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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Extinction Scenario: Humans an Endangered Species

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The UK-based nonprofit Global Challenges Foundation’s annual report on global catastrophic risk has found that the risk of human extinction is higher than we might expect. The Stern Review, the British premier government report on the economics of climate change, estimates a 0.1 percent risk of human extinction every year.

“We don’t expect any of the events that we describe to happen in any specific 10-year period. They might—but on balance, they probably won’t,” says Sebastian Farquhar, director of the Global Priorities Project. United Nations-approved climate models estimate that temperatures might rise six to 10 degrees Celsius, which pushes the probability of extinction beyond 3 percent, even with a considerable decrease in carbon emissions.

Nuclear war, natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, genetic engineering gone awry and pandemic plagues figure in too, but the biggest threat might be the ever-increasing human population. According to a paper published in the journal Nature by Elizabeth Hadly, a professor of environmental biology at Stanford University, such growth has followed the trajectory of a typical invasive species and suggests there may be a looming global population downturn. Still, humans are capable of exponentially growing their population several times over through the invention of new technologies and cultural shifts, regardless of Earth’s natural carrying capacity.


This article appears in the December 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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