What world shattering disasters worry you?

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Which of the following catalysms are you most worried about?

Astral event (Asteroid, black hole, gamma rays, ect.)
25
13%
Nuclear War
27
14%
Global Warming
29
15%
Population Growth / Lack of resources
42
22%
Pandemic
24
13%
Geological Disaster (Earthquake, supervolcano, ect.)
12
6%
Financial Depression
22
12%
Other (Specify)
9
5%
 
Total votes: 190

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idobox
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby idobox » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:18 am UTC

SlyReaper wrote:I find it interesting how population growth gets the most votes. To my mind, so long as the average human contributes more than they consume, isn't population growth a good thing? Or in other words, the more people there are, the more minds that are available to tackle the problem of dwindling resources.

There is also the very real issue that people don't try to find solutions until the problem is urgent.
Let's take the example of phosphate. This mineral is a very important fertilizer, and part of the green revolution. Today, phosphate is mined, and there are only limited reserves of it, but people aren't sure exactly how much. Pessimists say we will run out in 50 to 100 years, the mine owners in hundreds of years.
So there is a problem that will arise in the future because we're mining a finite resource. There are also solutions, like different culture techniques to reduce soil erosion, or use of animal and human waste as a source of phosphorus. So, do farmers use these techniques? no. Do waste water treatment plants recycle phosphorus? no.
If peak phosphorus happens in 2030 (worst case by most pessimist people), and dwindles to nothing in 30 more years, what will we do? Start building recycling plant and change agricultural equipment. But that will take at least 20 years to develop and build enough the recycling plants, and at least a decade for farmers to change their equipments. In the meantime, food production will be greatly decrease, and a lot of people will starve to death.

It's a bit like people smoking. They know it's a bad idea, and that they should stop, but until they get really sick, or see somebody die, they have a lot of trouble stopping. As a species, we're really bad at preventing future damage caused by diffuse actions.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Oct 10, 2012 6:22 pm UTC

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:Nothing can compare to the existential terror I feel when confronted with the thought of the universe itself ending, so I'm going with heat death of the universe and nothing else.


This. With the others I can comfort myself with the knowledge that all lives (human and otherwise) end and get replaced by new ones. But I find it difficult to contemplate not only all life ending, but all variation and interesting patterns ending as well.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Oct 10, 2012 6:59 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:
SlyReaper wrote:Or in other words, the more people there are, the more minds that are available to tackle the problem of dwindling resources.
But there is a finite capacity for people to contribute to tackling the problem of dwindling resources. To put it another way, there's only so much room at the top of the heap, regardless of how large the heap gets.


I'm not sure that's necessarily true, or if it is, that we're anywhere near reaching that capacity.

Also, there are a near infinite number of problems that can be worked on, so even if we reach the maximum capacity of people usefully working on any single problem, more people can still contribute usefully to other problems.

idobox wrote:
SlyReaper wrote:I find it interesting how population growth gets the most votes. To my mind, so long as the average human contributes more than they consume, isn't population growth a good thing? Or in other words, the more people there are, the more minds that are available to tackle the problem of dwindling resources.

There is also the very real issue that people don't try to find solutions until the problem is urgent.
Let's take the example of phosphate. This mineral is a very important fertilizer, and part of the green revolution. Today, phosphate is mined, and there are only limited reserves of it, but people aren't sure exactly how much. Pessimists say we will run out in 50 to 100 years, the mine owners in hundreds of years.



Current reserves of phosphate minerals (the amount that can be profitably extracted at current market prices) is about 71 billion tons, which are estimated to last 345 years.

However, the crust is about .1% phosphate by mass, which yields something ridiculous like three quintillion tons of phosphate compounds available in the Earth's crust, albeit at lower concentrations.

Even the most pessimistic prediction of 50 years is plenty of time for large shifts in technology to obviate the problem, such as genetic engineering, or just increased use of other phosphate sources, such as urine, or some combination of multiple technologies, some of which may not even exist for another ten or twenty years.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Jorpho » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:00 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:
The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:Nothing can compare to the existential terror I feel when confronted with the thought of the universe itself ending, so I'm going with heat death of the universe and nothing else.
This. With the others I can comfort myself with the knowledge that all lives (human and otherwise) end and get replaced by new ones. But I find it difficult to contemplate not only all life ending, but all variation and interesting patterns ending as well.
I'm not sure if there's a way to say this that doesn't sound patronizing, but I'll say it anyway: the human capacity for suffering and anguish is so incredibly vast that it must be nice to be able to focus on existential terror.

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:23 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:
setzer777 wrote:
The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:Nothing can compare to the existential terror I feel when confronted with the thought of the universe itself ending, so I'm going with heat death of the universe and nothing else.
This. With the others I can comfort myself with the knowledge that all lives (human and otherwise) end and get replaced by new ones. But I find it difficult to contemplate not only all life ending, but all variation and interesting patterns ending as well.
I'm not sure if there's a way to say this that doesn't sound patronizing, but I'll say it anyway: the human capacity for suffering and anguish is so incredibly vast that it must be nice to be able to focus on existential terror.


Oh, absolutely, I'm sure if I had any real problems I wouldn't ever fret about that kind of stuff.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Enuja » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:36 pm UTC

Jorpho, I think you're underestimating the emotional punch that existential terror can have. I remember being about 7 years old, lying in my bed, and thinking about the fact that the universe is infinite. The idea terrified me. I could not get to sleep, I could not calm down about it: I had to get out of bed and think about something else. Ten years later, I just skimmed articles in Scientific American about the infinite nature of the universe 'cause it was still scary. Fifteen years after that, it's still not my favorite subject.

EdgarJPublius and SlyReaper: the size of the Earth is finite. While we know we can all currently fit in Rhode Island, the amount of land it takes to feed us and transport that food to us is much, much larger. The idea of having more resources because we've got more people to figure out resources only works up to a certain point, unless you've got infinite space. No, we're no where near the point that we can't fit another human body on the planet, but we are already at the point where we've lost a lot of other things that were on the land before we started using it so intensively. I think Vahir's original label "Population Growth / Lack of Resources" communicates the idea quite well. It depends on how we use the resources, not just how many of us there are, and how we use the resources is dependent on more than just our technological expansion: our values about land (and sea) use are just as important. I'm not worried about people literally breeding themselves to death, I'm worried about people being so numerous and using so many resources that we destroy much of what is valuable to me about the earth.

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Jorpho » Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:37 am UTC

The story of the Sybilline books comes to mind. Douglas Adams recounted it in "Last Chance to See", but I'm pretty sure I've seen it elsewhere, too. Jared Diamond, maybe.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby idobox » Thu Oct 11, 2012 10:36 am UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:[quote="Jorpho"
Current reserves of phosphate minerals (the amount that can be profitably extracted at current market prices) is about 71 billion tons, which are estimated to last 345 years.

However, the crust is about .1% phosphate by mass, which yields something ridiculous like three quintillion tons of phosphate compounds available in the Earth's crust, albeit at lower concentrations.

Even the most pessimistic prediction of 50 years is plenty of time for large shifts in technology to obviate the problem, such as genetic engineering, or just increased use of other phosphate sources, such as urine, or some combination of multiple technologies, some of which may not even exist for another ten or twenty years.

The 71 billion tons figure is given by mine owners, and is not verified by anyone, and there is a big incentive for mine owners to inflate the numbers, as the value of the company is linked to the reserves.
But whether the reserves of exploitable mineral are 50 or 350 years, it is still a finite resource, and we have means to make it last longer, or even to find renewable resources (human and animal waste for example), but, and that's my point, we don't do it, and we won't do it until the lack of phosphate is a very urgent issue.
We should develop and build prototypes of plants able to extract phosphorus from waste water now, not in 30 years, not in 50 years. We need to have the technology and facilities before the lack of resource is an issue, because they won't be developed overnight.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Chen » Thu Oct 11, 2012 12:06 pm UTC

idobox wrote:But whether the reserves of exploitable mineral are 50 or 350 years, it is still a finite resource, and we have means to make it last longer, or even to find renewable resources (human and animal waste for example), but, and that's my point, we don't do it, and we won't do it until the lack of phosphate is a very urgent issue.
We should develop and build prototypes of plants able to extract phosphorus from waste water now, not in 30 years, not in 50 years. We need to have the technology and facilities before the lack of resource is an issue, because they won't be developed overnight.


The market does seem to do pretty well with regards to things like this. We're still not at crisis levels for oil and new technologies have already started developing for alternatives (biofuels, electric cars etc). Once the price of phosphates start to rise the alternatives which are currently not cost effective start becoming cost effective.

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby idobox » Thu Oct 11, 2012 2:51 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
idobox wrote:But whether the reserves of exploitable mineral are 50 or 350 years, it is still a finite resource, and we have means to make it last longer, or even to find renewable resources (human and animal waste for example), but, and that's my point, we don't do it, and we won't do it until the lack of phosphate is a very urgent issue.
We should develop and build prototypes of plants able to extract phosphorus from waste water now, not in 30 years, not in 50 years. We need to have the technology and facilities before the lack of resource is an issue, because they won't be developed overnight.


The market does seem to do pretty well with regards to things like this. We're still not at crisis levels for oil and new technologies have already started developing for alternatives (biofuels, electric cars etc). Once the price of phosphates start to rise the alternatives which are currently not cost effective start becoming cost effective.

The magic hand of the market will not create technology, it will fund it. And unlike stocks and shares, it takes some time for technology to happen once it's funded. If the production of phosphate falls while the new technology is developed and deployed (we're talking 10 to 20 years here), people will die. Responsible governments should invest BEFORE the resource becomes scarce, the same way you don't wait until your house burns to buy a fire extinguisher.

The alternatives to oil are not biofuels (farm land is needed to feed people) or electric cars (not enough lithium on Earth, and we'll need a lot more electricity, and it takes time to double our electricity production and carrying capacity), the alternative is to get rid of the car, by changing our cities, by building trains and metros. European cities have started working on that, taxing cars, forbidding them to enter certain areas, but it's a conversion that will take decades.
Suburbs have to disappear, and they will when oil becomes too expensive to live 50km away from your work, but if you wait for oil to be expensive, and invest in electric cars hoping to save them, it's going to be very painful.

My point is resources will deplete, prices will rise, and you have to anticipate those changes decades in advance, because that's the time you need to build infrastructure. But, as a species, we always wait until our current model stops working to start working on alternatives, and it makes the transition very painful
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby setzer777 » Thu Oct 11, 2012 3:12 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:
setzer777 wrote:
The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:Nothing can compare to the existential terror I feel when confronted with the thought of the universe itself ending, so I'm going with heat death of the universe and nothing else.
This. With the others I can comfort myself with the knowledge that all lives (human and otherwise) end and get replaced by new ones. But I find it difficult to contemplate not only all life ending, but all variation and interesting patterns ending as well.
I'm not sure if there's a way to say this that doesn't sound patronizing, but I'll say it anyway: the human capacity for suffering and anguish is so incredibly vast that it must be nice to be able to focus on existential terror.


Actually on second thought - how is that any different than being worried about nuclear wars or asteroid collisions?
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Laserdan » Thu Oct 11, 2012 3:38 pm UTC

My main issue with death in general is simply that I won't see the greatness to which humanity could ascend. If a global cataclysm like an astral event wipes out everyone, well, there probably won't be too much time to suffer. So naturally, I only fear disasters that could impact my quality of life to a level where I actually have to involve myself in food prodction or lower (say, lack of water).

So it's global warming, financial depression and similar.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Chen » Thu Oct 11, 2012 5:40 pm UTC

idobox wrote:My point is resources will deplete, prices will rise, and you have to anticipate those changes decades in advance, because that's the time you need to build infrastructure. But, as a species, we always wait until our current model stops working to start working on alternatives, and it makes the transition very painful


The point I was making about electric cars and the like seem to contradict this. Electric cars are still not terribly cost effective and generally worse than gasoline powered ones, but they're making stark rises, fairly quickly at that. Economics has pushed people into doing this R&D and we're not yet at the point where the oil model has stopped working. I'm not convinced we're suddenly going to wake up one day and be 10 years behind of where we need to be because we've run out of phosphorous and have no way of extracting more from the earth.

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Oct 11, 2012 6:15 pm UTC

idobox wrote:not enough lithium on Earth


There are approx. Six hundred trillion tonnes of lithium in Earth's crust alone.

People really need to understand the difference between mineral 'reserves' and the amount of a mineral that are actually recoverable.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby freezeblade » Thu Oct 11, 2012 8:59 pm UTC

Zombie uprising, of course.

Well, the preparing for that is very similar to preparing for a total societal collapse. I've got my BOB (bug out bag) all ready to go. It also doubles as camping gear, for inpromptu trips.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Drowsy Turtle » Thu Oct 11, 2012 9:01 pm UTC

freezeblade wrote:Zombie uprising, of course.

Well, the preparing for that is very similar to preparing for a total societal collapse. I've got my BOB (bug out bag) all ready to go. It also doubles as camping gear, for inpromptu trips.


Good to know I'm not the only one ;)
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Darvince » Thu Oct 11, 2012 11:28 pm UTC

freezeblade wrote:Zombie uprising, of course.

Well, the preparing for that is very similar to preparing for a total societal collapse. I've got my BOB (bug out bag) all ready to go. It also doubles as camping gear, for inpromptu trips.

Although, if the zombies are realistic, then just stay inside for a week until they rot away. You should be able to survive that long with your current supplies. If they're cinema zombies you could just abandon your current location for the wilderness.

Personally I'm not frightened by any of those possibilities other than maybe global warming, but tropical regions tend to proliferate while polar regions only serve to decrease heat in the worldwide climate. The switch off from crude oil is ripening anyway, which is the most major one.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Jorpho » Fri Oct 12, 2012 1:21 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:
Jorpho wrote:I'm not sure if there's a way to say this that doesn't sound patronizing, but I'll say it anyway: the human capacity for suffering and anguish is so incredibly vast that it must be nice to be able to focus on existential terror.
Actually on second thought - how is that any different than being worried about nuclear wars or asteroid collisions?
Well, those are tangible things. There's good evidence for asteroid collisions causing global havoc, and there have definitely been cities hit by nuclear bombs.

But the end of the universe? It's like worrying about the nonzero probability that every molecule in your body might spontaneously disassociate. In the grand scheme of things everything I've ever known or could have ever hoped to know is going to be gone in a proverbial blink of an eye. My opinion, anyway.

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Laserdan » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:56 am UTC

Darvince wrote:Although, if the zombies are realistic, then just stay inside for a week until they rot away. You should be able to survive that long with your current supplies. If they're cinema zombies you could just abandon your current location for the wilderness.

Personally I'm not frightened by any of those possibilities other than maybe global warming, but tropical regions tend to proliferate while polar regions only serve to decrease heat in the worldwide climate. The switch off from crude oil is ripening anyway, which is the most major one.


Since reading this wrongly I have a strongly irrational fear of relativistic zombies.
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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Oct 16, 2012 5:36 pm UTC

Darvince wrote:
freezeblade wrote:Zombie uprising, of course.

Well, the preparing for that is very similar to preparing for a total societal collapse. I've got my BOB (bug out bag) all ready to go. It also doubles as camping gear, for inpromptu trips.

Although, if the zombies are realistic, then just stay inside for a week until they rot away. You should be able to survive that long with your current supplies. If they're cinema zombies you could just abandon your current location for the wilderness.

Personally I'm not frightened by any of those possibilities other than maybe global warming, but tropical regions tend to proliferate while polar regions only serve to decrease heat in the worldwide climate. The switch off from crude oil is ripening anyway, which is the most major one.


Even if they're cinema zombies...relax. You're clearly a survivor. It's a war against an adversary that is brainless, fights bare handed, is slow, and doesn't cooperate. In addition, humans live in fortresses known as "homes" that range from heavily zombie resistant to zombie-proof deathtraps. Your average top-floor apartment with a balcony should suffice for a single armed person to engage hundreds or even thousands of them. Congrats, you've just gone from a stressful work/study life to a world where all your problems can be shot in the face.

Nope, can't say I'd be worried about zombies. As world-shattering disasters go, that one rates as "relaxing".

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby tastelikecoke » Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:08 pm UTC

Laserdan wrote:Since reading this wrongly I have a strongly irrational fear of relativistic zombies.

Imagine zombies that can approach you at relativistic speeds. Using peculiar biology, they can perform nuclear fission from running very very fast, removing the energy limit for zombies and giving them more time to feed on brains, which they need to maintain their accumulating nerve damage from running(?). And the zombies come from solar flares.

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Re: What world shattering disasters worry you?

Postby freezeblade » Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:49 pm UTC

tastelikecoke wrote:
Laserdan wrote:Since reading this wrongly I have a strongly irrational fear of relativistic zombies.

Imagine zombies that can approach you at relativistic speeds. Using peculiar biology, they can perform nuclear fission from running very very fast, removing the energy limit for zombies and giving them more time to feed on brains, which they need to maintain their accumulating nerve damage from running(?). And the zombies come from solar flares.


And so it has come to this.
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