Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” –  is a contributor to WRAL TechWire.  He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” Brain has written several posts recently about the threat of climate change. His exclusive columns written for TechWire are published on Fridays. 

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Back in January of this year we explored the 2023 version of the Doomsday Bingo Card. The card looks like this:

Illustration compliments of Marshall Brain

We discussed each of the squares on this Bingo Card in this comprehensive article:

Let’s play Doomsday Bingo: 24 deadly scenarios to track – will world lose? https://wraltechwire.com/2023/04/28/lets-play-doomsday-bingo-24-deadly-scenarios-to-track-will-world-lose/

As we approach the end of 2023, let’s evaluate what has happened during the year. How many of these squares can we mark? Do we have five in a row so that we score a BINGO? Let’s review…

1. and 2. The Nuclear Threat

Thankfully we do not get to mark squares 1 or 2. No one detonated a nuclear bomb on a battlefield, no terrorist organization detonated a suitcase nuclear bomb in a city, no dirty bombs were detonated, and so on. But the world has moved closer to a nuclear explosion in 2023 as we can see in these headlines:

As the world builds and tests more and more nuclear weapons, humanity moves closer and closer to their use. Will 2024 be the dreadful year where we see a nuclear explosion?

3. Major Hurricane

We get not get to mark square number 3 because there were no cataclysmic hurricanes striking the United States. However, as an honorable mention, Hurricane Otis hit Acapulco as a Category 5 storm and it caused widespread damage:

Otis destroyed ‘two different Acapulcos,’ leaving poverty-stricken families desperate, vulnerable  – https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/hurricane-otis-acapulco-poverty-1.7020837

“Otis struck with an intensity that caught forecasters off guard when it barrelled ashore on Oct. 25, growing into a Category 5 storm within 12 hours of becoming a hurricane and battering Acapulco and other parts of Guerrero with sustained winds of 266 km/h — and even stronger gusts hitting up to 330 km/h. Although Otis moved out almost as fast as it arrived, it will take years and billions of dollars to recover from the devastation and the losses to the tourism industry, the backbone of the region’s economy.”

4. Major Flood

We do need to mark 4th square. There were a number of floods in the United States in 2023, including the recreation of Tulare lake in California:

A dormant California lake that reappeared isn’t going anywhere fast  – https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/dormant-california-lake-reappeared-isnt-going-anywhere-fast-rcna92452

The lake grew to cover 114,000 acres.

“The sudden reappearance of the lake, which was drained for farmland in the late 1800s, has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural losses and will require a substantial cleanup effort once the water has gone, as flooded farm buildings, vehicles, homes and electrical infrastructure still lurk within its waters.”

But it’s the flood in Derna, Libya, where two dams collapsed after heavy rain, that causes us to mark this square. More than 11,000 people died, as described in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JicIH3xSKMg

5. Deadly Heat Wave

There were a number of heat waves around the world in 2023, but none of them severe enough to mark square number 5:

2023 heat waves – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2023_heat_waves

The worst heat wave from a fatality standpoint occurred in Mexico: “The heat wave swept northern states, such as Sonora where temperatures (before the heat index) were recorded as high as 49 °C (120 °F). Over 100 people died from heat stroke or dehydration.”

The heat wave in Phoenix was notable because of its duration, topping 110 degrees F for 31 days in a row.

Also notable were this year’s ocean heat waves, where ocean temperatures were off the scale in many regions. This article does a nice job of summarizing the data:

In hot water: strong marine heatwaves in a record breaking summer – https://www.climateforesight.eu/articles/in-hot-water-strong-marine-heatwaves-in-a-record-breaking-summer/

6, 7, 8, 9, 10. None of these came to pass

Looking at the next row on the Bingo card, none of these came to pass:

  • Gulf stream collapse (although we are inching closer)
  • Amazon Rainforest collapse (ditto)
  • Major crop failure (see below)
  • Artificial General Intelligence appears
  • Major layoffs from ChatGPT (see below)

The situation in Kansas gets honorable mention:

The high plains drought is so bad that Kansas is importing wheat from Europe – https://www.kcur.org/news/2023-06-05/the-high-plains-drought-is-so-bad-that-kansas-is-importing-wheat-from-europe

“This year’s Kansas wheat harvest is shaping up to be the smallest since 1957 when the Eisenhower administration intentionally suppressed wheat production. It’s much the same in Oklahoma. The crop is so poor, some farmers are dousing their measly crops with herbicide to contain their losses and collect insurance. That creates searing economic pain radiating through prairie towns where summer wheat sales are the staff of life.”

ChatGPT may not yet be causing “major layoffs” yet, but it is heading in that direction:

ChatGPT took their jobs. Now they walk dogs and fix air conditioners – https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/06/02/ai-taking-jobs/

“Some economists predict artificial intelligence technology like ChatGPT could replace hundreds of millions of jobs, in a cataclysmic reorganization of the workforce mirroring the industrial revolution. For some workers, this impact is already here. Those that write marketing and social media content are in the first wave of people being replaced with tools like chatbots”

11. Mass Shootings (21+ victims or 800+ events)

The mass shooting a couple of weeks ago in Lewiston was utterly tragic, but “only” 18 people died:

End times prequel? Mass shootings & the doomsday scenario hiding in plain sight – https://wraltechwire.com/2023/10/27/end-times-prequel-mass-shootings-the-doomsday-scenario-hiding-in-plain-sight/

Will we top 800 mass shootings in 2023? As of October 26, there had been 565 mass shootings:

There have been more mass shootings than days in 2023, database shows – https://abcnews.go.com/US/mass-shootings-days-2023-database-shows/story

October 26 is the 299th day of the year, so there have been 565 / 299 = 1.89 mass shootings per day. If we extrapolate, we would “only” expect 365 * 1.89 = 689 mass shootings in 2023. Therefore, we do not mark this square.

14. Town/City runs out of water

The city of Montevideo in Uruguay did run out of drinking water this year:

Drought leaves millions in Uruguay without tap water fit for drinking – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jul/15/drought-leaves-millions-in-uruguay-without-tap-water-fit-for-drinking

“More than half of Uruguay’s 3.5 million citizens are without access to tap water fit for drinking, and experts say the situation could continue for months.”

In France they are now trucking water into some towns, as described in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5iYJB2mvEI

Towns in Texas and the Midwest are coming close to situations like this. We will mark this square.

18. Major Terrorist Attack on the West

We can mark this square because of the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7. This video shows the carnage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjhMAMAPgeM

“Hamas militants breached Israeli checkpoint locations along the border with Gaza, neutralizing Israeli forces, and allowing Hamas to spread into nearby towns. With hundreds killed, the attack is the largest and deadliest in years, prompting an Israeli declaration of war.”

20. Global Warming hits 1.5 degrees C

Global Warming leapfrogged past trends in 2023 and hit this benchmark, as reported in many different announcements:

The second article points out: “October was 1.7C warmer than an estimate of the October average for the preindustrial era, Copernicus said.”

The third article says: “The average global temperature in July, the hottest month on record by far, was around 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial era that ended in the mid-to-late 1800s, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported Tuesday. The announcement came after a series of deadly heat waves and remarkable record-breaking temperatures for several continents, as well as unprecedented ocean heat around the globe. Copernicus scientists say it’s the first summer month that has surpassed 1.5 degrees, offering a glimpse of future summers.”

This is horrible news for humanity and planet Earth, as described here:

There are some people in the audience who will say that Earth has not yet “officially” breached 1.5 degrees C, and we will not know for several years. However, there is no question that 1.5 degrees C (and even 1.7 degrees C) were seen in 2023 so we are going to count it.

21. Major Earthquake or Tsunami

There have been two major earthquakes this year. The first was in Turkey on February 6. An estimated 60,000 people died. See this video for details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hd4xCmuwiBw

Morocco had a magnitude 6.8 earthquake on September 8 which also killed thousands of people.

22. Civil war in United States

Although we did not see civil war breaking out in the United States in 2023, we are inching closer and closer, as demonstrated in these headlines:

23. Major Wildfires

The wildfires in Canada in 2023 were unexpected and unbelievable. The benchmark for marking this square back in January was 10+ million acres. In Canada, more than 45 million acres burned in 2023. See this video for details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrDi0AXASMc

This wildfire disaster released approximately a gigaton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – A major tragedy.

24. Wildcard

Square 24 was reserved for some kind of unexpected event similar to the war in Ukraine which started in 2022. The Gaza war would definitely fill the bill.

Here is another, much smaller thing that might fall into this category:

Zooplankton in ocean and freshwater are rapidly escalating the global environmental threat of plastics, finds study – https://phys.org/news/2023-11-zooplankton-ocean-freshwater-rapidly-escalating.html

“After exposing both marine and freshwater species of rotifers to a variety of different plastics of different sizes, they found that all rotifers could ingest microplastics of up to 10 micrometers in size, break them down and then excrete thousands of nanoplastics back into the environment. They estimated that rotifers could produce 13.3 quadrillion nanoparticles every day in Poyang Lake. Scale this up to all of the ocean and fresh bodies of water where both microplastics and rotifers are present, and the number of nanoplastic particles created every day is mind boggling.”

These nanoplastics are a new category of threat from plastic pollution, and the effects are yet to be fully understood.

Adding it all up

After reviewing all 24 squares, we can now mark our 2023 Doomsday Bingo Card and see if we scored a Bingo. It looks like this:

Illustration courtesy of Marshall Brain

We are marking 7 of the squares plus the FREE square:

  • Major Floods
  • Town/City runs out of water
  • Major Terrorist attack
  • Global warming hits 1.5 degrees C
  • Major earthquakes
  • Major wildfires
  • Wild card – the war in Gaza

The bottom row was close, but we did not score a Bingo in 2023. On the one hand, thank goodness. On the other hand, this is too close for comfort. 2023 was not a great year. We can play again next year.