The end of the Earth will likely come billions of years from now. Over the great span of time our sun will slowly engulf the inner planets. First Mercury, then Venus and finally Earth as it turns from a yellow medium-sized star into a red giant. Whether life is still here or not when this happens, this apocalypse won’t represent the first time life on Earth was decimated.
Scientists have found evidence of many prehistoric events that spelled doom for life on Earth. There were volcanoes believed to have caused the Jurassic extinction as well as events that suck oxygen out of the ocean, for example. More recently, in 1883, Krakatoa erupted killing 36,500 people. It dumped so much ash into the atmosphere the temperature of the Earth lowered by 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine a hundred volcanoes erupting and it isn’t too difficult to understand how small of a step it really is to total apocalypse.
Man is quite capable of destroying the planet too, many times over. There are more than 15,000 nuclear warheads on the planet, divided between nations which frequently disagree. The Earth may not be destroyed in one giant fireball, but with toxic gases or plagues of infectious diseases too. Maybe Ebola can be used as a weapon similar to how Smallpox was during Pontiac’s Rebellion against the British in Pittsburg in 1736. VX, Sarin, and Mustard gas have all been used, Sarin most recently during the Syrian civil war and in Iraq against the Kurds in 1988. Certain death can also come via a severe meteor shower or a giant asteroid. It has been proven time and again we have no control over what the future may hold, and meanwhile, the sun is slowly getting larger. The apocalypse is inevitable. You can’t survive it all but you can certainly die trying, at least delaying the inevitable for you and your ones. Read on for our guide to nagvigating the apocalypse.
CHEMICAL WEAPONS use the toxicity of various compounds to harm or kill humans. Dispersed over a wide target area, it can result in significant casualties. They are classified as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and can be deployed by spraying, dropping, or dumping, or by placing exposed chemicals in an area and allowing evaporation to draw it into the air.
The degree to which you are prepared in advance will determine whether you live or die. Vacate the area. Grab your bug-out bag and gas mask and get to high ground as soon as an attack occurs. You’ll pass right through the affected area if you try to go upwind and going downwind will only delay the inevitable. Instead, travel in a line perpendicular to wind direction. This is usually the fastest way to get out of range.
Seal yourself in if you can’t get out. If you’re at home when the attack occurs and you’re unable to leave, immediately seal all doors, windows, chimneys, and vents with heavy plastic sheeting and duct tape. Turn off any ventilation. The goal is to stop airflow as much as possible until the chemical agent dissipates. How long this takes will depend on the chemical. Sarin gas, for example, is highly volatile and dissipates rapidly in the air. By contrast, the nerve agent VX is much more stable and can persist on the surface of an object for days or months after contact. Most chemical agents are heavier than air and will pool in low areas so do not hide in your basement.
This is the time to use a gas mask or a hazmat suit if you have them. Your respiratory system is your greatest vulnerability in a chemical attack, regardless of the agent used, so put on your gas mask first. In addition to the hazmat suit, be sure to stock multiple pairs of thick rubber gloves and boots.
“YOUR RESPIRATORY SYSTEM IS YOUR GREATEST VULNERABILITY IN A CHEMICAL ATTACK, REGARDLESS OF THE AGENT USED, SO PUT ON YOUR GAS MASK FIRST.”
Test the air using a chemical agent detector. These devices are relatively compact and not too difficult to obtain. Having one in your home could be the difference between life and death.
Avoid standing water and don’t touch wet, slick, or oily surfaces. Chemical agents can cling to surfaces for very long periods of time. As mentioned earlier, the chemical VX can stick around for months before gradually evaporating, which means any surface that appears wet or oily could be harboring the deadly agent long after the air is clear.
“WHERE THERE WERE PEOPLE BEFORE ALL THAT WILL REMAIN IS CARBON ASH.”
If you’ve secured yourself in your home and you lack adequate protective gear, don’t go outside until help arrives.
There are many different kinds of chemicals that can kill you. Here is an overview.
Nerve Agents: Colorless, odorless, and tasteless, nerve agents are among the most lethal chemical agents in existence. They can be inhaled into the lungs in aerosol form or can pass through the skin or eyes to enter the body. The most well known is probably sarin. Like all nerve agents, it attacks the central nervous system and causes muscle spasms that paralyze the lungs, making breathing difficult or impossible. Half a milligram of sarin in liquid or vapor form is enough to kill an adult.
Blistering Agents: These chemicals cause severe burning pain and chemical burns on the skin and in the lungs of victims. Death can occur due to respiratory distress caused by damage in airways. Mustard gas is perhaps the most infamous blistering agent.
Choking Agents: These chemicals — like chlorine gas — allow fluid to build up in the lungs and cause severe throat irritation, coughing, and other symptoms. Blood Agents—Blood agents block the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide among cells, literally suffocating the body to death at the cellular level. Hydrogen cyanide and arsine gas are two weaponized blood agents.
Halabja Massacre, 1988
From 1980 to 1988, Iraq and Iran waged the longest conventional war of the 20th century. Called the “Iran-Iraq War” or the “First Persian Gulf War,” the conflict began when Iraq invaded Iran in an attempt to establish itself as the dominant power in the region. During the war, Iraq employed chemical weapons to devastating effect on multiple occasions. One specific attack — the Halabja Massacre — stands out both for its destructive scope and for the nature of its target.
On March 16, 1988, Iraqi aircraft dropped chemical bombs over residential areas in the Kurdish city of Halabja. It’s not clear which specific chemicals the bombs contained, but CIA analysts believe sarin and VX were the primary agents involved, along with mustard gas. The bombs unleashed clouds of lethal gas that swept through the city and left panic, illness, and death in their wake.
The full extent of the damage is impossible to measure. In the immediate aftermath, the attack left 3,200 to 5,000 people dead and 7,000 to 10,000 others severely injured. The vast majority of those hurt and killed were civilians, including many women and children. Health complications as a result of chemical exposure killed thousands more in the years that followed.
While chemical weapons had already been used many times in the war, the Halabja attack was different. At Halabja, Saddam attacked civilians — citizens of Iraq — in order to stop a growing revolution. The international community later labeled it an act of genocide.
A BLINDING LIGHT will be the last sight for the people too close to the fireball of a nuclear bomb. If you are close when the nuke goes off you’d be hit with a thunderous shock wave followed by intense heat and radiation. The wind and fire would incinerate everything on its bubbling path outward.
A nuclear device delivers destruction in stages. First there is the rapidly growing fireball. It delivers a burning heat to areas of exposed skin and incinerates anything combustible. An instant later the shockwave hits bringing with it heat, radiation and debris. Where there were people before all that will remain is carbon ash. All the buildings that aren’t destroyed will sustain severe damage.
Survival inside the critical inner rings of a nuclear detonation is highly unlikely, however, as in Hiroshima, it’s possible. Your only real chances for survival, should you be within the outer areas, is to take immediate action.
Your first action should be to immediately drop to the ground in a prone position and cover your face with both hands. Stay in place until the initial blast wave and any reflected blast waves have passed. Shelter in place if the building is safe or, if it isn’t, seek shelter in a fortified concrete structure. Close and seal doors and windows while also trying to minimize time spent around windows and doorways.
Moving to the center of a building may help provided the building is intact and made of concrete. Turn off any ventilation and, if you were outside and you’re seeking shelter, decontaminate yourself before you enter a shelter. Brush dust/fallout off your clothing away from your eyes, nose and mouth. If you’re able to, rinse any exposed skin. If you’re in an unsafe area, make your way out with as much protective clothing on as you can possibly collect.
If there is no protective clothing such as Tyvek suits or respirators put on as many layers of clothing or material as possible. A damp towel draped over your head and mouth will help keep contaminants to a minimum. Putting your feet into plastic bags will help keep contaminants from affecting your feet. Evacuate upwind or crosswind.
Stay hydrated as often as possible. Drink only from new, unopened containers. Do not drink from any open areas such as drinking fountains, ponds, or streams. Commercially available water purifiers will eliminate bacteria and debris but cannot eliminate radioactive material.
Skills like first aid, navigation, sheltering, hunting, and gathering, will come in handy.
A LARGE ASTEROID slamming into Earth is a question of when, not if, it will occur. It could be more than a mile wide, traveling at about 20,000 miles per hour, and it would turn whole cities into craters. Hitting the ocean would cause a tsunami wave hundreds of feet in height. The dust in the air would cause months of darkness.
There was a pause heard round the world in 2004 when an asteroid about 1,000 feet wide was spotted on an orbit that comes close enough to Earth that, initially, it was calculated to have some probability of smashing into us in April 2029. It was named Apophis after the Egyptian God of destruction. Back in 2005, Paul Chodas, an orbit analyst with NASA’s Near- Earth Object office responded, “we weren’t too worried, but the odds were disturbing.”
The Barringer Crater in the Arizona desert is a recent (estimated to be 50,000 years old) example of an impact on Earth. The 640-plusfoot- deep and mile-wide crater was caused by an approximately 150-foot-wide, 300,000-ton asteroid.
In 1908, an asteroid about 100 feet in diameter blew up over a remote part of Siberia, destroying more than half a million acres of forest. And in 1989, an asteroid about a quartermile wide and cruising at 24,000 mph came about 450,000 miles from Earth. Scientists believed the asteroid and Earth had actually passed through the same point in space by a difference of just six hours.
WHAT IS AN ASTEROID?
Call it a speeding rock in space or call it a small planetary body and one without an atmosphere. Asteroids are usually found orbiting the sun in what’s called the Main Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. According to NASA, asteroids are thought to be “primordial material prevented by Jupiter’s strong gravity from accreting into a planet-sized body when the solar system was born 4.6 billion year ago.”
Earth collects about 100 tons of material a day from stuff like sand and dust coming in from space. Earth does a pretty good job of protecting itself. Friction builds up on objects as they enter the atmosphere, often causing them to break up, explode and disintegrate before hitting the surface.
A larger object, however, may get through the atmosphere before the heat and pressure can disintegrate it. Then it explodes closer to the surface.
Telescopic surveys can predict where large objects would hit the Earth providing time to evacuate the area, similar to the preparation for a hurricane heading for the coast. If the object is identified early enough it might be possible to increase or decrease its speed slightly so that it misses the planet entirely.
But if a planet killer happens to make it through, survival will be a bleak prospect. Dust will blot out the sun and plants will die. Animals will die next and mankind will be left to create artificial food and light. Temperatures will fall and an ice age will follow.
TECHNOLOGYMAKES our lives easier and has helped us grow as a species. The life expectancy rate has increased by more than 40 percent in the last 100 years due to our technological advances. The smartphone in your pocket is a thousand times more powerful and a million times cheaper than the most advanced computer at MIT in the year 1970. But what happens when we get to the point where technology, instead of increasing our life expectancy, begins to diminish it?
“THE DISASTROUS RESULTS OF CREATING AN ARTIFICIALLY INTELLIGENT SUPERCOMPUTER WE COULD NOT CONTROL COULD BE DEVASTATING.”
The prospect of a reduced life span (or no life span at all) is just one possibility when talking about a potential Artificial Intelligence takeover. The disastrous results of creating an artificially intelligent supercomputer we could not control could be devastating.
This hypothetical event is often referred to as the technological singularity.
Take a commonly used example of an artificially intelligent machine that is given the task of making paper clips. The machine could be making paper clips and realize the most efficient way to make paper clips would be to use resources humans might need. Simply programmed to make paper clips in the most efficient way possible, it might even see humans as a resource to use in the construction of paperclips. It could perceive the human desire for it to be shut off as a threat to its end goal of paper clip production too, and subsequently seek to destroy any possibility of being turned off by destroying human beings.
Obviously this is an exaggerated scenario, but it illustrates the need for significant insight into how exactly artificially intelligent machines of the future will function. Will these machines be able to understand the nuances of human desires?
Since there has never been a recorded event of this sort, there can only be talk about the possibilities of what could happen and how we could survive. One thing we must do to ensure the survival of humanity as we move deeper into the era of AI is remember what makes us human and evaluate if our technological advances are in line with the goals we have as a species. If the technological takeover affects only those things directly plugged into the ports over which AI controls, immediate survival depends on how far one can get from those computers and the machines it produces. In essence, mankind, through its own progress, has reduced itself to the stone age again.
Another possibility is to retrofit ourselves with machines to attain longer lifespans and higher order thinking, while still preserving our emotions and other cognitive processes. However, part of what makes us human is our curiosity and our inability to provide answers to the questions we have right away. Certain limitations seem to be an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. But as we strip more and more of these limitations away, and as we start to think differently, at some point would we cease to love like we love, and feel like we feel?
Survival means something different in that sort of world and these issues need to be taken seriously when discussing the survival of the human species.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.