Scientists Warn of Next Possible Mass Extinction
Human extinction is the hypothesized end of the human species. Various scenarios have been discussed in science, popular culture and religion . The scope of this article is existential risks. Humans are very widespread on the Earth, and live in communities that (while interconnected) are capable of some level of basic survival in isolation. Therefore, pandemics and deliberate killing aside, to achieve human extinction the entire planet would have to be rendered uninhabitable, with no opportunity provided or possible for humans to establish a foothold beyond Earth. This would typically be during a mass extinction event, a precedent of which exists in the Permian–Triassic extinction event among other examples.
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In the near future, anthropogenic extinction scenarios exist: global nuclear annihilation, total global war, dysgenics, overpopulation, global accidental pandemic, ecological collapse, and global warming; besides natural ones: Meteor impact and large scale volcanism; and anthropogenic-natural hybrid events like global warming and catastrophic climate change. Naturally caused extinction scenarios have occurred multiple times in the geologic past although the probability of reoccurrence within the human timescale of the near future is negligibly small.
As technology develops, there is a theoretical possibility that humans may be deliberately destroyed by the actions of a nation state, corporation or individual in a form of global suicide attack. There is also a theoretical possibility that technological advancement may resolve or prevent potential extinction scenarios. The emergence of a pandemic of such virulence and infectiousness that very few humans survive the disease is a credible scenario. While not necessarily a human extinction event, this may leave only very small, very scattered human populations that would then evolve in isolation. It is important to differentiate between human extinction and the extinction of all life on Earth. Of possible extinction events, only a pandemic is selective enough to eliminate humanity while leaving the rest of complex life on earth relatively unscathed.
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1 Possible scenarios 1.1 Severe forms of known or recorded disasters
1.2 Long-term habitat threats
1.3 Population decline
1.4 Scientific accidents
1.5 Scenarios of extraterrestrial origin
2 Perception of human extinction risk
3 Observations about human extinction 3.1 Quantifying the Impact
4 In popular culture
5 See also
8 Further reading
See also: Global catastrophic risks
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Severe forms of known or recorded disasters
##Nuclear or biological warfare; for example, a future arms race results in much larger arsenals than those seen during the Cold War. See World War III.
##Pandemic involving one or more viruses, prions, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Past examples include the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 and the various European viruses that decimated indigenous American populations. A deadly human-only pandemic would be self-limiting as it reduced the density of its target population, but a pathogen with a wide host range in multiple species could reach even isolated humans by using insects or other animals as “carriers”.
##Geological and Cosmological disasters
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U.S. officials assess that an engineered pathogen capable of “wiping out all of humanity” if left unchecked is technically feasible and that the technical obstacles are “trivial”. However, they are confident that in practice, countries would be able to “recognize and intervene effectively” to halt the spread of such a microbe and prevent human extinction.
Long-term habitat threats
##In about 1 billion years from now, the Earth’s oceans will disappear, due to the Sun brightening. However, well before this, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be too low to support plant life, destroying the foundation of the food chains. See Future of the Earth.
##In about 5–6 billion years from now, the Sun will start to become a red giant. The oceans and much of the atmosphere will boil away and the Earth’s temperature will rise well above the boiling point of water. About 7–8 billion years from now, the Earth will probably be engulfed by an expanding Sun and destroyed.
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Further information: Population decline
##Preference for fewer children; if historical developed world demographics are extrapolated they suggest extinction before 3000 CE. (John A. Leslie estimates that if the reproduction rate drops to the German level the extinction date will be 2400.) However, evolutionary biology suggests the demographic transition may reverse itself; in addition, recent evidence suggests birth rates may be rising in the 21st century in the developed world.
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##The creators of the first “superintelligent” entity could make a mistake and inadvertently give it goals that lead it to immediately “annihilate” the human race.
##In his book Our Final Hour, Sir Martin Rees claims that without the appropriate regulation, scientific advancement increases the risk of human extinction as a result of the effects or use of new technology. Some examples are provided below. ##Uncontrolled nanotechnology (grey goo) incidents resulting in the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystem (ecophagy).
##Creation of a “micro black hole” on Earth during the course of a scientific experiment, or other foreseeable scientific accidents in high-energy physics research, such as vacuum phase transition or strangelet incidents. There were worries concerning the Large Hadron Collider at CERN as it is feared that collision of protons at a speed near the speed of light will result in the creation of a black hole, but it has been pointed out that much more energetic collisions take place currently in Earth’s atmosphere.
Scenarios of extraterrestrial origin
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##Major impact events.
##Gamma-ray burst in our part of the Milky Way. (Bursts observable in other galaxies are calculated to act as a “sterilizer”, and have been used by some astronomers to explain the Fermi paradox.) The lack of fossil record interruptions, and relative distance of the nearest Hypernova candidate make this a long term (rather than imminent) threat. ##Wolf-Rayet star WR 104, which is 8000 light years from the Sun, may produce a gamma ray burst aimed at the Sun when it goes supernova.
Invasion by militarily superior extraterrestrials (see alien invasion) — often considered to be a scenario purely from the realms of science fiction, professional SETI researchers have given serious consideration to this possibility, but conclude that it is unlikely. ##Gerard O’Neill has cautioned that first contact with alien intelligence may follow the precedent set by historical examples of contact between human civilizations, where the less technologically-advanced civilization has inevitably succumbed to the other civilization, regardless of its intentions.
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##A vacuum phase transition could destroy the universe.
##Modification of humans into a new species
Technological transition into a posthuman life-form or existence.
##Commentators such as Kevin Warwick point to the possibility of humans evolving by linking with technology; while others have argued that humanity will inevitably experience a technological singularity, and furthermore that this outcome is desirable (see singularitarianism).
Biological evolution of humanity into another hominid species. Humans will continue to evolve via traditional natural selection over a period of millions of years, and Homo sapiens may gradually transition into one or more new species.
Perception of human extinction risk
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The threat of nuclear annihilation was a significant concern in the lives of many people from the 1950s through the 1980s.
All past predictions of human extinction have proven to be false; to some, this makes future warnings seem less credible. John von Neumann was probably wrong in having “a certainty” that nuclear war would occur. (Of course, our survival is not, in itself, proof that the chance of a fatal nuclear exchange was low, or that such an event could not occur in the future). Others, such as Nick Bostrom, argue that the lack of human extinction in the past is weak evidence that there will be no human extinction in the future, due to survivor bias and other anthropic effects. Bostrom speculates that extinction risk-analysis may be an “overlooked field” because it is both too psychologically troublesome a subject area to be attractive to potential researchers, and because the lack of previous human species extinction events leads a depressed view of the likelihood of it happening under changing future circumstances.
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It is possible to do something about dietary or motor-vehicle health threats. It is much harder to know how existential threats should be minimized.
Some Behavioural finance scholars claim that recent evidence is given undue significance in risk analysis. Roughly speaking, “100 year storms” tend to occur every twenty years in the stock market as traders become convinced that the current good times will last forever. Doomsayers who hypothesize rare crisis-scenarios are dismissed even when they have statistical evidence behind them. An extreme form of this bias can diminish the subjective probability of the unprecedented.
Many people believe humanity’s intelligence and sense of self preservation offer safe-guards against extinction. They argue that people will find creative ways to overcome potential threats, and will take care of the precautionary principle in attempting dangerous innovations. Others believe that the management of destructive technology is becoming difficult, and that the precautionary principle is often abandoned whenever the reward appears to outweigh the risk.
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Shortly before the Trinity nuclear test, one of the project’s lead scientists (Teller) speculated that the fission explosion might destroy New Mexico and possibly the world, by causing a reaction in the nitrogen of the atmosphere. Hans Bethe then calculated that such a reaction was theoretically impossible. It is unknown whether the U.S. would have eventually proceeded with the test anyway, had Bethe calculated a small but nonzero risk of destroying the world.
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SOURCE : en.wikipedia.org
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