What if?

On the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were on an official visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As they traveled and inspected the land, Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Serbian nationalist, shot the royal couple at point-blank range, killing them instantly.

What followed was one of the most terrifying months in human history. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination and vowed to retaliate. But then Russia stepped in to protect Serbia, and then Germany stepped in to help Austria.

And on the 28th of July, 1914, exactly one month after Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were murdered, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and so began one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, what we now refer to as the First World War.

The war lasted four years, and by the time it ended in 1918, 16 million people were dead, 21 million others severely injured, and the world had changed forever. We all collectively understood how quickly society can crumble. How low we can get as humans, and how barbaric we all are under the shadow of morality. We learned that everyone is a killer, all you have to do is push them to the limit. 

However, when you sit down and really think about it, you can’t help but wonder, what if? What if Gavrilo Princip’s gun misfired? What if the Archduke was able to escape before the Serbian nationalist could find him? What if there was no World War 1?

On the 11th of November 1918, Germany surrendered. And on the 28th of June, exactly 5 years after the murder of the Archduke, Germany and the Allied Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles. That was the formal end of the war. 

But because Germany had lost the war, the treaty was very harsh against them. It forced the European powerhouse to crumble to its knees. They were forced to pay reparations so expensive it left their economy in ruins. Germans were starving and their government was thrown into chaos.

But in the year 1934, a “hero” rose from amongst them. A man who promised to rescue the sinking ship that had become their economy, to give their government a sense of stability, and to make them a force to be reckoned with once again. His name, Adolf Hitler. Just 5 years after he rose into power, Hitler invaded Poland from the west. And two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany, starting World War II. 

Because the results of World War 1 and the harsh treatment of Germany by the Treaty of Versailles caused World War 2, it’s safe to say that if there was no World War 1, there would have been no World War 2. Obviously.

But sadly, there was. And the results of the second war far outweighed the first. In just 6 years, 60-80 million people were killed, around 3% of the world’s population at the time. 

Without such a devastating number of deaths, European Nations at the time would have had more resources to build their economy. Germany would have become an economic, scientific, and cultural powerhouse. Perhaps the world would have been speaking German, and not English.

The war was certainly terrible, but as the saying goes, “out of the ashes rises the phoenix,” it did bring with it some good. If there was no World War, we wouldn’t have had nuclear weapons today. But we also wouldn’t have had computers, or even the internet. You might not have been able to hear me at this moment. Or certainly not this soon in humanity’s timeline. 

Because in truth, military spending and the quest for a greater arsenal than rival nations is what drove a lot of technological advancements.

If the military didn’t need planes to travel faster, safe airline travel would have taken several more decades than it did. If soldiers didn’t need antibiotics to treat their infections, perhaps research and testing would have taken much longer too.

Most of the medical procedures we take for granted today were created out of a need during the world wars. Blood transfusions and storing, artificial limbs, facial reconstruction and plastic surgery, all advanced greatly because the soldiers at the time lost a lot of blood, limbs, and came home with disfigured faces that needed reconstruction. 

Perhaps the people that would be most affected if the world war never happened are marginalized communities, especially in the United States. Before 1945, the United States was incredibly backwards and racist, compared to the rest of the world. It still kinda is today, but, let’s not go there. 

Because it was more isolated and preferred to remain that way for a time, the United States was less tolerant about the rights of people of color, Jews, women, and every other marginalized community. If there wasn’t a world war, we would have never had President John F. Kennedy, or even President Barack Obama.

If the war didn’t happen, women might not have been as prevalent in the workforce today. Because if the men didn’t go to war, the women wouldn’t have had to fill in at the workplace for them. After the war ended, women who now loved their jobs didn’t want to be confined to their homes anymore. And many others whose husbands had died in the battlefield, now had to provide for their families themselves. And thus activism for women’s rights to work, vote, and be given equal opportunities started.

On the 6th of August, 1945, at the tail-end of the second world war, America dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 80,000 people were killed instantly, with numbers rising to over 100,000 when you add the number of people who died of exposure to the radiation generated by the bomb. When Japan failed to surrender, just two days later, the US dropped another bomb on Nagasaki, killing 40,000 people instantly. Japan had no choice but to immediately surrender. 

It’s scary to think about how deadly a weapon made over a hundred years ago is. With how incredibly fast-paced advancements in technology have been over the past decades, it’s scary to think of what the future holds for us as a civilization. 

And speaking of all this war, what if world war 3 starts tomorrow? But instead of fighter jets and ground soldiers, countries fight with nuclear weapons?

There are currently around 14,000 nuclear warheads in the world today. If just 100 are dropped, less than one percent that exists, over 20 million people will die in an instant. 

The world will be rocked, but honestly, not too rocked. That’s just 0.04% of our population, after all. However, the aftermath is what we should fear the most, nuclear winter. 

In just 49 days, 11 billion pounds of smoke caused by the explosions would rise and fill our stratosphere. Soot will completely block sunlight in most parts of the world and create a permanent overcast. 

There will be a 10% decrease in rainfall globally, and global temperatures would drop by 1.25 degrees Celsius. The smoke will absorb all the sunlight and heat it up further causing Nitrogen to rise, effectively destroying the ozone layer. We’ll be fully exposed to UV Radiation, and it’s not just sun burns. Livestock won’t survive, crops won’t grow, no more fresh food. Once everything that’s canned finishes, 1 billion people will die of starvation. 1 billion humans, gone. 

You might think humanity has evolved and world war 3 is not a threat anymore, but that is sadly not true. On the 3rd of January, 2020, Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian leader’s second in command, was killed in an airstrike ordered by former US President, Donald Trump. 

Ayatollah Khomeinei, Iran’s leader said that Iran was going to retaliate and have a “harsh vengeance.” Trump, being Trump, replied back saying, “Iran never won a war.” 

We can only hope they don’t try to prove him wrong.

Humanity is currently at war. A war that has over 219 million casualties and caused over 4 and a half million deaths. Humanity is at war with COVID. What began as “just another virus” in 2019, has ravaged the entire world population for two years now with no signs of slowing down.

With society as we once knew it completely changed forever, the scary question we might start having to ask one another is - what if COVID never goes away?

The truth is, this is most likely going to be the case. Humanity has only been able to eradicate two diseases completely, smallpox and rinderpest virus. The rest, we still live with, maybe just not as powerful as they once were. And with most people still unvaccinated and new variants more contagious than the last popping up, we just might have to say hello to the new normal.

In 1889, a coronavirus caused a two-year pandemic. It killed one million people all across the world, in a time when there were only 1.5 billion people in the world, and the world wasn’t nearly as mobile. 

More than a hundred years since that pandemic, and the coronavirus that once ravaged the Earth now only causes a harmless cold for kids. This is most likely what’s also going to happen with COVID. As adults become more immune, the risk of infection will continue to shift to children, until finally, it’s only affecting infants, and barely so. 

In 10 years from now, as you hold your baby who has a runny nose and a fever, the memory of 2020 might be just a fading whisper in your mind. But as the nurse walks in with the baby’s diagnosis, they’ll say to you with warmth in their eyes, “it’s COVID-19, but don’t panic. It’s not going to be as bad as 2020.”

The world is coming to an end. This isn’t a religious outcry to change your ways and become morally upright, it’s simply a fact. The world is 1 degree Celsius hotter than it was between 1850 and 1900, and we’re headed for further destruction. 

And this end is near. If you’re younger than 30, you are potentially going to experience the radical destabilization of life on earth in your lifetime. There will be gargantuan crop failures, economies in ruin, great floods, apocalyptic fires. Hundreds of millions of people will have to run away from their homes because of permanent drought or extreme heat that will make life unbearable. It might not happen to us all, or all at the same time, but you will read about it, you will hear about it, you will live through it, as the world burns. 

To try and prevent doomsday from happening, the world, or at least some of it, is demanding a change. Activism for climate change has been around since the early 1990s. However, we’re more than 3 decades in and not much has been done about it. In the last 3 decades alone, we have produced more carbon emissions than the last two centuries combined. 

And at this point, we have to stop the unrealistic hope and ask ourselves the real question - what if we can never save the planet?

Everyday we see phrases like “let’s save the planet.” Politicians use this propaganda to convince us of their goodwill for humanity, but the reality is that we have gone past the point of salvation. 

Scientists believe that if we can bring carbon emissions to near zero in the next thirty years, theoretically, we might be able to save the planet. But that’s just theoretically. With how unpredictable Earth’s climate is, and how unpredictable humans are, those calculations might be way off.

But let’s say the calculations are right. Do we really think that in just thirty years all countries of the world, all the different leaders, governments, and global businesses will collectively agree to change their entire economy and energy consumption? If history is anything to go by, the answer is no. 

So what if we can never save the planet? Once global temperatures increase by just 2 degrees Celsius, a number we are rapidly heading to, 18% of insects, 16% of plants, and 8% of all vertebrates will be homeless. Their habitats will no longer be hospitable, and those who cannot adapt will die. 

Around 820 million people already don’t have enough to eat, and about 1.6 billion people live in poor shelter. When sea levels rise and crops die, those numbers will increase drastically. 

Faced with this harsh reality, there are two ways you can think about it. You can either keep believing there is still hope for us and get sad and frustrated by the world’s silence on the issue, or you can simply accept the fact that the end may be near, and enjoy what little time we have left.

Is it impossible to save ourselves? Absolutely not. But as each day goes by, that’s one more day closer to the point of no return. As each day goes by, our mission gets harder and harder. One step forward, two steps back.

Because the truth is, we can’t save the planet, we can only postpone its inevitable demise. If we save it now, the universe will only take its toll on it later on. Some things aren’t meant to be saved forever.

So let’s stop asking what if? Because the past is a memory, the future is only a figment of our imagination. All we have is the present. What we’ve been given. And all we can do is make the best of it.

- EE, MM