From Josh Levin and Chris Wilson at Slate.com:
For the last week, I've considered many possible scenarios for America's downfall: the rise of a climate strongman, the emergence of a transnational class of superhumans, secession by the country's leading maple syrup producer, and others. At the same time, the Slate hive mind has been cranking away, analyzing the likelihood of various end-of-America scenarios with our "Choose Your Own Apocalypse" interactive feature.
Your task was simple: Browse through a list of 144 potential apocalypses and choose up to five that seem most likely to wipe the United States off the map. As of Wednesday night, 60,020 readers had submitted their visions of the end of America. Many of those participants came from outside the U.S.—a healthy 15 percent of the people who viewed the feature came via this Russian site. Our 60,000 "Choose Your Own Apocalypse" submissions included votes for 255,496 individual scenarios. We've tallied the ballots and analyzed the data. Out of the 144 scenarios in the apocalypse grid, here are the five you believe are the biggest threat to America's continued existence:
The most popular scenario—"Loose Nukes," chosen by 10.5 percent of Slate readers—combines modern and old-fashioned anxieties. "Taliban fighters wrest nuclear weapons from a destabilized Pakistan.
Or al-Qaida acquires a small arsenal of nukes from a disintegrating Russia," the scenario description embedded in "Choose Your Own Apocalypse" reads. "The nonstate actors launch against the United States in an attack exponentially worse than 9/11." The presence of terrorists at the top of the charts indicates that we're still smarting from al-Qaida's 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon—perhaps the most recent event that raised momentary doubts about the country's continued existence. The fact that we envision those terrorists hitting us with nukes indicates that we have the same fears as the World War II generation. In the last 65 years, nothing has come along to supplant the scariness of a mushroom cloud.
While "Israel-Arab War" (picked by 7.6 percent of users) represents another worry that's generations old, the "Peak Oil" (9.3 percent) and "China Unloads U.S. Treasurys" (8.2 percent) scenarios are new apocalyptic visions. Peak Oil—"Petroleum production reaches terminal decline.
Oil becomes too expensive to extract, and alternative energies can't maintain our fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyle"—is the hobbyhorse of widely read collapsists James Howard Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov. It's the scenario of choice for the modern doomsayer who thinks Western civilization has industrialized its way to destruction. Fears of an economic collapse triggered by China pulling out from the American economy are a symptom of both our worries over the current economic crisis and anxiety over America's place in the world.
The scenario I'm most surprised to see in the top five is . . . (continue reading)