End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World by Bryan Walsh

End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World by Bryan Walsh


Author:Bryan Walsh [Walsh, Bryan]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Science, Global Warming & Climate Change, Nature, Natural Disasters, Biotechnology, History, Physics, Nuclear, Earthquakes & Volcanoes, Earth Sciences, Geology
ISBN: 9780316449601
Google: 2DFzDwAAQBAJ
Publisher: Hachette Books
Published: 2019-08-27T05:00:00+00:00


Twenty-First-Century Plague

The existential threats I’ve covered in this book are either historical or theoretical. I haven’t lived through an asteroid strike or a supereruption or a full-scale nuclear war—nor has any other human being—and the full shape of risk to come from new technologies like synthetic biology or artificial intelligence is unknowable. But there is one existential threat that I’ve encountered face-to-face: infectious disease. And that encounter is how I came to a moment, sitting on the sofa in a borrowed studio apartment in Hong Kong, when the thought occurred to me: I might die. We all might die.

It was March 2003, and I was in my second year working as a reporter for Time Asia magazine, in my second year out of college. The world was new to me—I had barely traveled outside the United States before I boarded a plane in July 2001 that brought me, two stops and some twenty-four hours later, to this densely populated, vertiginous city of 6.7 million people crammed on the southeastern corner of China. I was lonely and homesick at first, wrung out by the crowds that clung as closely as the heat and the humidity. I spent my first month living in a hostel largely populated by migrant workers from mainland China, and I went to sleep listening to the screams of monkeys in the zoo across the street. But Hong Kong has a way of getting under your skin, and by the spring of 2003 I’d begun to find my place there. I’d even managed to carve out an identity as a journalist, writing about science.

In the spring of 2003, however, there was one story and one story alone dominating the news: the impending invasion of Iraq. Or at least that was the case for other journalists. Time Asia was the regional edition of Time magazine, and while the map said that Iraq was part of Asia, what mattered to us in Hong Kong were the boundaries drawn by Time’s top editors back in New York, which mandated that Time Asia’s remit ran only as far west as Afghanistan. That spring the pages of our magazine—usually a mix of original articles about Asia that we produced and pieces pulled from the U.S. Time—were full of stories about the preparation for fighting in the Middle East. That left those of us in Hong Kong with not a lot to do. And that may be why we were so eager to pounce on reports of an unexplained respiratory illness that was spreading in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong.

I’d been in Hong Kong for less than two years, but I already knew what unchecked infectious disease could do to this crowded city, where the densest neighborhoods stuffed more than 35,000 people into a square mile. In a park down the street from my apartment there was a plaque1 memorializing the last great outbreak of bubonic plague in Hong Kong in 1894, one that killed more than 100,000 people2—greater than 10 percent of the city’s population at the time.


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