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How To Actually Survive An Apocalypse (When, You Know, All Your Disaster Movie Knowledge Inevitably Fails You)

The end is nigh (according to the movies, at least). We called in the experts and found out how our knowledge of action films would actually serve us in the event of an apocalypse...

ROBOTS GAIN SENTIENCE AND DESTROY OR ENSLAVE US

AS SEEN IN:
Terminator 2, Battlestar Galactica, The Matrix.

Robots originally built to help humanity (the word “robota” means “work” in Czech) reach a point where they are intelligent enough to turn on their creators and do so, bloodily. It’s generally left to a rag-tag group of photogenic survivors to overthrow their metallic rulers in a way that uses very human concepts like love, teamwork and one-liners.

EXPERT ADVICE:
It feels like we’re a long way off Judgement Day, but are there people-killing automatons out there? “The biggest concern for me is humans delegating decisions about killing to dumb machines,” says Professor Noel Sharkey, chairman of the International Committee for RobotArms Control (ICRAC). “Several hi-tech states including the US, UK, Israel, China and Russia are developing fully autonomous robot platforms. The Campaign To Stop Killer Robots is working hard through the UN to try to get an international legally-binding instrument to prohibit these weapons before there is an arms race that leads to the full automation of warfare and the slaughter of humans by self-governing machines.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
You can join Sharkey’s campaign at stopkillerrobots.org or simply move to a country no one would ever attack. Such as Tonga.

A HIDEOUS SUPER-DISEASE SPREADS ACROSS THE GLOBE AND KILLS EVERYONE

AS SEEN IN:
Outbreak, 28 Days Later, Planet Terror.

A mysterious, highly contagious illness spreads throughout the world faster than anyone can cure it, contain it or control it. One coughing douche in a cinema unwittingly infects everyone else, and society breaks down leaving only vigilant survivors.

EXPERT ADVICE:
With the ongoing Ebola scare, surely we're not far off a nasty-ass kind of hyper-disease, an EbolAIDS that'll kill us all in a few days, leaving only a few survivors in Bane masks? Probably not, reckons Professor Michael Malim of the Department of Infectious Diseases at King’s College, London. “An epidemic killing us all is not impossible, but it’s unlikely,” he says. “The surveillance and detection of infections, isolation of at-risk patients, transport control and global communication mean that even highly virulent infections will be brought under control quickly.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
So it’s time for the army to don sinister Hazmat suits, round up the infected and set fire to them? It’s not that simple. “Far more damaging than Ebola and SARS – both diseases whose manifestations of infection are obvious – are viruses that are more insidious, in that they take many years to manifest,” says the professor. “When people don’t know they’re infected, the infection is passed on unknowingly.” So we’re doomed? “No. Just wear a flu mask.” Ideally everyone wouldfollow this sensible advice, but wedon't live in an ideal world, as evidenced when an epidemic called ‘Corrupted Blood’ broke out in the online role-playing game, World Of Warcraft. Long story short – nobody was sensible and the digital disease ravaged the world.

THE RAPTURE COMES AND THE UNWORTHY ARE LEFT BEHIND

AS SEEN IN:
This Is The End,Left Behind.

Jesus decides one day to take the righteous people of Earth up to Heaven with him and leave the unworthy ones behind (Old Testament, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

EXPERT ADVICE:
There are certain problems you don’t want to talk to men of the cloth about and some that only a man of God will hold the answers to. “The Rapture is a response to various human fears,” says Reverend Ray Andrews. “The fear of death and of not being in control. Being on the right side is appealing. Most of us are human messes of good and ‘bad’. But if we believe that only the perfect are raptured, we either become intolerably self-righteous or live with the burden of being imperfect.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
In the movies, everyone manages to redeem themselves by being good. If the Rapture was imminent, would chucking a few quid in a charity box help? Father Ray doesn’t think so. “What can you do when the Rapture comes?” he asks. “Crack open a good wine, put on your favourite album and hope that Jesus saw your best bits.”

EVERYONE NUKES EVERYONE

AS SEEN IN:
Dr Strangelove, Mad Max, The Book of Eli.

Arrogant global superpowers get involved in a dick-swinging contest of one-upmanship that leads to a giant nuclear war. Millions die, those who don’t are mutated.

EXPERT ADVICE:
Is there anyone right now aiming a massive nuclear weapon at the FHM offices, and if so, who? “The only potential aggressor against the UK with nuclear weapons would be Russia,” says Dr Peter Gray, director of the Centre for War Studies at the University of Birmingham. “The chances of these weapons falling into rogue hands are pretty small, and if relations with Russia reached the point where they were prepared to use weapons, we’d know about it.” Dr Gray sees dirty bombs, where radioactive material is put into an ordinary explosive mix, as more likely. “The technology involved in putting a genuine nuclear weapon together is complex, but a radiological dirty bomb represents a threat as the materials are readily available. I’d say there was a 70% chance of one being used in the next 10 or 20 years.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
“The standard NATO response during the Cold War was that in the event of a nuclear attack, curl up under a table and kiss your arse goodbye,” says Dr Gray. “Unless you’ve got access to really deep bunker facilities, you’re stuffed.” There’s a Tube station near the office – we’d be safe as houses down there, right? “Nope,” says Dr Gray. “The fireball would remove all the oxygen from the surrounding areas and you’d instantly suffocate.” Could we just hop on a train and get out of town? “Depends on the scale of the attack – if it was a small one, getting out the city would help. If it was a full scale armageddon, where the fabric of civilisation would be destroyed, it’s not survivable.” Great. Have a nice afternoon, Dr Gray, you’ve ruined ours.

WE RUIN EVERYTHING BY CHANGING OUR CLIMATE

AS SEEN IN:
Waterworld, The Hunger Games, Avatar.

Burning fossil fuels leads to global warming, which leads to melting polar ice caps, which leads to rising sea levels, a messed up world and Kevin Costner drinking his own piss (well, in Waterworld at least).

AN EXPERT SAYS:
So it turns out this isn't that far-fetched at all. Professor Bill McGuire says, “The latest research suggests that if we burn all fossil fuels – and given current trends, there is no reason to think we won’t – the planet's average temperature will climb from around 14°C to 30°C. A December day in the UK would perhaps be 38°C.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
What about building a little survivalist boat and sailing the seven seas, scavenging and experiencing high adventure? “No,” says McGuire. “The planet will be uninhabitable by humans. Daytime temperatures while sailing in your boat could reach 60–70°C or more. Sea levels would rise by up to 70 metres. That is an extinction-level event.” So are we screwed? Not quite. Get your arse to Nuuk. “The 'safest' places would be at high latitudes and high elevations – like Greenland,” says McGuire. “Such regions could only, however, support a tiny fraction of the current global population.” Last one to Greenland’s a rotting corpse!

A CATACLYSMIC EVENT PLUNGES US INTO A NEW ICE AGE

AS SEEN IN:
Snowpiercer, The Day After Tomorrow, Sunshine.

Various scenarios both natural and artificial, send the Earth into a sub-zero existence of shivery misery. It’s like Narnia but without any of the fun beavers, valiant lions or delicious Turkish delight.

EXPERT ADVICE:
Are we going wake up one day freezing our balls off? Like, literally so cold that all of our balls just fall off? “We are due a new ice age in the next few thousand years,” says Professor Bill McGuire, author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanoes. “One thing that could happen is that a volcanic super-eruption results in a global freeze that may lead to a failure of the global harvest for a year or two. The freeze that follows super eruptions results from the huge volumes of sulphur gases pumped into the stratosphere. These absorb and reflect incoming solar radiation, thereby cooling the Earth. With countries like the UK only having about a month's worth of food at any one time – in shops, warehouses etc – it would soon be a free-for-all. Ironically, global warming increases the chances of such an eruption occurring.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
Ignore the Met Office’s advice about properly insulating your home. No amount of fibreglass is going to keep the marauding, starving hordes of raiders out of your Weetabix. The professor’s advice? “The best practical advice I could offer would be to get a gun, learn how to use it, band together, commandeer an un-looted supermarket and stay there,” he says. You heard the prof: time to tool the fuck up.

ALIENS INVADE AND DESTROY/ENSLAVE US

AS SEEN IN:
War Of The Worlds, The X-Files, Independence Day.

Some form of extraterrestrial life rocks up on Earth. It hasn’t come in peace and starts blowing shit up with lasers, enslaving people and performing bum-bum probes.

EXPERT ADVICE:
Nobody knows more about this kind of stuff than Fox Mulder out of The X-Files who, despite being fictional, occasionally dealt with the very real Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), the world’s leading extraterrestrial research group. “It’s always good to hear that someone is taking this subject seriously,” says Chris Munns, UK director of MUFON (we didn’t use the phrase “bum-bum probes” when we spoke to him). “However, as a scientific organisation, I don’t feel we would want to suggest ideas of what extraterrestrial life might be like, should it even exist at all.” See, that sounds exactly like what someone under alien mind-control would say…

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
Apparently they’re already here. Avoid any fuss by cheerfully offering yourself up for probing at the earliest opportunity.

A GIANT ASTEROID WALLOPS THE SHIT OUT OF US

AS SEEN IN:
Armageddon, Deep Impact.

Big asteroids slam into the Earth, either completely destroying it or ravaging life through a combination of earthquakes, tsunamis and dust clouds. They’ve hit Earth before – that’s why so few of us have surnames ending in “-saurus”.

EXPERT ADVICE:
Dr Francisco Diego, senior research fellow at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London, says, “It would take an object the size of the moon to completely destroy the Earth, but the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and 70% of all life 65 million years ago was only 10km wide. A similar impact would destroy the top of the tree of life, including ourselves.”

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHANCES?
What if – get this – we’re just a long way away from where the asteroid hits? “That won’t help,” says astronomer Mark Duwe. “If something larger than 1km hit, it wouldn't matter where you were. You'd either die in the initial explosion or die off due to cold or lack of food. You'd last longest on the other side of the planet, but the resulting climate catastrophe would kill you eventually. Debris thrown into the atmosphere would cause a nuclear winter; temperatures would drop globally, sunlight wouldn't get to the surface and most life would die out.” Okay, but we could drill a hole in the asteroid, put a bomb in and rejoice? “Blowing up an asteroid only multiplies the number of collisions,” says Dr Diego. “Fragments would still be large and catastrophic. Orbital deflection is the safest option.” One potential way to do this is to ‘park’ small drones on the asteroid (with a few decades notice ideally) with ion engines on them – they’d produce a tiny amount of thrust that, over time, could slightly divert the asteroid’s trajectory so it would miss us.
 
ILLUSTRATIONS: TOM ASHTON-BOOTH
Photography: AGATA PEC
WORDS: MIKE RAMPTON