What I learned about outbreaks from surviving a pandemic

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Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

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At the end of March 2003, I was sitting on the sofa of a borrowed studio apartment in Hong Kong, wondering if I was going to die.

It was the spring of SARS. The outbreak, which had originated in late 2002 across the border in the neighboring Chinese province of Guangdong, had been growing throughout the month. In Hong Kong, where I had been working as a reporter for TIME magazine for nearly two years, there had been a burst of cases at one of the city’s main hospitals. There were smaller outbreaks in cities like Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, and Toronto. By the middle of the month, the World Health Organization (WHO) had issued a heightened global health alert over the respiratory illness, which didn’t yet have an official name. Worst of all, on March 30 an explosive outbreak in Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens apartment complex sickened more than 200 people and fueled fears that the SARS virus — which up until then had mostly spread in health care settings — was now active in the community. And if the SARS virus could spread easily in public through the air like the flu, what could stop it? …


More than a quarter think alien societies would resemble human ones — but they’re wrong about UFO visitations

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Image: KTSDesign/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Even scientists who are actively involved in the search for alien life in the cosmos don’t like to speculate about exactly what they might found out there, as Medium editor-at-large Steve LeVine discovered when he wrote an in-depth feature on the subject for OneZero. A little too sci-fi, and not quite scientific enough, even as researchers discover ever more exoplanets — planets located beyond our Solar System, including those that might just be habitable to life.

But Americans as a whole feel differently. According to an exclusive survey of over 1,000 adults carried out by Ipsos for OneZero, a majority of Americans — 57 percent — believe there is intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy. More than a quarter believe that those alien societies, if they exist, would resemble ours — a conclusion that some of the experts LeVine spoke agree with, on the grounds that same geological and evolutionary forces that drive the development of intelligent life on Earth would operate elsewhere. …


We need to change how our economy is powered — and that will require politics

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On December 11, two things happened that caught the attention of those invested in the fight against climate change, which at this point should include all of us. TIME magazine named 16-year-old Greta Thunberg its 2019 person of the year, lauding her for “creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change.” And, Saudi Aramco — Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company and the largest producer of crude oil in the world — had the biggest initial public offering on record, raising more than $25 billion and ending its first day of trading with a valuation of $1.88 …


Climate change plays a role, but the power outages are chiefly the result of mismanagement — the kind we can no longer afford

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Photo: Josh Edelson/Getty Images

The millions of people currently affected by power outages in Central and Northern California are struggling with inconvenience and worse, but at least they can take comfort in the fact that they’re not alone. In 2017, the last year with concrete data, 36.7 million Americans were affected by power outages that lasted on average for a little less than eight hours.

These blackouts were caused by hurricanes and snowstorms, floods and severe winds. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands suffered the longest-ever blackout in U.S. history following Hurricane Maria in 2017. By one estimate, blackouts cost Americans $150 billion a year and can directly lead to injuries and even deaths. And they’re getting worse. …


End Times

As the clock ticks toward the end times, it’s easy to lose faith in humanity’s ability to endure. But we can’t give up.

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Illustration: Jon Han

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. This is the last in a series of essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s new book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for order now. We’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

On January 24, 2019, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — a journal that has tracked the threat of human-made apocalypse since the dawn of the nuclear age — announced the new setting of its Doomsday Clock. It was two minutes to midnight — the same as the year before, tied for the latest since the Clock began keeping time. In keeping the Clock unchanged, the Bulletin made the only decision it could. …


END TIMES

In an effort to speed up the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, some researchers are sending messages into the cosmos. We may not like the answer.

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Illustration: Jon Han

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. For the next two weeks, OneZero will be featuring essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s forthcoming book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for pre-order now, as well as pieces by other experts in the burgeoning field of existential risk. But we’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — is passive by nature, a human ear cocked towards space. The hope is that there are extraterrestrial intelligences out there trying to message us, and we just need to be ready with our radio telescopes to hear, ready for that moment of contact. …


End Times

The development of artificial general intelligence offers tremendous benefits and terrible risks

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Illustration: Jon Han

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. For the next two weeks, OneZero will be featuring essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s forthcoming book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for pre-order now, as well as pieces by other experts in the burgeoning field of existential risk. But we’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

There is no easy definition for artificial intelligence, or A.I. Scientists can’t agree on what constitutes “true A.I.” versus what might simply be a very effective and fast computer program. But here’s a shot: intelligence is the ability to perceive one’s environment accurately and take actions that maximize the probability of achieving given objectives. It doesn’t mean being smart, in a sense of having a great store of knowledge, or the ability to do complex mathematics. …


End Times

New technologies like gene editing could vastly improve human life. They also just might end it.

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Credit: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/DigitalVision/Getty

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. For the next two weeks, OneZero will be featuring essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s forthcoming book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for pre-order now, as well as pieces by other experts in the burgeoning field of existential risk. But we’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

In the darkened ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., some of the finest minds in government are debating how to stop the end of the world. They’re here to take part in a daylong tabletop exercise put on by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, an academic nonprofit focused on biosecurity. The participants — which include former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Dr. Julie Gerberding, who headed the CDC during the George W. Bush administration — are playacting the role of presidential advisers convened to respond to a fictional outbreak of a new virus. …


End Times

Species are going extinct and the climate is warming rapidly — yet at least materially, humans are doing better than ever. Welcome to the environmentalist’s paradox.

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Photo: Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. For the next two weeks, OneZero will be featuring essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s forthcoming book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for pre-order now, as well as pieces by other experts in the burgeoning field of existential risk. But we’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

That the natural world is degraded from what it once was is indisputable. If Christopher Columbus were to arrive in the Americas today aboard his Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, he would find 30% less biodiversity than in 1492. The global population of vertebrates has declined by 52% between 1970 and 2010. The current extinction rate is 100 to 1,000 times higher than it has been during normal — meaning non-mass extinction — periods in biological history, with amphibians going extinct 45,000 times faster than the norm. One point eight trillion pieces of plastic trash, weighing 79,000 tons, now occupies an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean — and this Great Pacific Garbage Patch is expected to grow 22% by 2025. And of course, there is the climate change that has happened — about 1.6 F in warming since 1901 — and the climate change that is to come. …


End Times

Seventy-four years after the end of World War II, we’re still living with the existential risk of nuclear holocaust — and it all began on a patch of desert called the Trinity Site

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Credit: Historical / Contributor/Getty Images

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear war, climate change, engineered viruses, artificial intelligence, and even aliens — the end may be closer than you think. For the next two weeks, OneZero will be featuring essays drawn from editor Bryan Walsh’s forthcoming book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, which hits shelves on August 27 and is available for pre-order now, as well as pieces by other experts in the burgeoning field of existential risk. But we’re not helpless. It’s up to us to postpone the apocalypse.

The chief asset of a missile range is its emptiness. At maximum size — its dimensions shrink and grow like a shadow depending on what its owners the U.S. Army is testing on a given day — the White Sands Missile Range in central New Mexico covers about as much land as the state of Connecticut. Nearly all of it is vacant, devoid of buildings or roads or even the few animals that live in the flat, dry scrub the Spanish called the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of Death. It’s a name that seems almost too perfect, like that of the Sierra Oscura, the Dark Mountain, which loomed to the east as I drove up on an April morning to Stallion Gate, the northern entrance to the missile range and the one closest to Trinity Site. …

About

Bryan Walsh

Journalist, author, dad. Former TIME magazine editor and foreign correspondent. Author of END TIMES, a book about existential risk and the end of the world.

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