From 'Armageddon' to 'Day After Tomorrow' to 'Independence Day', many have speculated as to the eventual demise of human life on the planet but - according to Dennis Pamlin of the Global Challenges Foundation, no scientists had "compiled a list of global risks with impacts that, for all practical purposes, can be called infinite,” until now. The following list of 12 possible ways that human civilization might end - ranked from least to most likely, come with a warning, "we don’t want to be accused of scaremongering but we want to get policy makers talking." We suspect Paul Krugman will be happy at the economic growth potential...
The four main goals of this report are to acknowledge, inspire, connect and deliver.
The first of the report’s goals – acknowledging the existence of risks with potential infinite impact – seeks to help key stakeholders to acknowledge the existence of the category of risks that could result in infinite impact and to show them that we can reduce or even eliminate most of them.
The second inspires by showing the practical action that is taking place today. This report seeks to show that helping to meet these global challenges is perhaps the most important contribution anyone can make today, and highlights concrete examples to inspire a new generation of leaders.
The third goal is to connect different groups at every level, so that leaders in different sectors connect with each other to encourage collaboration. This will need a specific focus on financial and security policy where significant risks combine to demand action beyond the incremental.
The fourth goal is to deliver actual strategies and initiatives that produce actual results. The report is a first step and its success will ultimately be measured only on how it contributes to concrete results.
The report will have achieved its goals when key decision-makers recognise the magnitude of the possible risks and our ability to reduce or even eliminate most of them.
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The odds vary dramatically...
As do the possibilities of managing the risk...
But here are the 12 ways the world will end... (from least to most likely)
If an asteroid about five kilometers in size were to collide with our planet, the main destruction would be from clouds of dust projected into the upper atmosphere – which would affect climate change and food supplies, and cause political instability. Larger sized objects could cause immediate extinction on the planet. Large asteroid collisions happen about once every 20 million years, the report says. Probability: 0.00013%
A volcano capable of causing an eruption with an ejecta volume greater than 1,000 km3 could cause a global catastrophe. The dust projected into the atmosphere would absorb the Sun’s rays and cause global freezing. The effects of possible eruptions can be compared to those of a nuclear war, only without the firestorms. Probability: 0.00003%
A high impact epidemic is more probable than is widely believed, as all the features of an extremely devastating disease already exist in nature, the report says, giving examples of several devastating illnesses including Ebola, rabies, an infectious cold, and HIV. If all were combined, “the death toll would be extreme.” Probability: 0.0001%
The possibility of a deliberate or accidental nuclear conflict in the next century or so is estimated at 10%. The larger impact would depend on whether the conflict would trigger a “nuclear winter” – a climatic effect that would plunge temperatures below freezing, destroy most of the ozone layer, and start firestorms, which would likely lead to mass starvation and state collapse. Probability: 0.005%
Extreme climate change
The report warns that climate change could be more extreme than some estimates suggest. The world's poorest countries could become completely uninhabitable. Climate change could lead to mass deaths, famines, social collapse, and mass migration. Probability: 0.01%
The most damaging impact from synthetic biology to human civilization would come from an engineered pathogen targeting humans or a crucial component of the ecosystem, the report states. Such would emerge from military or commercial bio-warfare, bio-terrorism, or leaked pathogens. Probability: 0.01%
Atomically precise manufacturing would create smart or extremely resilient materials, and allow many different groups to manufacture a wide range of things – including large arsenals of novel weapons, such as nuclear ones. Probability: 0.01%
These are all the unknowns that could lead to the end of the world, scientists say, urging for extensive research into the matter. “One resolution to the Fermi paradox – the apparent absence of alien life in the galaxy – is that intelligent life destroys itself before beginning to expand into the galaxy.”Probability: 0.1%
There are also a few potential causes of the Apocalypse which have not had a probability assessed to them.
In this scenario, the ecosystem would suffer a drastic change that would lead to mass extinction. Species extinction is now far faster than the historic rate, and attempts to quantify a safe ecological operating space place humanity well outside it. Probability: N/A
Global system collapse
The world economic and political systems are interconnected, and are prone to system-wide failures caused by the structure of the network. Economic collapse is usually accompanied by social chaos, civil unrest, and a breakdown of law and order. Probability: N/A
Future bad governance
A disaster could be caused by failing to solve major problems; for example, a failure to alleviate global poverty, or actively causing worse outcomes – like constructing a global totalitarian state. Probability: N/A
And lastly, the most probable of all the mentioned causes of the Apocalypse is...
The creation of human-level intelligence can result in the possibility that this intelligence will be driven to construct a world without humans. There is also a possibility of artificial intelligence waging war or creating “whole brain emulations” that would give machines human minds.
On the other hand, the report also says it is probable that such intelligence could counter other apocalyptic causes presented in the study. Probability: 0-10%
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Full Report below: