We have a choice of many kinds of apocalypse - Macleans.ca

We have a choice of many kinds of apocalypse

As it spreads, the flu strain is constantly changing shape and mutating, like a microscopic version of Joan Rivers’s face

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We have a choice of many kinds of apocalypseRegular readers value this column as a source of important information, such as how humanity may perish in a killer robot apocalypse. But this space is also useful for those with other interests, such as how humanity may perish in other kinds of apocalypses.

Welcome to another instalment of . . . What’s Potentially Annihilating Us Now?

Pandemic. We gave you a decade and you just couldn’t get it done, bird flu. Swine flu, on the other hand, emptied streets, churches and bars across Mexico in less than a week, creating feelings of nostalgia for the good old days of murderous drug-war crossfires. The outbreak even prompted our own federal cabinet to set up a completely new operations committee to “monitor the situation.” H1N1 swine flu, meet your match.

Public health officials say this swine flu is difficult to combat because it’s essentially an amalgam of four different viruses. As it spreads, the strain is constantly changing shape and mutating, like a microscopic version of Joan Rivers’ face. Still, government is taking action. Canadians flying to Mexico are being handed a pamphlet advising them what they should do to try to avoid the flu. One of the things they should do is not accept pamphlets from strangers but, no, too late.

Asteroids. Earlier this year, a “skyscraper-sized asteroid” passed within 80,000 km of earth—pants-wettingly close in astronomical terms. A bigger rock is on target to come even closer around 2029. In fact, some researchers insist there’s a 10 per cent chance our planet will be nailed by a “civilization-wrecker” within the next century. (Television tried to fill that role but came up short as literacy endured in some isolated pockets.)

Thankfully, the recent International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference brought together specialists in astronomy, orbital dynamics and blowing s–t up to plot our counterattack.

One idea involves setting off nuclear explosions near the asteroid. The force of the blast would allow scientists to alter the course of the deadly rock, making it miss the planet entirely—or not, depending on whether Scarlett Johansson agrees to attend the next Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference in a nurse’s outfit. Your call, humanity.

Another concept: solar sails. Placing these on an asteroid would effectively turn it into a vessel that could be steered. The only downside? The rock would likely fall victim to Somali space pirates.

Global warming. A prominent scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center says the climate is changing at such a rapid pace that the Arctic Ocean could be “effectively ice free” as early as 2013. Sounds bad, but look on the bright side—the warmer temperatures may prompt Mrs. Claus to show a little skin. Sure, it’s a bit of a drag that sea levels will continue to rise, wiping out whole islands and rapidly eroding valuable coastline. But that’s a small price to pay for being able to show those polar bears who’s boss.

Nuclear obliteration. There’s Iran to worry about. And North Korea. Plus, short-sighted governments continue to stand by idly and allow citizens to walk into a store and purchase 99 red balloons.

And now there’s Pakistan. Even as it faces a growing Taliban insurgency, Pakistan’s prime minister insists we can “trust” the security of its nuclear arsenal. This news is completely reassuring in the alternate universe where it’s true.

The sun. Usually thought of as a benign presence responsible for life on earth and the invention of the halter top, the sun is actually a place of great volatility and explosive eruptions. Think of it as an interstellar Billy Bob Thornton.

According to what Wired magazine describes as a “chilling report,” the year 2012 may bring solar storms with tremendous destructive potential. These geomagnetic events would unleash powerful flares capable of “short-circuiting energy grids” across the planet, causing trillions of dollars in damage and plunging humankind into the stone age. With my luck, it’ll happen right after I drop 30 bucks on a blender.

Admittedly, a geomagnetic storm wouldn’t kill anyone directly. But these flares—which are alternately described by scientists as “solar climaxes” and “coronal mass ejections,” making this the dirtiest sounding of all the potential apocalypses—would serve as “the great off-switch in the sky,” leaving us without electricity for years and setting off a global panic characterized by uprisings, war and chronic smoothielessness.

Is there anything we can do? Yes, yes there is. Researchers say we could add “some fairly inexpensive resistors in the ground connections [of our transformers],” significantly reducing the potential damage. Does anyone think we’ll actually do this in time? No, no they do not.

Matthew McConaughey’s new movie, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Exposure to the trailer alone is enough to cause a powerful longing for the sweet, sweet relief of death.