While I’m at it, here’s the second instalment of a (sort of) yearly series keeping tabs on anything looming up that might just be the end of our civilisation. Since Part 1 in December 2009, there have been a number of events that, while undoubtedly calamitous for thousands of people across the globe, have fortunately not been of the sheer scale that would categorise them as threats to all of humanity.
During 2010, there were big earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Turkey, China and Indonesia which killed almost 250,000 people, mostly in Haiti. In 2011, so far there have been over 14,000 deaths, mostly in Japan (the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami) but also in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in Burma. In 2010, there were also a number of big volcanic eruptions, including Eyjafjallajökul in Iceland, Mount Merapi in Indonesia (causing hundreds of deaths there) and various other places in the world, such as Ecuador, Guatamala and the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia.
There have also been massive floods (such as Pakistan in summer 2010, Queensland, Australia in winter 2010-11) and a heat wave in continental Europe which contributed to a series of wildfires in Russia during the summer of 2010, factors in these events being a “freezing” of the jet stream in mid-2010 and La Nina conditions towards the end of that year.
None of these events, tragic and hugely disruptive that many of them were, constituted an actual threat to civilisation.
Anyway, what’s threatening us at the moment?
1. Asteroids. A few small ones have whizzed past Earth over the past year or so, according to NASA. In November this year Asteroid 2005 YU55, which is a respectable 400 metres in size, will pass within 0.85 lunar distances, but won’t be a threat. There’s another big near-Earth asteroid – 99942 Apophis – which Russian scientists have recently suggested might actually hit us in 2036, but NASA says no. So unless something huge and unexpected appears in the firmament this year, I conclude that we’re safe from killer meteors, for the time being.
2. Supervolcanoes. There have been several articles this year, such as this one in National Geographic, about the land over the great magma bubble of Yellowstone rising by as much as 10 inches between 2007 and 2010. However, as this and other articles explain, according to current theory, the ground may rise and fall for thousands of years without actually erupting, as the molten rock shifts up and then sideways, almost as if the magma chamber is slowly breathing. It doesn’t look as though the famous National Park will blow up any time soon, which is the main thing.
3. Everything else. Seems quiet enough – no especially terrifying new viruses, rogue nanotech outbreaks, escalating nuclear arms races or incipient alien invasions have been brought to my attention recently. Unless one of these scenarios is quietly brewing, out of sight of the world’s media, or an equally scary but completely unprecedented “black swan” type event is waiting in the wings, it looks as though civilisation will make it through to 2012 unscathed.
Ah yes… 2012. A bumper edition of Are We Nearly Doomed Yet? is on the cards, when we approach the start to that famously portentous year. The Mayan calendar running out, Planet Earth likewise coming to some sort of a sticky end, and Planet Nibiru making its long-foretold flying visit to our normally uneventful little corner of the Solar System – oh my. Time to get set for some truly excellent, weapons-grade weirdness.
In the meantime, that’s quite enough doom for this year. It’s likely to be the hottest April on record here in the UK, so we’re told, and it has been a lovely Easter weekend here in west London, with the sun shining and flowers blossoming all over the place. I’m off for a nice evening stroll, while the warm weather lasts.