Journalist and science consultant Lawrence E. Joseph discussed threats to life on Earth, including collapse of power grids from solar flares, the weakening of the magnetic field, and the solar system’s move into a new area of space. Political, economic, and natural forces are all leading us into a “deadly convergence,” he said. Specifically, a solar EMP blast could knock out electricity by permanently destroying transformers in the grid. If a blast like the Carrington Event of 1859 occurred again, we could see 100 million people out of electricity for a couple years, he cautioned.
Joseph advocated for the U.S. to install a kind of surge protection for the power grid– a plan that the House has already approved, but may get stalled in the Senate because the measure is being attached to other issues. For more on this, see his article Short-Circuiting the Great American Blackout, to be published on the Huffington Post. There’s increasing evidence that Earth’s magnetic shield is going down, according to NASA research, he added.
He traveled to Siberia to interview a Russian scientist whose research indicates that our solar system is moving into an “interstellar energy cloud,” which could cause cataclysmic and evolutionary changes on Earth. His findings were confirmed by a recent paper published in Nature, Joseph noted. He also spoke about his interviews with various shamans. A Guatemalan (Mayan) shaman told him that 2012 would herald the birth of a new era, and like new births there’d be “joy, blood, and pain.” Siberian shamans don’t see 2012 as a cataclysmic date for the world, but they do see it as “an avalanche date for collapse of the West,” he reported.
Lawrence Joseph has written on science, nature, politics and business for the past twenty five years. In 1990, he published Gaia: The Growth of an Idea, exploring the Gaia Hypothesis that the global ecosystem adjusts and regulates itself more like a living organism than a geological machine, as traditional Earth science holds. His current book, Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization’s End, is a personal inquiry into the confluence of ancient Mayan prophecy and contemporary solar physics projections indicating that the year 2012 will be pivotal, perhaps catastrophic. Currently, he is Chairman of the Board of Aerospace Consulting Corporation (AC2), an Albuquerque, New Mexico firm developing ultra-high temperature plasma furnaces designed to completely disintegrate highly toxic biological, chemical and medical wastes.
Various existential risks have the potential to destroy, or drastically restrict, human civilization; could cause human extinction; or even cause the end of Earth. Severe events could cause the extinction of all life on the planet Earth, the destruction of the planet Earth, the annihilation of the solar system, to the annihilation of our galaxy or even the entire universe. Existential risks are distinguished from other forms of risk both by their scope, affecting all of humanity, and severity; destroying or irreversibly crippling the target.
Natural disasters, such as supervolcanoes and asteroids, may pose existential risks if sufficiently powerful, though man-made events could also threaten the survival of intelligent life on Earth, like catastrophic global warming, nuclear war, or bioterrorism.
Despite the importance of existential risks, it is a difficult subject to study directly since humankind has never been destroyed before; while this does not mean that it will not be in the future, it does make modelling existential risks difficult, due in part to survivorship bias.
While individual threats, such as those posed by nuclear war or climate change, have been intensively studied on their own, the systematic study of existential risks did not begin until 2002.
Various risks exist for humanity, but not all are equal. Risks can be roughly categorized based on the scope (personal, regional, global) and the intensity (endurable, terminal). The chart to the right provides some examples.
The risks discussed in this article are at least Global and Terminal in intensity. These types of risks are ones where an adverse outcome would either annihilate intelligent life on Earth, or permanently and drastically reduce its potential. Jamais Cascio made an alternative classification system
Some risks, such as that from asteroid impact, with a one-in-a-million chance of causing humankind extinction in the next century, have had their probabilities predicted with considerable accuracy (though later research suggested the actual rate of large impacts could be much higher than predicted). Similarly, the frequency of volcanic eruptions of sufficient magnitude to cause catastrophic climate change, similar to the Toba Eruption, which almost caused the extinction of the human race, has been estimated at about 1 in every 50,000 years.