In life, an individual has about a one-in-700,000 chance of being hit by a meteor.
That rises to a one-in-ten million chance of being struck by lightning somewhere on Earth or a massive one-in-45 million chance of winning the lottery here in the UK.
And yet, there’s a 1-in-14,000 chance that (collectively) the human race could be extinct by next year.
That’s the message from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford after studying humankind’s lifetime on this planet – roughly 200,000 years.
Importantly, they say the 1-in-14,000 number is our chance of dying off from natural causes in any given year. Things like asteroid impacts or massive volcanic eruptions. When you add in man-made threats like climate change or nuclear war, the risk increases.
‘Out of all species that have existed, over 99% are now extinct,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.
‘Although human activity is dramatically increasing extinction rates for many species, species extinctions were regular occurrences long before humanity emerged. Many of these extinctions were caused by gradual environmental shifts, evolutionary arms races, or local interspecific competition.’
‘Others were abrupt, being part of global mass extinctions caused by asteroid impacts, volcanism, or causes as of yet to be identified. Could such a catastrophe befall our own species?’
However, that figure is still the highest possible calculation, so our species’ chances of dying out are likely to be smaller.
‘Using only the information that Homo sapiens has existed at least 200,000 years, we conclude that the probability that humanity goes extinct from natural causes in any given year is almost guaranteed to be less than one in 14,000, and likely to be less than one in 87,000,’ the researchers added.
‘Using the longer track record of survival for our entire genus Homo produces even tighter bounds, with an annual probability of natural extinction likely below one in 870,000.’
The authors said hominins – the family of primates which includes humans – have a higher rate of extinction than other mammals.
‘It is perhaps also notable that some hominin species were likely driven to extinction by our own lineage, suggesting an early form of anthropogenic extinction risk,’ the team added.
However, the chances of armageddon could be higher because of ‘risks that our ancestors did not face, such as anthropogenic climate change or nuclear/biological warfare’.
As well as asteroid impact and supervolcanoes, the academics said there was a risk of ‘stellar explosion’ – the detonation of a star – or vacuum collapse. The last possibility is perhaps the scariest and involves a bubble forming in space. Inside this region, the laws of physics will totally break down. If a vacuum collapse took place, the death bubble would grow and spread through the universe at the speed of light, destroying everything in its path.
This would be a cataclysm of truly cosmic proportions which would bring everything to an abrupt end. But why not look on the bright side? At least we wouldn’t have to endure any more referendums.
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