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Does Earth Have A Plan For Armageddon?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
The end of the world. It's not likely to happen today, tomorrow or next week... But is the Earth prepared for an apocalyptic event if it does decide to happen? Are there protocols in place and plans to put into action? Or would unbridled chaos break out?

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Does Earth Have a Plan for Armageddon?

What if life as we knew it disappeared tomorrow? Or even today? There are plenty of ways for the world to end. We could obliterate each other in a nuclear war. An asteroid could crash into us from space, ensuring that we end up like the dinosaurs. A natural disaster, like a major flood or a massive volcanic eruption, could occur and send the planet into chaos. Surely the powers that be have some sort of contingency plan in place to protect humanity for the future? Don’t they?

Obviously different disaster types pose different problems. We may have some warning in the event of an impending asteroid strike or extreme weather disaster, so there could be a brief window in which to act. While a Nuclear War would essentially be self-inflicted, so there’d be at least a thin degree of control over the untold damage and devastation. Either way, some disasters are more easily spotted, meaning that we should be able to better prepare for them. While that’s not always the case, here’s what could happen.

We’ll start with the world leaders, who would – for the most part – be taken to safe and secure locations all around the world, to ensure that they and their government survives. While exact protocols differ from nation to nation, much of what might happen was planned out during the Cold War. With international diplomacy rarely seeming so fragile, countries developed ‘continuity of government’ plans to prevent a power vacuum in the case of disaster. Obviously nuclear war was what most people worried about back then, but the plans could realistically come into play for any global crisis event.

In Canada, the top brass might head for one of several nuclear bunkers called “diefenbunkers,” named after the Prime Minister who commissioned them, John Diefenbaker. The Russian government reportedly has a base cut into Mount Yamantau, although details on its function are scarce. The British headquarters are at Whitehall’s Ministry of Defence. And the President of the United States has multiple survival bases open to them, including Mount Weather, and the Raven Rock and Cheyenne Mountain Complexes.

There are also plans in place for some countries to board Doomsday planes or ships, most notably in the United States and Russia. And there are procedures for if a world leader is killed as part of the carnage. In America, for example, there’s the ‘designated survivor’ – who’s an official hidden in a secure location, ready to take over US leadership if required.

But, what of the everyday folk? In many respects, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Some ultra-prepared families – or even whole communities – have their own survival plans in place, but the majority will rely on instinct and good fortune. That said, there are various Disaster Recovery policies held all over the world, mostly aiming to restore important technological infrastructures as quickly as possible, for vital business and communications. And, after a period of adjustment to an ongoing disaster, there’d most likely be a massive deployment of armed forces and international aid – instigated by the same world leaders who’d have been rushed to the military bunkers and facilities mentioned earlier.

However, what if the disaster wasn’t ongoing, but a single and incomparably destructive event capable of wiping Earth out in one fell swoop? Say, a massive asteroid strike. Luckily, NASA has a plan (or three) for that. One scenario seems seriously ‘Hollywood blockbuster’, in that a nuclear device would be sent up to destroy or deflect an asteroid from our planet’s path – but the space rock would have to be relatively small if there’s any hope of it actually working. A second plan carries a kick-ass name, if nothing else – the kinetic impactor. This would see NASA send a designated spacecraft to crash into the asteroid, to again knock it off course. Then there’s the final plan, which beats both the others for sci-fi sounding awesomeness… The Gravity Tractor – which is heavy enough to use its gravity to literally pull an onrushing asteroid away from the Earth.

But say all of our attempts to stave off Armageddon fail, and the inevitable happens? If even a small percentage of the global population survives the end of the world, there are some things they should know.

Perhaps one of their first ports of call should be the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It’s an unprecedented store built into the side of a mountain on Spitsbergen Island, in the Norwegian archipelago, holding close to one million seed samples – with a total capacity of up to 4.5 million. Housing such a wide variety of plant seeds in case of international emergency – including those for our planet’s most prevalent and important crops – it’s a sort of final hope for global farming, and essentially the world’s backup agricultural hard drive. There could be some difficulties with gaining access to it, but if the doors can be unlocked then humanity might be saved.

And it’s not just the plants that have already been preserved, either. Backup animals and livestock are ready to go as well, with various ‘frozen zoo’ facilities cryogenically storing the genetic materials necessary – including DNA, sperm, eggs and embryos – for the continued survival of animal life. Yes, kind of like a real-world “Jurassic Park”, but for dogs, cats, cows and chickens instead. These frozen genetic materials can last forever, to be utilized through embryo transfer, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilisation. But, there are only a handful of frozen zoos around, including one at the San Diego Zoo, the Frozen Ark project in the UK, and the Swiss Village Farm Foundation in Rhode Island.

But, hold up. In the event that a global, apocalyptic catastrophe did happen; And a small percentage of people did survive it; And they somehow made their way to the Svalbard Seed Vault and made use of a frozen zoo… All of that would suggest that some kind of social order still remains. But, how?

Of course, unless the world-ravaging event wiped out our memories too, those who lived to see another day would recall what life was like before. And over time, communities and societies could naturally spread. But we’re already trying to influence what the rules of the new world might look like… The controversial Georgia Guidestones are one of America’s more unique landmarks. An almost 20-foot tall granite monument, they rise on a hilltop bearing ten inscriptions in eight different languages – all offering some form of advice to a post-apocalyptic people. Amongst other insights, the stones urge their readers to restrict global population to 500 million, ‘guide reproduction wisely’, unite under one language, protect people with ‘fair laws and just courts’, but to ‘avoid petty laws and useless officials’.

Unsurprisingly, there are various conspiracy theories surrounding the inscriptions, although most onlookers believe that they are genuine survival guidelines for if society should collapse. The only problem is, no-one’s really sure who wrote them, or even erected the stones. Most concede that they were fuelled by Cold War fears, however, as they first appeared in 1980.

But, say that post-disaster there were only two people left to read these lines of advice at all… And, by a convenient turn of events in an otherwise incredibly unfortunate time in history, there’s one male and one female. Could the human race survive?

The question is tricky. But the answer is ‘probably not’. With just two at the top of our species tree, the inbreeding within the first few generations would likely be too dangerous to inspire a long-term lineage. Quickly, humanity would suffer from inbreeding depression, effects of which can include increased infant mortality, reduced birth rates, and overall reduced productivity. Eventually, we may even face the Founder Effect, which is the complete loss of genetic variation – leading to the possible evolution of an entirely new species completely different from us, its pre-apocalyptic ancestors. So, strains of ourselves could technically survive, but we likely wouldn’t look, act or feel like we do now.

Luckily, however, it doesn’t take many humans to ensure the survival of the species as we know it – with it generally thought that we’d need around 5,000 people to prosper with the necessary genetic diversity. Meaning, if just a few more hardy humans make it to the other side of the apocalypse, we really could thrive once again.

So, there you have it. If Armageddon struck tomorrow, we’d all be bunker-bound – especially the world leaders. Our armies would battle the elements, while NASA has some ideas on how to deflect asteroids should they stray our way. If the worst did happen and most of us perished, then the ones left behind would have facilities like frozen zoos and the Svalbard Seed Vault to potentially replenish the planet. Failing that, we’d theoretically only need a few thousand survivors to set our species into motion again. There are all kinds of variables, and it’d take thousands of years, but there are plans in place for after the end of all things.

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