Posted on May 5, 2016
Humans 5 Times More Likely to Die Through Extinction Than in a Car Crash
Dying in a Vehicle Accident is Unlikely but Human Extinction Isn't That Unlikely
The most logical threats to human civilization are not car crashes, but climate change catastrophes, nuclear war accidents and pandemics. That’s what a recent report about “global catastrophe risk” produced by a U.K. organization called the Global Challenges Foundation has found. It states that one in every 9,395 individuals perish in a vehicle accident, and the risk of human extinction from global warming or nuclear war is much higher. They estimate that there is a 9.5 per cent chance of the human population going extinct within the next century. There have been several times already where the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war, and climate science experts now ascertain that by the end of this century continent-sized superstorms will be experienced across the world from the effects of global warming.
In addition to climate change and nuclear war, natural pandemics also pose a risk of human extinction. In the past two millennia, the two global catastrophes that experts certify of being on this scale were two different plagues. In the 1340s the Black Death was a plague that took 10 per cent of the human population, and eight centuries before it there was another plague called the “Great Plague of Justinian” that killed over 25 million people or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s people in existence during that time.
There is also a chance that an asteroid could smash into earth, or a super-volcano could erupt, and not only destroy the areas surrounding their location but cause the sunlight to be blocked from their resulting dust sent up into the atmosphere. This would cause the temperature to drop, just as it would after a nuclear war.
Safety Precautions Needed Against Extinction Events
Just as we make sure our vehicles have airbags in them that work properly, and we fasten our seatbelts as a regular precaution against ever being hurt in a vehicle accident, it’s just as necessary for the world to become more resilient and protect ourselves from the risks of societal catastrophes. The report suggested that some of the ways the human population could do this would be to develop technology that can produce food at an accelerated pace, or to foster food development sources that are less dependent on sunlight, so that humans could survive winters when the temperature has dropped following a nuclear war or volcano. People would also benefit, it asserts, from having global policies that focus on specific issues like how to cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions.
The report also mentions geo-engineered pandemics as other possible risks, or an artificial intelligence that is all-seeing. While these are only notions at the current time, they are mentioned because of the unforeseeable nature of earlier global catastrophic risks.
It is uncanny how unforeseeable global catastrophic threats were in the past. Before the nuclear bomb was discovered, it was almost inconceivable that nuclear weapons could ever become a risk of creating a global catastrophe. Or right after World War II, it wasn’t even imaginable to anyone that climate change catastrophes, artificial intelligence or biotechnology could ever become threats to human existence.
Even though we know that the risk of getting into a car accident is low, we still strap in our seatbelts and make sure that our vehicle’s safety features are all in place and working properly. Our common belief is that it makes sense to have these things to reduce any possible harm from happening to us. On a societal level, the airbag and seatbelt could be represented by democratic institutions that act as a global ombudsman in protecting the world and future generations from the risks of global catastrophes.
The report was produced jointly by the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Centre for Effective Altruism in London.