Slate magazine ran a fascinating article last week in which Josh Levin surveyed ever prediction of how America could fall, emulating a study done decades ago on all the reasons offered for the fall of Rome. That study found 210 scenarios. Levin gathered 144 for the fall of America. Below are all the geo-related potential causes. Slate is inviting readers to "Choose Your Own Apocalypse." [right, Hurricane Isabel, 2003. Credit, MODIS, NASA]
13. Peak Oil: Petroleum production reaches terminal decline.
14. Peak Water: The overpopulated, overheated Southwest runs out of H20.
16. Space Harvesting: China, Russia, and South Korea corral asteroids and harvest them for valuable minerals.
17. Oil 2.0: China, which produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earth metals (materials like europium and erbium), develops a major, rare-earth-fueled breakthrough in energy production. The United States, lacking the natural resources needed for this amazing new power source, becomes impoverished and insignificant.
19. Geothermal Energy: In the post-petroleum age, we generate electricity by drilling into the Earth's interior to extract stored heat; we drill too deeply, causing massive earthquakes.
20. Nuclear Waste: Yucca Mountain and other nuclear storage facilities begin to leak radioactive waste. Everyone gets cancer.
26. Math and Science: American math and science aptitude deteriorates, killing innovation in the tech sector and pushing America to the back of the line of post-industrial economies.
27. Intelligent Design: Creationists succeed in getting evolution pushed out of textbooks. Scientific illiteracy dooms America to second-class status.
52. Asteroid: NASA's Near Earth Object Program reports there's a less than 1-in-45,000 chance the asteroid Apophis will smash into Earth on April 13, 2036. And there's no guarantee we'll be crater-free if we dodge this particular space rock. Duck!
53. Supervolcano: The last volcanic "super-eruption" near Yellowstone happened 640,000 years ago. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that "[t]hick ash deposits would bury vast areas of the United States."
54. Hurricanes: Six of the 11 most-intense Atlantic hurricanes have come since 1998.
55. New Madrid Earthquake: An earthquake of 8.0 magnitude or higher has a 7 percent to 10 percent chance of cracking up the New Madrid Seismic Zone—a region that covers parts of Missouri, Illinois, and three other states—in the next 50 years.
56. Floods: As temperatures rise, more of the country is at risk of massive, regular flooding.
104. Megadrought: If the world gets one degree warmer, the Great Plains are at risk of turning into an expanse of sand dunes. Bad news for American agriculture (and everyone who lives in Nebraska).
105. Climate Migration: Refugees from Mexico, the Southwest, and coastal cities flee the devastation wrought by climate change, overwhelming the American cities that remain healthy.
107. Climate Wars: Individual countries or "climate pirates" conduct experiments to try to halt global warming. War breaks out over uncertainty regarding the cause of freak weather events.
108. Geoengineering: A non-American nation or group of nations succeeds in using technology to turn off climate change. The United States loses power and prestige.
112. Ice Age: As in The Day After Tomorrow, circulation of water in the North Atlantic slows down, bringing on a new ice age. The northern United States gets buried under a glacier.
113. Rising Sea Levels: As Miami, New Orleans, and the California coast disappear, migrants swarm to the center of the country and overwhelm the nation's dwindling resources.
114. Heat Shock: In hotter growing seasons, staple crops succumb to withering temperatures, imperiling the national food supply.
115. Ocean Acidification: Increased absorption of carbon dioxide causes the pH of the oceans to decrease continually, leading to mass extinctions.