Apocalypse of Information?

It seems the apocalypse is heading toward us at every angle.  Every new bit of data suggests a massive change and this change, if trends are to be believed, will inevitably lead to a cataclysm of tremendous proportions – one the human race will be unable to wrench itself from for many decades or even many generations (if ever.)  Even mainstream media reports impending doom on a weekly basis.  But could it be due to something far more mundane than we ever thought?

Global warming, economic collapse, unprecedented weather formations, geological uncertainty, super-volcanoes, asteroids, alien invasion, and global pandemics are only the tip of the ice berg when looking into just how many forces of the universe are conspiring to end the human race.  But then again the human race has been around a very long time.  So what is the common thread between them all?  Most of these forces are acting in new ways based on information that has only been gathered for a little over a century.

Thorough record keeping on Global warming began in 1879, and the trends have gone up and down with the temperature raising now higher than ever before.  But while the temperature has become a hotly debated subject in the field of science and considering the possibility that it might be more than a man made problem has become an unpopular and politically incorrect opinion.  But is there hope for those who don’t wish to head to the arctic circle to go sun tanning?  Are we to soon find ourselves living in a post-sweater society?  The fact of the matter is, even if we do know that global warming is caused by human intervention (accidental or otherwise) then no one is sure that it will actually be the end of the world as we know it.  Climate change has been often disparaged as one of the most complex of sciences in the world.  And while researchers play out possible scenarios in computers, only the most fantastic ever reach media attention.  No one will run a story on a future where everything is slightly less comfortable but overall not that big of a deal because it’s just not that interesting and won’t sell newspapers or ad time on the nightly news.

Every so often an asteroid story comes about that breaks headlines.  These asteroids are often depicted as coming dangerously close to the Earth, with the most dangerous being 99942 Apophis.  The Apophis asteroid is a fairly large object as far as asteroid impacts go.  And its effects would be devastating if it ever hit the planet, possibly killing up to ten million people depending on where it hit.  But scientists have also tracked the most likely location for it to impact, suggesting the Pacific ocean would be the most likely target.  And the chances of it hitting are actually thankfully low.  The asteroid may hit in 2036, but the chances of that are constantly undergoing revision and have usually been fairly slim (the last high estimate had the possibility of an impact hovering just above one percent.)  Of course there are other asteroids we have not found yet, no doubt that may pose more of a threat.

But as we begin to study things more and more, we are increasingly sure we know what the norm is in highly complex systems.  And so when a piece of data suggests something contrary to the norm it is cited as evidence of impending doom.  But are we about to head out into a worldwide catastrophe?  Or is the real catastrophe the result of our own knowledge?