We’re obsessed with the coming downfall of man, of society, of the planet. Or, we’re at least obsessed to read and write about them. I’m as guilty in the latter part as anybody. As a kid I couldn’t put down The Stand or, more recently, the Hunger Games; I just suffered through “After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall“; and I’m right now tearing through the sequel to Partials. Which got me thinking.
How will the world end?
Isn’t this fiction?
Real-life authenticity may add credence to your imagined dystopia but sometimes, good ol’ fashioned making stuff up could just do better. Use the same specificity as fact and make sure not to trample on the locals by, e.g., turning a neighbourhood of highrises into walkups. But in case the real makes the story ‘realer’, I’ve assembled a few resources for planning different end-of-the-world scenarios. Mix n’ match, make up in between, but do enjoy!
Although Partials is a combination “our creations turn on us”/”viral epidemic” end of world scenario, Dan Wells also introduces flooding in Chicago. Stories of ‘The Flood’ appear in nearly nearly every mythology. Global warming and the melting of the ice caps and glaciers threatens to raise sea levels: forecasts suggest up to a 2 m rise by 2100. Suppose that were accelerated? Intentional melting to drown the coastal cities; unanticipated catalyst melting, the first layer melting leading to a chain reaction must faster melting whether by increased absorption of solar energy or increased thermal conductivity; breaking off of large sheets of ice into the ocean raising the sea level in sudden jumps; etc. And what about the deluge from tsunamies and hurricanes (thinking of Irene — she followed me personally to my campsite on the Isle of Skye wehre she flattened my tent with me in it! — and Sandy, back to back while I was on the East Coast). Who will be drown first? Flood maps highlight the submerged land as a function of sea level rise. My hometown Vancouver doesn’t fare too well, but I should be safe in the mountains.
What about the Great Lakes, for places like Chicago? They already sit higher than sea level (lake Michigan sits at 176 m above sea level!) so they’re level isn’t directly affected by a rise in sea level. However, the warming will directly affect the rate and patterns of evaporation/precipitation that give the rate of fall and rise of the lake. If the heat evaporates the lakes and transports the moisture elsewhere as precipitation, the water level drops. If precipitation is transported from elsewhere faster, then the level rises. Predictions for the water level of the Great Lakes in fact predict a drop in water of up to 2 m.
The recent nuclear scare-near-full-scale-disaster in Japan makes us think nuclear. This map cross-correlates with major fault lines for a likelihood of another earthquake instigated meltdown: refer to it for both the worldwide nuclear station sites and major fault lines.
For added ‘authenticity’ I have to recommend MOST (because they got me drunk enough to head butt a shotglass with the bump for a week to prove it), but look at Kepler too. Both look for specifically Earth-like planets (where we expect our invading aliens to come from). For more exotic locales (that exist), there’s a complete extrasolar planet database. Of course, you could just make it up.
The main CDC (Center for Disease Control) is in Druid Hills, Georgia but wikipedia shares a list of similar sites throughout the world. The highest level of containment that a research lab can have is BLS-4 and for a list of such labs see here. Of course, like in the movie Contagion, there could always arise an entirely novel disease from a confluence of normally segregated phenomena: in the movie, pigs meet bad shit. Vampires and zombies technically qualify as epidemics.
The planet’s population is ever-increasing –although the rate is deccelerating — and the projected population in 2050 is ~10 billion people. Of those, only 1/10th will be in “developed” (as opposed to developing — who’s to say some of those may not develop in time?) countries. Balance that with over-farming degrading fertile land and leading to erosion and desertification, will there be the food to feed all these people? Or will GMO’s save the day — or worse, hasten the ‘inevitable’? Will we fight when the food becomes scarce?
Other Options of Doom
War (brought on by the usual political greed or religious zeal, or a competition of the dregs as followup to another option); crazy weather (as global warming translates to wilder extremes of hot/cold bringing on great hurricanes/tsunamis/etc); the ‘singularity’ (computers become aware); ice-9; asteroid/Melancholia crash into the Earth; a slowing down of the rotation of the Earth (and only a drill to the core can restart it?); (for Partials, Terminator) our machines/biosynths fight back; and more I just haven’t thought of!
What’s your favourite dystopia?