Eight Ways Humanity Could Become Extinct

The Global Challenges Foundation, which works to reduce the global problems that threaten humanity, compiles an annual report on global catastrophic risks. Below are eight of their “most likely” ways in which human beings could become extinct on Earth.  (See also, the Wikipedia article on “Human Extinction.”  See also, “ExitMundi.nl” a website that displays a collection of “end of the world” articles.

  1. Nuclear Detonation One of today’s more powerful weapons would cause a fatality rate of 80 to 95 percent in the blast zone stretching out to a radius of 4 kilometers — although “severe damage” could reach six times as far. In nuclear warfare, a hundred such weapons could be fired at each other, all within twenty minutes.

  2. Chemical and/or Biological Warfare Unlike nuclear weapons, which require complex engineering, biological and chemical warfare can be developed at a relatively low cost and with relatively attainable materials. In the past few years, the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war that has ravaged the country. Biological weapons represent an even greater catastrophic threat.

  3. Catastrophic climate changeA United Nations panel of scientists released a report last week saying that we only have twelve years to keep global warming to moderate levels. There’s a dramatic option for stopping, or even reversing, rising global temperatures, but it comes with significant possible risk. Solar geoengineering could reflect light and heat away from Earth and back into space by injecting aerosols into the stratosphere, the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere; but with unknown risks. For now, it only exists in computer models, but the first experiment is being planned by Harvard researchers.

  4. Ecological Collapse — Ecosystems are the delicate community of living organisms, like humans and animals, interacting with their nonliving environment, like air and water. Ecosystems can recover from a certain amount of impact from humans, like temperature increases or habitat loss, but there’s a tipping point at which they can’t — and according to the report, we might be reaching that tipping point.  Lake Chad in West Africa is an example of ecological collapse. Sixty years of drought, overuse of water, and the impacts of climate change have reduced the lake by 90 percent. Its massive reduction has adversely affected the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon that depend on it.

  5. Plague — Twice in modern history, plagues have swept across the world, killing an estimated 15 percent of the population in a few decades. They occurred way back in the fifth and 14th centuries, respectively— but there is a serious risk that a new infectious disease could cause another outbreak, especially with today’s urban and mobile global population. Luckily, deadly diseases with the capacity to spread globally are rare. But they do happen — a century ago, the Spanish flu killed more than 50 million people. Outbreaks of SARS and Ebola in recent years also ring alarm bells. Antibiotics, our greatest defense against disease, are becoming less effective as some strains of bacteria become resistant to them.

  6. Asteroid impactAsteroids are rocks that revolve around the sun and that occasionally collide with the Earth. An asteroid large enough to cause a global catastrophe hits Earth every 120,000 years, scientists estimate.  One such asteroid killed off virtually all species of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

  7. A Volcanic Super-explosion — 74,000 years ago ejected so much debris into the atmosphere that scientists believe it caused the Earth to cool by several degrees Celsius. Some experts believe this caused the greatest mass plant and animal extinction in human history, bringing the species to the brink of extinction.

  8. Runaway Artificial intelligence (AI) –- Artificial Intelligence is progressing rapidly. Surveyed scientists estimate, on average, that there is a 50 percent chance of AI being able to perform most tasks as well as, or better than, humans by 2050, with at least a 5 percent chance of surpassing human intelligence a couple of years after that.  There’s a common misconception that the risk of AI is that it will become malevolent. The bigger concern is that it will become too good at its job. If so, humans could become superfluous. In rebuttal to “Runaway AI,” see our own Essay, Cyborgs, Transhumanism, and Immortality on the ContinuingCreation.org Website.