Are you doomed? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to consult a colour-coded chart. Take, for example, the Torino Scale, which astronomers use to express the likelihood of an asteroid hitting the Earth. Asteroid impacts are believed to be responsible for several mass extinctions – just ask the dinosaurs (oh wait, you can’t) – and it’s only a matter of time until another killer rock gets lucky. So check the Torino Scale regularly and act accordingly.
Threat Level: Green
No likelihood of collision with Earth.
Threat Level: Yellow
Collision with Earth is possible, but unlikely.
There’s really no cause for concern at this point. The designation of an asteroid as a Yellow Threat will result in several CGI-filled specials on the Discovery Channel, sequels to lame killer asteroid movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, and heavy airplay of R.E.M.’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), but that’s about it. Attention will shift away as soon as some washed-up celebrity drops dead.
Threat Level: Orange
Collision with Earth is likely, but uncertain.
Now things are getting interesting. The designation of an asteroid as an Orange Threat will cause widespread panic. Frightened mobs will attack astronomers in the streets and burn observatories to the ground. When that doesn’t work, they’ll arm themselves and fire wildly into the sky, killing scores of innocent hot air balloonists. Whether the asteroid hits us or not, the world will lose much of its joie de vivre.
Threat Level: Red
Collision with Earth is certain. Destruction is likely to be local. Loss of life: 0-100,000.
The effects will vary, but at their worst, they’ll resemble the effects of a large nuclear explosion. On land, impact will flatten several square kilometres. At sea, impact will cause a minor tsunami.
Once the impact point is identified, there’ll be a mad scramble as people flee. In the United States, FEMA will try to coordinate an orderly evacuation, but will accidentally bus thousands of innocent black people into the danger zone rather than out of it, then fine them for entering a restricted area. The price of gas along the evacuation route will shoot up to $30 per litre and stay there.
Afterwards, emergency response will be able to assist survivors.
Threat Level: Double Red
Collision with Earth is certain. Destruction is likely to be widespread. Loss of life: 100,000-100,000,000.
The effects will be catastrophic. On land, impact will flatten several hundred square kilometres and send enough dust into the atmosphere to affect global weather patterns for years to come. At sea, impact will cause a major tsunami.
Local governments, unable to cope, will collapse. Fundamentalist Christians, raised on a steady diet of Left Behind books and direct-to-DVD movies, will arm themselves and take to the streets, determined to cleanse the world of unbelievers. In all likelihood, canned goods will replace paper money as the only acceptable currency.
Afterwards, emergency response will be overwhelmed, and many survivors will have to wait for a large, Live Aid-like charity event for meaningful assistance.
Threat Level: Triple Red
Collision with Earth is certain. Destruction is likely to threaten the future of civilization. Loss of life: 100,000,000+.
The effects will be apocalyptic, like something out of a submission to Asimov’s Science Fiction written by an angry, lovelorn video store clerk who goes to Star Trek conventions dressed as a Borg. On land, impact will flatten several thousand square kilometres and send enough dust into the atmosphere to affect global weather patterns for generations to come. At sea, impact will cause a tsunami of unprecedented proportions. In either case, large areas will be unrecognizable afterwards.
National governments, unable to cope, will collapse. People will be left without food, medicine, or fuel, and will quickly be reduced to bare survival. Many will resort to cannibalism, and those who don’t will be too weak to resist those who do. Places where cannibalism is already widely-practiced – New Guinea, parts of Africa, and the Netherlands, to name a few – will fare best. Big hair and shoulder pads will make an unexpected comeback.
Emergency response will be incapacitated for the foreseeable future.
Threat Level: Brown
A critical hit. Destruction is likely to be total. Anyone who survives the initial impact will die soon thereafter.
Scenarios vary, but leading scientists believe that the most likely outcome of such an impact is a bank shot that knocks the Earth into the moon, which cracks open and releases millions of blood-sucking space bats that envelop the Earth and feed on the living and the dead alike, until the Earth careens into the sun, catches fire, and finally explodes.
In all likelihood, the last trace of our species will be radio waves, disappearing into the vastness of deep space, carrying humanity’s final message to the universe in Michael Stipe’s irritating nasal drone: “…and I feel fi-i-i-i-ine…”.