The Global Challenges Foundation has released its new report about global hazards that for all practical purposes can be considered to represent an infinite impact – the global collapse of civilisation, if not even driving humanity to extinction. ’12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilisation’ offers a review of the key possible events, and ties to roughly quantify the probabilities of each.
The 12 global risks threatening human civilisation that the report discussed are:
1. Extreme Climate Change
2. Nuclear War
3. Ecological Catastrophe
4. Global Pandemic
5. Global System Collapse
6. Major Asteroid Impact
Microbe Talk, the podcast from the Society for General Microbiology, has a fascinating discussion this month. Phrased as a wide-open thought experiment akin to The Knowledge, the host Ben Thompson talks to Dr Jack Gilbert and Dr Josh Neufeld about whether we would survive in a world without microbes.
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to find out that every bacterium and every archeon on the planet had suddenly vanished. What would happen? Could humanity survive?
Jack and Josh have recently published an academic research paper in PLOS Biology on exactly this topic, Life in a World without Microbes. They explore all the ways that microbes are used by humanity, ranging from producing yoghurt and beer, to their involvement in key agricultural and industrial processes, but also how vital microbes are to the ecosystems of planet Earth as a whole.
Humanity is incredibly resourceful, resilient and inventive, and time and time again comes up with ingenious solutions during times of hardship, or even just simple but effective fixes from everyday life. Here’s a gallery of my favourite examples of this incredible resourcefulness.
You’ve survived the zombie apocalypse, fallen in with a supportive group, and been able to clear-out a safe zone to begin settling down. Now what..? You can’t keep scavenging from the leftovers of the fallen civilisation for ever. What practical skills would be most useful, how can you apply a little scientific understanding to keep yourself and your group alive and healthy, and how could you go about rebuilding a capable society for yourself?
Artist Sean Mort has produced a humorous take on How the World Ends, along with the rest of the Solar System when the Sun goes rogue… The design is available as a screen print, 24×8 inches, from his website
The design of this ‘wood gasifier’ stove is exceedingly simple and it can be built in under an hour using only empty tin cans and a few very basic tools (watch it in operation here). It would make a great little maker project with your kids; you’ll have great fun working on building this together, and will have a superb little cooking stove to use afterwards! The gasifier design is also a wonderfully compact and efficient stove, burning twigs you can collect yourself (rather than gas canisters), that’s ideal for cooking during a barbecue in the back garden or even on a family camping trip.
The gasifier stove is made up of a smaller can nestled inside a larger can, allowing air to circulate in the gap between them. Wood is loaded into the inner can as fuel, and as it burns it draws fresh air up through the bottom for a hearty, intense combustion – just like any barbecue. What’s unique about a gasifier stove is that it has a second, higher row of air holes that reintroduce oxygen. As wood breaks down in the heat of a fire it releases lots of gases and vapours and smoke that are all actually flammable, but would otherwise have blown away in a normal fire. But with this second row of air holes, fresh oxygen is drawn in and you get secondary combustion of all these gases. This means a gasifier stove is very efficient and releases all of the heat energy in the fuel, and is also smokeless when it’s running. Gasification of wood has been crucial through history, and can even be used to drive a car or van instead of petrol or diesel – there were over a million wood-powered cars across Europe during the Second World War!
The starting point for The Knowledge is a global catastrophe that destroys our technological civilisation and forces survivors to start again from scratch. Such a possible eventuality offers a superb scenario for exploring the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our modern world actually works, and how it progressed and developed over centuries and millennia of history. Whilst researching for the book, and continuing still on the web Discussion board after its publication, I’ve had many fascinating and informative conversations with people who’ve been thinking about similar topics for far longer that I have.
There is a large community around the world making active preparations for disaster; people who identify as preppers or survivalists. Of course, aspects of this movement cover a wide spectrum.
On one hand are everyday people living in regions vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the earthquakes near San Francisco, taking precautions like keeping a few days-worth of canned food, bottled water and battery-powered lights to wait-out at home a blackout or temporary disruption of other public utilities, or else preparing a bug-out bag to escape the city at the early warning signs.
On the other extreme are those who anticipate global catastrophe within their lifetimes; some moving to isolated, fortified compounds and devoting their life savings to stockpiling consumables and weapons to protect their families from looters after societal collapse. Unsurprisingly, it is this tail of the distribution that TV shows like Doomsday Preppers tend to focus on, but preppers in fact include an enormous range of people with different lifestyles and motivations.
And the movement has been going for a long time, building in waves in response to world events, as this guest post from Chris Ruiz charts.
The Rise and Rise Of Prepping
Interest in prepping has been on a steady rise over the past few years. This is not to say that the idea of preparedness never existed before. People have been actively preparing for emergencies, including possibly life-threatening disruptions, since the first nomadic clan decided to raise crops instead of hunt and gather. In this article we will look at 3 major waves of interest in preparedness from recent history. This will give us context for where we are today and show that being prepared is a well-worn road, not just some new fad based on some questionable reality shows on television.