I found this talk on TED a few years back, and it really got me thinking in new ways about the mortality of the earth, and the precariousness of human life on it. Stephen Petranek outlines the 10 most likely ways he foresees the world coming to an end. The humour and intelligence of this talk is a refreshing take on a subject that has mainly been tackled by hollywood sci-fi movies, doomsday prophecies and media hype. Although it is now almost 10 years since the talk was given, the points are still relevant, and the solutions he presents still need to be implemented.
10 ways the world could end suddenly:
# 10: We lose the will to survive.
# 9: Aliens Invade Earth
# 8: TheCollapses
# 7: Particle Accelerator Mishap
# 6: Biotech Disaster
# 5: Reversal of the Earth’s Magnetic Field
# 4: Giant
# 3: A New Global Epidemic
# 2: We Meet a Rogue
# 1: A Really Big Asteroid Heads For Earth
It’s an overwhelming list, especially having a look at it again now, when Asteroid 2005 YU55 (a 400 meter wide asteroid) is passing between the earth and the moon tomorrow afternoon, and extreme sun spot activity is lighting up the magnetic fields and aurora’s above my head most nights. I try to keep my eyes open to the big picture of life, I like the perspective it gives me and the way it can clarify personal decision making and priority setting. However as someone who is also bent on solving problems, it can be a double edged sword. It’s easy to feel disempowered by the scale of these threats which are highly complex problems with no simple answers.
I think that #10 on that list should read ‘We lose the will to survive and we lose the will to fight the good fight’ because when we are faced with these kinds of global catastrophes, does saving a few litres of water or recycling that plastic bottle or adding that green roof to a building really matter? And when we can’t see the direct rewards of our efforts, it gets even harder to stay motivated. In my moments of despair and exhaustion at the challenge of making a positive impact I try to remember that
“we cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once”- Calvin Coolidge
As useful as it is to see the big problems in their fullness, the power of small cumulative actions shouldn’t be underestimated either. Small steps lead to big steps, and when growing numbers of people take these steps, big change can happen. So I’m going to keep taking my little steps towards solving #8 through my particular line of work and study. But I’m also going to keep my fingers permanently crossed that we don’t encounter a rogue black hole, practice gratefulness for everyday we don’t get fried by a giant solar flare, and maybe even look into the logistics of building an underground bunker….