February 7, 2015


What are the chances that society will collapse?  It's happened before to numerous civilizations, so can it happen again?  Yes, of course it can.  We can even turn it into statistical probabilities.

First, we need a list of all the threats that could conceivably collapse society.  Second, we need to assess the probabilities of these events happening and causing a collapse.  For our interests, let's look at the probability of US society collapsing in the next 50 years, which will account for the rest of the lives of most of the readers of this article.  Other countries will have similar probabilities, although, the US is more often a target of terrorist attacks than other nations.

The table below gives us our answers.  In the left hand column, you'll see a list of all the events that could potentially cause the collapse of US and/or global society.  In the next column over, you'll see the probabilities of these events happening in the next 50 years.  Some of these probabilities are scientific estimates.  Some are best guesses, because we really have no way of knowing the probabilities for sure.  The probabilities are explained in the right hand column.  In the 3rd column, the percent probability is subtracted from 1.  That will give us the percent probability that the event will not happen.  In order to avoid a collapse in the next 50 years, all of these events need to NOT happen.  Therefore, we simply multiply the chances of all these events not happening in the next 50 years to get our chances of avoiding a collapse.  Our chances of having a collapse will simply be the inverse.

 EventProbability of Event in Next 50 YearsInverse US SocietyInverse Global SocietyExplanation
Gamma Ray Burst011? extremely rare
Asteroid or Comet0.00960.99040.9904every 5,200 yrs
Polar Shift0.00010.99990.9999every 450,000 yrs
Solar Flare EMP0.330.670.75every 150 yrs
Rogue Planet011? extremely rare
Man-Made EMP0.050.951guess
Hacking the Grid0.040.961guess
Physical Assault on Grid0.040.961guess
Coordinated Dirty Bombs0.020.981guess
Water Poisoning0.0050.9951guess
Natural Pandemic0.010.990.99guess
Bioterrorist Pandemic0.040.960.98guess
Economic Collapse0.030.970.98guess
La Palma Tsunami0.0080.9921guess
Giant Caldera0.000080.999920.99992every 600,000 yrs
Snowball Earth011guess (every 100 million yrs)
Nuclear War0.010.990.997guess
Chance of Avoiding US Disaster in the Next 50 Years51.28%
Chance of US Collapse in the Next 50 years48.72%
Chance of Avoiding Global Disaster in the Next 50 Years70.40%
Chance of Global Civilization Collapsing in the Next 50 years29.60%

As you can see, the chances of US society collapsing in the next 50 years according to this table is 49% and the chances of global civilization collapsing in the next 50 years is 30%.  The main reasons for the discrepancy is that the US is more often a terrorist target, is more often at war, and does not lie on the equator.  (It is possible for a large solar flare to knock out electrical grids in the northern and southern latitudes, but not at the equator, since the magnetosphere is most protective of the tropics.)

As you can tell, the biggest current threat to our society is the sun.  If it has a coronal mass ejection that is pointed right at us, our electrical grids won't be able to handle the ensuing electro-magnetic pulse.  Most critically, our large transformers would be damaged beyond repair.  Large transformers cost multiple millions of dollars and take about 1.5 years from the time the order is made to the time they are installed and running.  We don't have backup ones on standby either.  Without electricity, a domino effect would take place that would collapse our society.  However, IF..... IF IF IF governments get smart, electrical grids could be hardened for a few billion dollars to protect against these solar flares.  That might happen in the next 50 years, which would remove solar flare EMPs AND man made EMPs as threats.  Our chances of avoiding the collapse of society would be much improved.

What about future threats?  There are a number of futuristic threats that aren't a reality for us quite yet, but may be of major concern in a few decades.  If we added these to the probabilities, I think it would put the chances of the US collapsing over the 50% mark.

Maybe it's not a bad idea to have some basic survival supplies on hand just in case.

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