8 ways the world could suddenly end: Stephen Petranek at TEDxMidwest

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so about eleven years ago I gave a talk in California at the TED Conference and it went really well it was called ten ways the world could end tomorrow but it also went viral at a time before things started going viral and it wasn't in a good way it ended up on thousands of nutty websites these are the kind of websites for people who think men in black is a documentary it's a kind of websites for people actually believe the Mayan calendar does predict doomsday so if you googled me before this talk you've seen maybe nine or ten references to me as a science magazine editor and three weeks after the talk there were 418 references linking moi to little green men for Mars now coincidentally I was teaching my mother how to use a computer at the time long distance and I was teaching her about Google so guess who she googled first so I started worrying about my reputation little and I decided to call Chris Anderson the Ted curator I knew Chris would not want Ted speakers to be co-opted by every nutjob on the web and maybe he could get his friends Larry and Sergey at Google to erase all this I was a little disappointed didn't exactly get sympathy I was looking for Chris thought it was funny but he did ask me to do another TED talk and I jumped at the chance because I saw it as a Redemption I could do 10 reasons to be optimistic about the future and I did was a great talk honestly my best talk ever full of surprises lots of interesting science but he didn't go over so well everybody wanted another 10 ways the world could end suddenly and no one hosted the optimistic talk so when Mike and Linda asked me to give a talk of TEDx these many years later I had lots of good ideas but guess what they wanted and that's why we're here dr. doom and gloom so let's begin the 2013 countdown okay you're looking at n1 h1 it's the original flu virus that caused the last great pandemic the Spanish flu of 1918 which infected 50% of the world's population at the time which was a billion people and probably killed one out of every ten people but here's the interesting thing about it it came in three waves three different waves pretty much about six months apart and the second wave killed every single person who got the flu and that is how bad flu can be now here we are in 2013 and in barnyards all over China there are ducks and pigs and chickens in close proximity and that's actually we're influenza originates now viruses have gotten so good at mutating and in these barnyards mostly that you and I have to get a flu shot every year to protect against this although I will tell you something interesting less than half of the population in the United States does get a flu shot every year but that is not what keeps the Centers for Disease Control up at night what they worry about is something called a recombinant flu bug and here's how it works there are two kinds of viruses they're viruses infect animals and animals pass them easily to other animals and then there are viruses that infect humans and they pass them easily to other humans when a human has something like the Hong Kong flu or in 2009 that h1n1 that came back and they go to the market and they buy a chicken that happens to have one of these animal viruses and they take it home and they don't cook it properly and they eat it they get the animal virus and now inside that person are two kinds of viruses a virus that transmits easily from human to human and a virus that transmits easily from animal to animal but in almost all cases that animal virus is far more toxic and far more of a killer now in just the last few weeks a new very deadly animal flu called h7n9 has popped up about a hundred people are infected a lot of them have died and this is one that the CDC is really worried about and we could be looking at another worldwide pandemic like the Spanish flu if a human being who has a human-type virus that transmits easily to people happens to eat one of these animals now there are solutions to this but we live in a very different world from 1918 there are 80,000 commercial jets that take off every day full of passengers it would take a flu virus about two weeks to circle the globe private producers cannot make enough vaccine fast enough to save us the only thing that we can do is what the Australian government has done which is to create laboratories that are ready to go on a moment's notice to create vast quantities of flu virus we should do this second we need to make a simple dipstick test you go to the drugstore you buy swab you put it in your mouth if it turns blue you have the flu how many times have you gone to the doctor do I have the flu do I have a bacterial infection half the time they don't even know when a pandemic comes you want to know if you have the flu and you will not be able to find a doctor thirdly we need to invest in a really good public health system we've actually been firing about 50,000 public health workers in the last three years you know 4050 years ago this country built thousands of bomb shelters because we thought nuclear war was a real threat if we can do that we can build a public health system that will take care of us in a pandemic number seven isn't that beautiful that's a mass coronal ejections off the Sun it makes something called the solar flare look like kindergarten it shoots uncountable numbers of atoms that have been broken apart into little particles and radiation out into space almost all of these blasts missed the earth because the Sun is like this huge yellow beach ball in space and really like this little tiny BB at the end of the auditorium so no matter which direction the Sun sends out its it's very unusual for us to get a direct hit however happened last August and it happened a month ago and you would not have been wanting to fly and been in an airplane at that time in 1859 a coronal mass ejection took the brand-new US telegraph system it basically melted it it started fires it shocked the operators and the wires disappeared most of the time our magnetic field in our atmosphere protect us from coronal mass ejections but a severe direct hit would take out the entire world's power grid at once and all the satellites in orbit plunging us essentially into a 19th century existence it would take 20 years to restore half the grid because we do not have backup try to imagine life without electricity almost all cities would become an uninhabitable we build skyscrapers 80 stories high and up and 2 stories underground we need to create safety zones beneath our buildings we should be building down 8 stories for every 80 stories up and we should make that part of our building code we are state of new jersey is rebuilding 20,000 bridges in the state because they know there will be a massive earthquake on the east coast sooner or later if we can do that we can have different building codes for our buildings we should also view transformers and wires as vulnerable and expendable and we should have hardened underground power plants ready to go in an emergency this is a synthetic genome invented by the craig Venter Institute and inserted into a bacterial cell to create what I would call a new life-form this life-form never existed before and it can reproduce it was done 3 years ago and the goal is Noble it's to produce anything we want from a cell takes in certain things puts out stuff that we want for example they could make synthetic vaccines or they could turn carbon dioxide into usable fuels now what to be wrong with that our history is littered with examples of bad things that got out of secure labs and things that go amuck when we try to tamper with Mother Nature and here's a low-tech example we brought kudzu here from Japan to control soil erosion didn't work out so well and meanwhile labs around the world are experimenting with biotech in ways you cannot a man you can create a perfect in vitro male baby with blonde hair and blue eyes and you can make modified corn do anything you want now is genetically modified corn savings from famines I see it as a threat to the only purely wild corn genome left in the world that grows in Mexico look at number one here watch closer regulate more watch closer regulate more no single federal agency or a single law governs this vast new world instead there's a hodgepodge of regulations from the Food and Drug Administration the United States Department of Agriculture and the EPA we need a new single agency of the government to bring order to this meanwhile less watched people are entering this field all the time and amateurs will follow Kickstarter just got its first proposal for a synthetic life-form a plant that would glow at night so we can sprinkle its seeds along roadsides and eliminate streetlights remember that genetically modified crops are not driven by a need to produce a better world and to save people from starvation they are driven by money and synthetic biology is about money too now for a little humor I'm going to tell you this you're not going to believe it computers will be smarter than us in 20 years you know this stuff you know that deep blue can play chess better than anyone on the face of the planet and you know that the Google car can drive itself better than you can drive it it's hasta la vista time time to wake up and smell a silicon if you want to get ahead of this curve you are going to have to become a cyborg number four a lot of volcanoes go off these things are huge trouble we do not live on a nice stable solid planet it is mostly molten rock and iron and it probably has a nuclear reactor in the center of it that keeps it hot we're like on these life rafts floating over all this molten rock Earth's crust is so constantly folding in on itself that we cannot find a stone on the surface of the earth that is as old as the planet ninety-eight percent of all the species on earth have gone extinct and volcanoes are the biggest reason why the 11 biggest extinctions four were caused by volcanoes a new study that links the Late Triassic extinction of volcanic eruptions and outflows are a new study links the the this this amazing extinction of life 95% of life on Earth to volcanoes that essentially stretched and all went off at the same time essentially stretched from what was then or what is now New Jersey to what is now Morocco in our past Earth has opened up many times and flowed out for centuries India is an outflow of volcanism volcanic activity fills this guy with soot and hot ash and berries every living thing and blocks the Sun for so many summers the plants on land and plankton in the sea die and when they die we die volcanoes can also produce so much carbon dioxide dioxide that they will massively warm the planet and create a runaway greenhouse effect which is the opposite of what we often expect from them in Holland they grow most of their food in greenhouses with synthetic light 24 hours a day we can do that when I was putting this talk together I just had this weird idea I went to Amazon I look to see how much they were and how good they are gas masks are the cheapest insurance you can buy they don't take up much space and then get you through a lot of hard times and fine the ultimate solution to living on a planet like ours which really is unstable and will not last forever and four and a half billion years the Sun will take us in our species will eventually die if we do not colonize other planets in other solar systems number three a runaway greenhouse effect I just spoke about that a little or an ecosystem collapse okay no surprise we're heating up in 1990 the mean atmospheric temperature of Earth was fourteen and a half degrees centigrade in twenty three years we've gone up 3/4 of a degree never in the history of this planet we know from ice cores has carbon dioxide risen so fast when we get to sixteen and a half degrees that's one and a quarter degrees from where we are we will lose control of our climate or let me put it a different way it will become extremely unpredictable every major extinction in Earth's history has been characterized by rapid increases in co2 and we're now in an unprecedented period of increases in co2 normally the atmosphere releases about 10% of the heat we get from the Sun but as we heat up more and more water turns to vapor more global warming methane and other gases are released from the northern and southern permafrost and at some point the earth works like a greenhouse gets into a feedback loop that eventually will turn us into Venus where the average daytime temperature is 900 degrees Fahrenheit at the same time we're witnessing a huge extinction cycle in the next 25 years we will lose 25% of all species in the Hawaiian Islands alone we're devastating our oceans by overfishing them and we're killing our coral reefs with heat somewhere in the Amazon rainforest is what I like to call a marginal tree we keep cutting down oxygen producing trees and someday when we get to that marginal tree we will see the beginning of the collapse of our oxygen ecosystem we are still asleep at the wheel global warming is an emergency it's almost incomprehensible how much co2 we have to stop putting in the air in the next 10 years to stop this process and we need to prioritize the animals and the and the amount of nature that we're trying to save we can't save it all we need to save the species that help us the most now this is interesting because 11 years ago this wasn't even my radar screen because I don't think nuclear war was any kind of significant threat there's a good reason every major nation in the world wants to keep Iran from getting the bomb but there's a larger reason that's really out of our control both India and Pakistan have more than 100 nuclear weapons each far more than enough to create a nuclear winter which will kill us all they have fought three wars since 1947 and India is developing a nuclear submarine fleet so it can fire its missiles from anywhere President Obama has spoken about this idea it makes tremendous sense and there's a huge rap against anti-missile systems because if we use it and we knock down everybody else's missiles then we're left with all the good missiles so part of the reason to this problem or part of the answer to this problem may be to develop anti missile technology cooperatively with many many other nations and place them where they are needed you have to fire an anti missile 30 seconds after a missile with a warhead on it is fired so that it catches it before it's on the downward curve in space number one we cross paths with a really big asteroid this is my favorite now there's a possibility I've been wrong about some of these things the possibility some of these things won't happen in the best sense of journalism that's my disclaimer but I am NOT wrong about this and this is what keeps me up at night this is my passion right now somewhere in space maybe in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or farther out in the Q per belt of large objects that exist beyond Neptune there's a missile with our name on it it could break out of its orbit tomorrow are not for a hundred thousand years but its fate is sealed it will hit earth it has happened before many times get a telescope and look at the moon it is covered with asteroid hits and you'll see that in a video in a second the earth is just as pockmarked with asteroid hits it's just that that folding crust that we have that's hidden a lot of them and vegetation has covered a lot of it a large asteroid took out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago by creating shock waves and fire storms across this planet and created a sky so full of debris that summer did not return for at least a hundred years and maybe a thousand years had humans meant alive then they would all have wiped been wiped out now here's some hope 433 eros this is a huge Rock it's bigger than the one it took out the dinosaurs that orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter at some time in its future it will shift from a Mars crossing orbit that it's in now to an earth crossing orbit it will intersect with where our planet is it is bigger than the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs but here's where this thing gets interesting we took this photo from a space probe that left the earth in the year 2000 a NASA probe that was designed to study asteroids and the spaceship settled into orbit around the asteroid you can put a baseball in orbit around meat if you're in space there's enough gravity now when the mission ended there was a little leftover fuel there was a little leftover electricity and the mission controllers wasn't part of the mission they landed the spacecraft on eros successfully and since then we have intercepted three comets in deep space that move at twenty miles per second stop and think about the implications of those missions for the first time in human history we have the ability to fly an into an incoming asteroid and change its orbit but only if we know it's there and only if we have a rocket ready to go most asteroids are found by amateurs when it's too late to do anything NASA is looking for bad guys in the asteroid belt and there are about 20,000 of them out there but they can't look in the Cooper belt it's too far away and it has a hundred thousand objects in it ten times bigger than the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs in only 20 years we have developed the technology to change our fate we can intercept an asteroid and we can take it out of play one day you or your children or their children or their children's children will wake up and this news will be real they the headline on the front page of the New York Times killer asteroid found on collision course with earth what happens after that if we're not prepared is really beyond horror most humans will not die from the impact most will die of starvation and the price of insurance to protect us from this is what we spend on one b-2 bomber the asteroid problem is stupidly obvious a physicist said almost a hundred years ago there are two kinds of civilizations those who can protect themselves from an asteroid impact and those who can't we're the former what are we waiting for thank you you
Channel: TEDx Talks
Views: 1,706,292
Rating: 4.4546223 out of 5
Keywords: 8 Ways the World Could Suddenly End, ted, TEDx, Science, TEDxMidwest 2013, TEDxMIdwest, ted talks, Global Warming, Ways the World Could End, tedx, 10 Ways the World Could End, 8 Ways the World Could End, tedx talks, Science Editor, 10 Ways the World Could Suddenly End, United States, ted talk, ted x, English, tedx talk, Stephen Petranek, Earth
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Length: 22min 51sec (1371 seconds)
Published: Tue Mar 11 2014
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