Doomsday Clock
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Humans are extremely likely to go extinct, and it looks like we don’t even care

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Nov 10, 2019

Dinosaurs. Woolly mammoths. The dodo. Humans could end up having something in common with them, and doomsday might happen sooner than you can imagine.

Our species has such a high chance of becoming extinct that natural causes like a killer asteroid have a one in 15,000 chance of chance of wiping us out. Now factor in climate change, chemical warfare, nuclear explosions, and other ways we’ve slowly been putting ourselves on the endangered list. It only gets more alarming. What a new Oxford University study published in Scientific Reports found is that most people don’t seem to care whether Homo sapiens will end up as no more than future fossils.

“An important reason why people do not find extinction uniquely bad is that they focus on the immediate death and suffering that the catastrophes cause for fellow humans, rather than on the long-term consequences,” said co-author Stefan Schubert and colleagues.

That’s right. We seem to see no horrific tragedy in our own impending extinction.

Schubert’s team surveyed over 2,500 people in the U.S. and U.K. to find out what they really think of us disappearing, and the results may disturb you. The subjects were asked to rank three possibilities—the survival of humanity, the loss of most of humanity, or the loss of all of humanity—from best to worst. It’s no shock that they saw survival as the best-case scenario and extinction as the worst. It’s just that the thought of 80% of all humans surviving haunted them more than total annihilation.

Even more surprising is that most subjects didn’t freak out at the thought of humans no longer existing. They found that people dreaded the loss of an animal species more than 80% of that species disappearing. You would think that we’d choose ourselves before, say, the black rhino, but there is an understandable reason behind this. Human beings have been found to believe that surviving a near-extinction event and having to psychologically deal with the aftermath is more horrific than all of us vanishing.

There was just one circumstance which made the subjects reconsider. If the future of humanity looked especially optimistic, then they would be crushed at the thought of it going down in flames or floods or a zombie apocalypse (maybe not that last one). Every advance, every contribution, every semblance of human civilization would be gone forever.

“Telling them that the future will be extraordinarily good makes more people find extinction uniquely bad,” Schubert said, but warned that “We should, if necessary, be prepared to make substantial sacrifices in order to make sure that humanity realizes its future potential.”

You might want to think about that next time you leave the water running.

(via Scientific Reports)

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