterns, increasing the intensity and frequency of natural disasters. It also doesn’t mean that natural disasters cannot happen at the same time.
8. Human Infertility Brings Society To A Collapse And Threatens Extinction
Movie: Children Of Men
So, here’s the deal: humans can’t have babies anymore. It’s not really explained why, but it’s enough to make society collapse and everyone freak out.
Is it likely to happen? Well, kind of. Birth rates have been going down for a while now, especially in rich countries. In the US, fewer babies have been born since 2007, and in Japan, they hit their lowest birth rate ever in 2022. Economists are worried about how this could mess up the economy if it keeps going.
But here’s the thing: public health experts aren’t as freaked out as the movie makes it seem. In reality, it’s more likely that men will have trouble making babies. A study in 2017 found that sperm counts have been dropping since the 1970s, about 1.4% per year. We’re not sure why it’s happening, but it might have something to do with problems during fetal development.
Now, a decrease in sperm count could be a problem, but it’s not going to wipe out humanity. You need sperm to make babies, but there’s no magic number of how many you need. The World Health Organization says a “normal” count is 15-250 million per milliliter of you-know-what, but you’re good to go even if you have around 40 million per milliliter. The study in 2017 did show a decline, but the critics say they were all still within the “normal” range.
Plus, counting sperm is tricky business. It changes all the time. It takes a couple of months for a stem cell to turn into a sperm cell, so the count can be all over the place. And the way we count sperm has changed over the years, getting better and more accurate. So part of the reason the counts in the 1970s were different from today could just be because we’re better at counting now.
But it’s not just about the guys. Women’s fertility rates have been pretty steady. About 1 in 6 women worldwide have trouble getting pregnant, and it gets even harder as they get older. And if a woman gets a sexually transmitted infection, her chances of infertility go up. By the way, those infections have been on the rise since 2014, for both men and women.
And here’s the real kicker: a lot of people aren’t having kids until they’re older because of other stuff going on. So a drop in birth rates doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all doomed. Maybe it’s a sign that the world is already a mess and people don’t want to bring kids into it.
9. Sea Levels Rise And Submerge Every Continent On Earth
The Movie: Waterworld
In this movie, the storyline revolves around a scenario where the polar ice caps have melted, causing sea levels to rise to an extreme height of 7,600 meters. As a result, every continent and landmass in the world gets submerged.
However, is such a scenario really possible? The answer is no. While it is true that sea levels are projected to rise over the next century, posing a threat to coastal cities globally, complete submersion of every landmass is highly unlikely. Experts predict that by 2050, coastlines will rise, on average, about one foot higher than current levels. It’s important to note that this rise will vary among different countries. Although one foot may not seem significant, it could still have detrimental effects on the lives and well-being of many people in certain regions.
Moreover, the sinking of coastal cities is occurring at a faster rate than the rise in sea levels. Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, for instance, is sinking at a rate of 1.35 inches per year – one of the highest rates in the world. Despite the government’s efforts, including the construction of a 22-mile long sea wall with a cost of $40 billion over three decades, the city still experiences frequent and devastating flash floods. Currently, around 40% of Jakarta sits below sea level, and scientists predict that this number could reach 95% by 2050.
In response to this alarming situation, Indonesia has decided to relocate its capital to a new city in Borneo, which is expected to be completed by 2047. While the government can make such a move, it will be much more challenging for the 10 million people who currently call Jakarta their home.
Jakarta is not the sole city facing sinking issues. Rising sea levels and various other factors will impact coastal cities worldwide, including prominent locations such as New York, Venice, and Miami, among others.
10. The Sun Cools Down
The movie “Sunshine” takes place in the year 2057, where the sun’s imminent death threatens the survival of life on Earth. To prevent this catastrophe, a space expedition is launched to ignite a nuclear explosive and reignite the dying star.
However, let’s be realistic here – the idea of venturing close to the sun is not feasible for us. We would either be burnt to a crisp or, if we’re lucky, escape the planet as evolved superhumans before the sun’s demise.
Before the sun’s ultimate demise, it will exhaust its hydrogen fuel and enter its red giant phase. While its core shrinks, the rest of the sun will expand due to hydrogen fusion, eventually engulfing Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. As the outer core’s hydrogen depletes, it will be replaced with helium, resulting in less energy being emitted.
After this, the sun will transition into its white dwarf phase, eventually cooling down and dissipating into gas and dust, forming a planetary nebula. This entire process will take at least 1 billion years. However, the fact that the Earth will be completely enveloped by the sun during its red giant phase makes any cooling negligible for living beings.
Moreover, it will take approximately 5 billion years for the sun to reach this unstable phase. Considering that human evolution has been a process of 8 million years, with Homo sapiens existing for only 300,000 years, it’s uncertain where humanity will be in 5 billion years. To put it into perspective, we would need to relive all of human history 16,666.7 times before witnessing the sun’s cooling-down phase.