Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Human Extinction – Is it possible?

With the constant advancement of modern technology and medicine, so too grows the life expectancy of the average human being. In fact out of curiosity whilst writing this blog post, I took a life expectancy test from a website called ‘My Longevity’ and they estimated my life expectancy at 92 years! That’s impressive considering back in 1970 the average Australian life expectancy was only 71 years of age, allowing me to live longer than I’ve currently existed than the average person back then. That’s just our individual life expectancies though, what about the life expectancy of humanity as a whole?

life-expectancy-figure1

Australian life expectancy (years) at birth by sex.

Humanity has come a long way from its hunter gatherer origins, and accompanying that progress has come a level of security for our species. Our existence is no longer threatened by predators such as the saber toothed cat, and we’re less susceptible to the climate and death from preventable disease and infections. So with all that in mind just how likely are we to meet our existential doom? According to The Stern Review, a report compiled by the UK government on the topic of climate change, there is an assumed 0.1 percent risk of human extinction every year. To put that into perspective, the average person’s chance of dying in a car crash each year is just 0.01 percent! The Stern Review isn’t the only resource hypothesizing on our extinction either, there are dozens of theories ranging from superstitious conspiracies to theories that consider observable threats we’re facing right now and in the near future.

These existential threats to humanity should concern you, whether it’s the possibility of an extinction event occurring within your lifespan, or depending on how strongly connected you feel with humanity as a whole, the possibility of our extinction beyond your existence as an individual. For example both the Drake Equation, written by Frank Drake in 1961, and Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument formulated in 1983, prophesize the most likely lifespan of humanity to be only 10,000 years in the future. I say ‘only’ because despite me only being estimated to live for less than one percent of those 10,000 years, I have greater hopes for mankind as a species. 10,000 years just isn’t enough time for us to reach our potential and to understand the universe around us.

9011356

Astronaut watches as an asteroid destroys the earth.

To put those short 10,000 years into perspective, it would take us 100,000 years just to terraform Mars with a breathable atmosphere and the shortest estimated time in which humanity could explore and colonise our Milky Way galaxy is one million years from now! So whether you’re concerned with the possibility of meeting the fate of humanity within your own lifetime, or the survival of future generations so that they may represent our species to the universe, make sure you read my ensuing blog posts as I discuss the threats to the human race.

References:

  1. My Longevity: Life Expectancy Calculator
    (http://www.mylongevity.com.au/index.aspx)
  2. Stern, N.H., 2006. Stern Review: The economics of climate change (Vol. 30). London: HM treasury.
    (http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100407172811/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/Executive_Summary.pdf)
  3. Leading causes of death (AIHW). 2016. Leading causes of death (AIHW). (http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/leading-causes-of-death/)
  4. Life expectancy (AIHW). 2016.
    (http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/life-expectancy/)
  5. Smith, C. and Davies, E.T., 2012. Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization. Springer Science & Business Media.
    (https://books.google.com.au/books?id=XpIUKMKO_GUC&lpg=PR3&ots=2dBvJ1h8g8&dq=Beyond%20Earth%3A%20Human%20Adaptation%20and%20Space%20Colonization&lr&pg=PR5#v=onepage&q&f=false)
  6. Leslie, J., 1993. Doom and probabilities. Mind102(407), pp.489-491.
    (http://williameckhardt.com.p2.hostingprod.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/William_Eckhardt_-_Probability_Theory_and_the_Doomsday_Argument.131122037.pdf)
  7. Astronaut Image
    (http://joemonster.org/art/28704)
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4 comments on “Human Extinction – Is it possible?

  1. chrisjhicks
    May 8, 2016

    Oh its totally possible, but probably not without taking most of the higher life forms with us. I enjoyed your post, ending the world is a soft spot for me.

    I wouldn’t be so dismissive of global pandemics though. Bubonic plague managed to kill ~13-17% of the world population in it’s first outbreak (The Plague of Justinian 541-542), and the second outbreak (The Black Death 1346-53) killed ~17-30%. If another super-bug came through that humanity hadn’t encountered before, it could be the end of us.

    But I’m generally optimistic about this stuff.

    I also think you kind of presented the Drake Equation backwards. It doesn’t prophecise the lifespan of humanity. Your best guess of a civilisation’s lifespan is one of the things you enter into the equation. And according to Wikipedia (can’t get to their sources without paying) Drake’s original estimate for civilisation lifespan when as high as 100,000,000 years. So maybe things aren’t so bad?

    Like

    • scientificblogsite
      May 8, 2016

      Ah maybe I have made a mistake with my interpretation of Drake’s Equation, and yes his estimated maximum for humanity is 100,000,000 years, unfortunately the 95% estimate is a lot lower. I can only hope for the best, and I wish I was around to see it all.

      Like

  2. callummeldrum
    May 8, 2016

    This was a terrific blog in that it was engaging, thrilling to read and perfectly written but it felt like it was missing a key science point behind your statements, yes the life expectancy is science but I would like to see some more science in the form of world destruction.
    I chose this blog to read because who doesn’t love some world extinction banter, but it needed some examples of what could actually happen in a world exctinction event.
    I did some digging and found an example in which you could have used,
    http://time.com/3035872/sixth-great-extinction/
    The sixth extinction actually shows how the world is following in the footsteps of the previous extinctions and that It could very well happen to us again.
    Overall this was a terrific blog.

    Good job

    Like

  3. danieltabone
    May 9, 2016

    Very well written! I to have concern about the “end of the human race.” With medicine and science moving forward at such a fast rate, resources are dropping at faster rate. For example oil is a necessity at the moment, and there is no indication that the need will slow any time soon. According to the Institute of mechanical engineers, we have only 40 years of oil left! And it is approximately the same for gold and natural gas. That is purely based on science today, imagine what is going to happen when the ability to produce the ultimate offspring comes along, average life span will be even longer. Lets hope earth can handle such a big population :/

    Like

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2016 by in Burwood - Wednesday 11am, Uncategorized.

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