The end of the world might be closer than we previously thought.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

NASA Predicts End of World As We Know It

Do you feel fine?

As you burn fossil fuels on your morning commute and forget to toss your empty bottles in the proper bins, consider this: These days of relative luxury might be numbered. Rapid population growth, depletion of natural resources, and growing economic inequality could spell the end of civilization as we know it, according to a report led by University of Maryland professor Safa Motesharrei and funded by NASA.

Motesharrei and his colleagues tested numerous theoretical scenarios to see how our industrialized civilization might respond, and the results weren't promising. The most likely outcome goes something like this: Society breaks down as the population grows and consumes Earth's resources until they're nearly gone. That's where the growing economic divide will come into play. "Elites" and "masses" will emerge, with the elites responsible for overconsumption—but also capable of buying what little scarce resources exist. Although economic superiority might allow the elites to continue business as usual for some amount of time, their demise would eventually follow the extinction of the masses.

This might sound like science fiction—or propaganda by economic liberals—but science and history support Motesharrei's claims. The professor developed a model called HANDY (Human And Nature DYnamics) to research possible outcomes. HANDY, which is based on a predator-prey model, characterizes humans as predators and natural resources as prey. From there, diagnosing the rate of consumption is simple—and jarring, because of how far our current rate of consumption strays from equilibrium.

These findings have historical precedent as well. "The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent," Motesharrei writes in the report.

This doomsday scenario, however, is far from inevitable. "Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion," Motesharrei adds.

This scientist isn't alone. As the environmental movement grows, some of its leaders have cautioned a narrow focus on recycling and conservation, reminding people that sustainable lifestyle choices will hardly matter if there simply isn't enough food to go around due to overpopulation. One prominent academic, Alan Weisman, writes about the issue in his new book, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

Oh, and if you're counting on space travel to get you off our planet once it becomes a wasteland, remember that interstellar adventuring is still a decidedly mixed bag. Earlier this week, NASA announced plans for International Space Station astronauts to grow a garden in space for their own sustenance. But they might be too busy dealing with life-threatening risks. In a moment startlingly reminiscent of Gravity, ISS astronauts had to navigate the spacecraft half a mile off course to avoid a piece of space junk headed straight for it. NASA later determined the debris wouldn't have posed a threat, but taking care of Earth might be easier than learning to deal with these types of cosmic crises.

Whatever happens, stay calm. According to some of our favorite alt-rockers, feeling fine in the face of catastrophe is totally possible—and surprisingly tuneful.


News Resurrection Ecology OutsideOnline News

Scientists found moss shoots in a layer of permafrost from 1,500 years ago     Photo: Jacynthroode/Thinkstock

1,500-Year-Old Moss Revived

Resurrection ecology in the Arctic

Moss dating back 1,500 years, found in a layer of permafrost on Signy Island in Antarctica, has been revived. In a major feat of resurrection ecology, scientists brought the moss back to life using a lamp and an occasional misting.

"Jurassic Park was one thing, but we're talking about real animals, real plants, real organisms that have been suspended for very long lengths of time," said Lawrence J. Weider, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oklahoma, in a New York Times report. 

Resurrection ecology isn’t new to science, but the past 10 years have seen some major accomplishments. In 2012, Russian researchers found a 32,000-year-old seed in the permafrost and ultimately grew it into a flower. In January, 700-year-old flea eggs were revived, hatched, and eventually raised to adulthood. In 2007, a Rutgers University study revived 8 million-year-old bacteria that was trapped in Antarctic ice.  

With the resurrection of ancient organisms as a proven practice, a new chapter of science awaits. Reviving old organisms provides a better understanding of past ecosystems, and a present-day application could be used to reinforce endangered species.

In a 2001 Outside feature, Adam Goodheart went looking for cloneable Ice Age mammoth DNA in Siberia.


Running sport shoes     Photo: Maridav/Getty Images

Runners Still Injured in Cushy Shoes

Softer doesn't equal safer

Whether you run in soft, cushy shoes that feel like pillows tied to your feet or shoes with a harder, stiffer midsole, you're still at the same risk of injury, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers from the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory in Luxembourg hypothesized that runners training on a hard midsole had a higher risk of running-related injuries than runners logging miles in soft running shoes. They monitored 247 runners wearing 12mm-drop trainers from "a renowned sports equipment manufacturer." Some subjects wore cushioned shoes, and others wore a midsole that was 15 percent stiffer in the heel.

Five months later, researchers found that the runners who wore the cushioned shoes had just as many injuries as the group wearing the harder shoes. Soft, cushy shoes didn't even protect heavier runners, who are often told to buy shoes with extra cushioning.

"Midsole hardness of modern cushioned running shoes did not influence running-related injury risk," researchers wrote.

What were indicators of injury, according to the researcher's model, were the subject's body mass index, a history of injury, and perceived exertion rate. What seemed to protect runners from injury were a history of regular running and involvement in other sports on a weekly basis.


New History of Quidditch World Cup

From J.K. Rowling herself

Harry Potter fans, rejoice! J.K. Rowling hasn’t stopped writing about the teenage wizard’s fantasy world.  

The author recently posted a history of the Quidditch World Cup—the wizard sport played with flying broomsticks—on the website Pottermore. It’s one of the longest pieces of new writing to appear on the site.

The essay—the first of two—was added to the digital version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which can be found only on Pottermore. The piece covers the background and historical significance of the tournament as well as specific world cups, including one that took place 137 years ago in Kazakhstan. 

“Neither those in possession of tickets nor any of the players could remember a single game,” Rowling writes. “However, for reasons none of them understood, English Beater Lucas Bargeworthy was missing most of his teeth, Canadian Seeker Angelus Peel’s knees were on backwards, and half the Argentinian team were found tied up in the basement of a pub in Cardiff.”

The second part of Rowling’s history will appear on March 21. She’ll focus on recent Quidditch World Cups, including the one Harry attends in the fourth book.  

Maybe she’ll even write about the championship game Outside attended.    


International Vacations Get Greener

New eco-travel in UK and Canada

If you like seeing new places but can't stand the waste involved with the luxuries that come with your hotel—the excess linens, the not-so-earth-friendly toiletries, for example—now there's an easier way to find yourself a green place to stay.

On Wednesday, popular global-travel site TripAdvisor launched its GreenLeaders program in Canada and Europe to help travelers plan more environmentally friendly adventures, the Wall Street Journal reports. GreenLeaders launched in the United States last year.

Hotels and B&Bs that engage in green practices, such as linen and towel reuse, recycling and composting, and use of solar panels, can apply to be added to the GreenLeaders list for tree-hugging travelers to check out. The greener the hotel, the higher it appears on the list. The list will also include comments from travelers (though we hope they won’t be anything like the super-reviewers we’ve been seeing on the company’s Chinese version of the site).

“Travelers want to be ‘green’ and contribute to the conservation and preservation of the environment,” said Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity for Marriott International. “This tool will help [our customers] easily plan and book their next eco-friendly trip."