Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire.  Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race.  He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” 

Here we stand at the beginning of 2024. It is the start of a new year for the human species on Planet Earth. Is this a time for optimism or pessimism? Should we look forward to 2024 with hope or dread?

The problem with optimism is that there is so much potential for disaster in 2024. We got a good strong taste of it in 2023, and 2024 has the potential to be even worse. Here is how the Washington Post frames things at the end of 2023 in the case of climate change:

The climate future arrived in 2023

“Even if its extremes are ultimately eclipsed, as seems inevitable, 2023 will mark a point when humanity crossed into a new climate era — an age of ‘global boiling,’ as United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called it. The year included the hottest single day on record (July 6) and the hottest ever month (July), not to mention the hottest June, the hottest August, the hottest September, the hottest October, the hottest November, and probably the hottest December. It included a day, Nov. 17, when global temperatures, for the first time ever, reached 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial levels. Discomfort, destruction, and death are the legacy of those records. In Phoenix, a heat wave went on for so long, with 31 consecutive days above 110 Fahrenheit, that one NASA atmospheric scientist called it ‘mind-boggling.’ The surrounding county recorded a record number of heat deaths, nearly 600.”

Phrases like “global boiling” and “mind boggling” do not sound hopeful. The reality of 600 heat deaths in a fully-developed American city does not sound hopeful. Reaching 2 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels does not sound hopeful.

And the fact is that in 2024, we have every reason to believe that things will be worse.

What could go wrong in 2024? How bad might 2024 be? What are some of the disasters we should be watching for as this new year unfolds? Let’s take a look …

#1 – Record-setting heat, again

As described above, 2023 was a barn-burner year for heat waves. We experienced it during the summer as intense, unrelenting heat. Now in the winter we see it as unseasonable temperatures and a lack of snow.

2024 has a good chance of being even worse because nothing has changed. Humanity continues pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The El Nino cycle in the Pacific Ocean will likely continue, and ocean temperatures in general are at record highs.

Will we see major heat waves in 2024 that cause even more death and destruction?

#2 – Power grid failures

Let’s imagine that Phoenix had its incredible month-long heat wave in 2023, and then the heat combined with a power grid failure?  This would mean that many people in the city would lose access to air conditioning. This is a nightmare scenario, where thousands and thousands of people could die. The problem is that our power grids are fairly fragile, and can fail for multiple reasons:

  • Sabotage (where saboteurs shoot out substations or transmission lines)
  • Overloading (where so many air conditioners are running simultaneously that the power plants or wires cannot handle the load)
  • Equipment failure (where something substantial fails and causes a ripple effect of failures)
  • Natural disaster (where an earthquake, hurricane, solar flare, or Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) takes out parts of the grid)

Then there are articles like this:

Much of North America may face electricity shortages starting in 2024

“In a recent report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) – an international regulatory authority overseeing the North American power grid – projected that a majority of regions in the US and Canada will have insufficient electricity supply to reliably meet demand during extreme weather conditions.”

Will 2024 see a massive grid failure that is deadly?

#3 – Record setting drought has high potential

We can see drought conditions happening around the world in headlines like these:

The Panama Canal is enmeshed in a crisis that’s disrupting global trade. But it will take years and billions of dollars to fix

Amazon drought: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this’

Droughts are forcing human migration toward cities and rivers across most of Africa

If these droughts continue or worsen, they could wreak havoc across the globe.

#4 – Major flooding

Climate change can cause droughts, and it can also exacerbate flooding. In 2022 there were epic floods in Pakistan. In 2023, major flooding events killed more than ten thousand people. And flooding can also have a big effect on crops…

#5 – Increasing chances for crop failures

Modern humanity has not yet experienced major crop failures that affect the global population. We have seen previews, however, in places like India, China and the United States. Will 2024 be the year where multiple crop failures combine so that there is a global food shortage? One simple example was the failure of the wheat crop in Kansas in 2023:

Kansas farmers abandon wheat fields after extreme drought 

“Abandoning fields will lead to a smaller U.S. wheat supply in the world’s No. 5 wheat exporter, with stocks seen falling to a 16-year low. High rates of abandonment deal an economic blow to farm towns and force wheat buyers to adjust procurement plans by buying the staple grain elsewhere. Nationally, winter-wheat farmers plan to abandon 33% of the acres they planted, the highest percentage since World War I, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a May 12 report.”

And floods can be just as devasting as drought, as seen in China in 2023:

China floods hit rice, corn crops; trigger food inflation worries 

“The hit to China’s cereal crops – the full extent of which is not yet clear – comes as consumers worldwide face tightening food supplies amid India’s ban on rice exports last month and disruptions in Black Sea grain shipments caused by the war in Ukraine.”

If enough crop failures overlap in one year due to climate change, humanity faces the potential for famine in several parts of the world.

#6 – Mass migration

Between food shortages, heat waves, droughts, floods, and economic peril, people are getting displaced. Millions of people are trying to migrate to better places. We see this in the United States as the migrant crisis of 2023. This video documents some of the problems in New York City, where the city is trying to feed and house tens of thousands of new arrivals:

Will 2024 see even more migration toward the United States, to the point where support systems buckle?

#7 – More war

At the start of 2023, the planet was watching the war in Ukraine as well as several smaller conflicts. At the end of 2023, the October 7 attack on Israel and the retaliation in Gaza has killed tens of thousands of people. This war in Gaza has been threatening to spill out more broadly into places like the Red Sea and Lebanon.

Will new wars start in 2024, or will any of the current conflicts escalate?

#8 – Nuclear bomb threat

In any war that involves a nuclear-capable player, there is the threat of nuclear weapons. Russia has threatened to nuke Ukraine multiple times, and the threat has also been made in Gaza:

China, Iran, Arab nations condemn Israeli minister’s statement about dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza

In 2024, will the world see the first use of nuclear weapons since World War II?

#9 – Devastating hurricanes

In 2022, Florida was struck by Hurricane Ian. It was one of the most destructive hurricanes ever:

“The price tag for recovery estimated at more than $100 billion.”

A huge problem in the case of Ian was its rapid development. It went from a mild Category 1 storm all the way to Category 5 in just two days. This gave people in the storm’s path little time to prepare or evacuate, and then the massive storm hit.

The potential for this kind of killer hurricane to develop grows with rising ocean temperatures. Will 2024 see another massive hurricane hit the Gulf Coast or the East Coast? Will 2024 see the arrival of the first Category 6 storm?

#10 – Wildfires

2023 was an unbelievable year for wildfires. Canadian forests burned like they have never burned before, with millions of acres destroyed. The smoke from these fires impacted multiple cities in the United States, include New York City. Many other parts of the world saw similar destructive wildfires, including the fires in Maui and Greece. See this video for details:

What will happen in 2024? Will Canada light on fire again? What other parts of the world will burn?

#11 – Amazon rainforest collapse

The Amazon rainforest has been under attack for many years via:

  • Indiscriminate clear cutting
  • Intentional fire setting
  • New roads and more settlers
  • Conversion from forest to farm fields
  • Major drought

The problem is that eventually the rainforest will dry out and collapse, causing unprecedented fires that will make Canada look small by comparison. When it happens, many gigatons of carbon dioxide will flow into the atmosphere and the rainforest will be lost forever. This video can help to understand what occurred in 2023:

“The Amazon rainforest has been through its worst drought on record. Its rivers, lakes, and streams are drying up.”

As more trees are lost, less moisture goes into the atmosphere, so less rain falls. It’s a downward spiral that will eventually kill the rainforest.

Will 2024 be the year where we start to lose the Amazon rainforest to collapse?

#12 – Arctic heat wave

The Arctic area of Planet Earth, also known as the North Pole region, is heating up and melting. The sea ice is melting and the permafrost is melting. As everything melts, it will be having radical effects on the global weather. It also has the potential to release gigatons of stored methane and carbon dioxide:

Sea of methane sealed beneath Arctic permafrost could trigger climate feedback loop if it escapes

“The base of permafrost is undulating, which creates pockets between the permafrost and the underlying geology where gas from biological and non-biological sources can accumulate and become trapped. Should this permafrost seal disintegrate, it could set off a chain reaction in which the methane’s strong warming effect would thaw more permafrost and release even more gas. This vicious feedback loop would further accelerate warming, melting and methane emissions, the researchers warned in the study.”

Once this chain reaction gets rolling in a serious way, humanity is likely to lose any control it might have on the planet’s warming.

Will 2024 be the year where enough permafrost melts to get the chain reaction rolling?

#13 – Antarctic heat wave and sea level change

At the same time the Arctic region is warming, so is the Antarctic region around the South Pole. The major concern here is the effect on global sea level rise.

Red alert in Antarctica: the year rapid, dramatic change hit climate scientists like a ‘punch in the guts’

“Study after study showed the breakdown of climate systems taking place much earlier than foreseen, with potentially catastrophic results.”

The worst-case scenario is that different glaciers in Antarctica start to break free and accelerate their march to the ocean. If this happens, the world will see sea levels rising to the point where they start threatening coastal cities.

Will 2024 be the year where we start seeing glacial collapse in Antarctica?

#14 – Plastics in the environment

Much of the Earth’s plastic problem is invisible to most people. Either the plastics are out in the ocean and hidden from view, or they are so tiny that they can’t be seen. But plastics are busy destroying the planet, as described in this video:

“Trillions of pieces of plastic are choking the very lifeblood of the Earth and every marine animal, from the smallest plankton to the largest mammals, is being affected. Wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin visits scientists working at the cutting-edge of plastics research and joins work with some of the world’s leading marine biologists and campaigners to discover the true dangers of plastic in the oceans and what it means for the future of all life on the planet, including humans.”

An incomprehensible amount of plastic is flowing into the world’s oceans. Then the combination of sunlight and wave action breaks the plastics apart into microplastics. Then we learned in 2023 that various plankton are turning the microplastics into nano plastics:

‘Nanoplastics’ Could Be Worse Than Microplastics and We Know Almost Nothing About Them

Many aspects of the ocean ecosystem are affected by all of these plastics. When it comes to humans, some of the worst side effects of the growing plastic problem include impacts on fertility and on diseases like Parkinsons and cancer:

Toxicity of microplastics and nanoplastics: invisible killers of female fertility and offspring health

The infertility problem is especially worrisome, as it has grown significantly over the last 30 years.

Will 2024 be the year where plastics start to significantly degrade our ocean food chains or fertility?

#15 – Extinctions, such as insects declining 2% per year

The planet’s sixth mass extinction event is underway and is now easy to see. Every category of animal is seeing population reductions. Insects happen to be especially hard hit, with the mass of insects declining every year:

If warming approaches 2°C, a trickle of extinctions will become a flood

This video discusses the problem and one possible solution:

Without a solution, humanity faces a huge problem. As Jeremy puts it, “Without insects, all life on Earth ends.”

#16 – Election chaos

So many different people are predicting problems/disruptions in the 2024 elections that it is impossible to ignore. Here is a sampling of articles:

It Will Be an Election Unlike Any We’ve Lived Through
Risks of US electoral chaos deepen after Trump is barred from another state ballot
Political chaos defined 2023, and sets up a volatile 2024
CEOs say political disruptions—like the 2024 presidential election—are the biggest business risks next year
How Russian and Chinese Interference Could Affect the 2024 Election

From the last article:

“The U.S. government is preparing for its adversaries to intensify efforts to influence American voters next year. Russia has huge stakes in the presidential election. China seems poised to back a more aggressive campaign. Other countries, like Iran, might again try to sow division in the United States.”

Will the 2024 elections go off smoothly, or will there be chaos?

#17 – Civil war

Even worse than election chaos would be an all-out civil war in the United States. These articles are symptomatic:

Putin Ally Says US Civil War Will Be Good for World 
Right-wing media escalate violent rhetoric around civil war and tyranny following Trump’s fourth indictment
Hollywood Blockbuster ‘Civil War’ Coming to a Theater Near You Amid 2024 Election

Could a civil war start in the United States? 2024 would seem like the year for it to happen.

#18 – AI advances eliminating jobs

The new breed of AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT first appeared in December 2022. 2023 has seen their widespread adoption. And now we are beginning to see real effects on the job market as AI tools begin eliminating jobs. This article describes one of the more jarring events:

Google Plans to Cut 30,000 More Jobs Due to AI Enhancements

“This move isn’t unique to Google; it aligns with broader industry trends. Companies like Intel and Meta (Facebook’s parent company) have navigated similar waters, experiencing layoffs and organizational restructuring. This pattern reflects the dynamic challenges faced by tech giants in an ever-evolving industry.”

If we watch Google lay off 30,000 people, and then Meta and Intel do the same, we are approaching 100,000 lost jobs. And these are only three companies. Will we see a million layoffs due to AI in 2024? A chart like this can help to understand the employment situation:

Monthly number of full-time employees in the United States from November 2021 to November 2023

If we look at this chart in a year, will AI be making a dent?

#19 – Artificial General Intelligence appears

Plenty of people are now predicting the arrival of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). But the timeframe predictions are all over the map. Here is Sam Altman talking about the possibilities:

When a real AGI appears, the effects will be profound and unpredictable. Does this happen in 2024, or do we still have a decade or more of waiting?

#20 – Fentanyl deaths keep rising

The number of deaths attributed to fentanyl overdoses has been rising exponentially, as seen in this graph:

Number of overdose deaths from fentanyl in the U.S. from 1999 to 2021

We know that there are now so many of these deaths that they impact the lifespan numbers in the United States. In other words, the average lifespan statistic for people in the United States is declining in part because so many people are dying from fentanyl.

Does the United States get a handle on this problem in 2024, or does the number of Fentanyl deaths keep growing?

#21 – Housing crisis

We know that the economic situation for many Americans is getting increasingly depressing. The cause is a combination of wage stagnation, inflation, and the cost-of-living crisis. We see it expressed in statistics like these:

62% of Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck, making it ‘the main financial lifestyle,’ report finds

One of the biggest problems is that the costs of rent and housing have been rising dramatically – faster than the general inflation rate. Because housing is the largest expense for most households, rising rents have an outsized impact on the household budget.

Rent increases in Wisconsin cities among the steepest in the US

“No matter which website or database you check, it’s clear that rent is on the rise. And not only have rent prices been climbing faster and higher than average for the last couple of years, but it’s happening across every type of rental housing – from 1-bedroom apartments to single-family homes – and in many communities across the country. But this trend is worse in Wisconsin, where recent rent increases are exceedingly steep and far above national rates. According to data sets from two rental-listing aggregator businesses, average monthly costs for 1- and 3-bedroom rentals in Wisconsin have jumped by as much as 25% since 2021.”

If your rent was $1,500 in 2021, it rose to $1,875 in 2023. That’s $4,500 per year in increased rent costs.

It seems impossible that this kind of trend can continue. But if it does continue, millions of people could be priced out of their apartments. Wages are not rising fast enough to support these kinds of price increases.

Will we see the housing crisis solved in 2024? Or will the problem continue to grow?

#22 – Major terrorist attack

The October 7, 2023 attack on Israel was a gigantic act of terrorism, with 1,200 people killed.

Hamas’s October 7 Attack: Visualizing the Data

“Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 is the third-deadliest terrorist attack since data collection began in 1970, based on number of fatalities, with the 9/11 attacks representing the worst mass fatality terrorist attack.”

Will 2024 be another year marred by terrorist attacks?

#23 – Major earthquake or tsunami

In 2023 there was a major earthquake in Turkey that killed thousands of people. This video shows why so many people died:

Will there be another deadly earthquake on a scale like this is 2024?

#24 – Wildcard

The wildcard is here to handle situations that are severe, but that no one has predicted. Something that appears seemingly out of nowhere and has a global impact.


If we put all these possibilities together, we can form a Doomsday Bingo Card for 2024. Then at the end of 2024, we can look back and see how many of these possibilities have manifested themselves. Here is what our Bingo card looks like:

If we see two or three of these things happen, it would be bad. If we actually score a Bingo by filling a row, column, or diagonal, that would be worse. If we see multiple Bingos, 2024 will have been a very bad year indeed. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 12 months.