The question, will the human race go extinct is of course a very difficult one to answer. It’s much harder than predicting the weather, because it’s not something that happens every day.
Rate of species Extinction
First, it must be noted that 99.9% of the species that have lived on earth are now extinct. It cannot be denied that extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary history of life on earth. There is what is known as the background rate of extinction. About 10% of the species at any given time go extinct every million years. So, though the dinosaurs ruled the earth for around 140 million years, the dinosaurs at the end of their reign were a completely different set of creatures than were around at the beginning.
Beyond the background rate of extinction, the history of life on earth has been marked by five catastrophic events that caused mass extinctions of more than 75% of all species in a relatively short amount of time. The most famous and the last of these events took place 65 million years ago when a large asteroid impact put an end to the reign of the dinosaurs.
“Life on our planet has been a constant series of cataclysmic events, and we are more suitable for extinction than a trilobite or a reptile. So we will vanish. There’s no doubt in my heart.” – Werner Herzog
But there were other devastating events in the far past that were even worse. For example, 250 million years ago, A huge volcanic out-gassing in Siberia nearly ended all life on earth. It is estimated that 96% of all species on land and in the sea went extinct.
The Sixth Mass Extinction
There is a growing consensus that a sixth mass extinction is currently under way. And this one is being driven by human activity. There are about 2 million known species worldwide, and it is estimated that around 10% of those have gone extinct since the year 1500. This rate is alarmingly higher than the background extinction rate of 10% in a million years. Unfortunately, this is most likely an under-estimation of the actual extinction rate and the trend is undoubtedly accelerating.
Why is this happening? The obvious culprits are overpopulation, environmental degradation and climate change. Clearly, these issues are primarily caused by human activities. For example, the demise of some species was caused by over hunting or over fishing at levels that the species was unable to recover from. Add to that the devastating effects of climate change and you have a recipe for disaster.
So, will the human race go extinct any time soon? Complete extinction in the near future seems unlikely. But evidence that is hard to dispute suggests that in the next few decades the combination of climate change, over consumption of resources and deforestation could easily lead to the collapse of modern civilization. This would likely mean a major reduction of the current human population. And would also mean, in all likelihood, that the few survivors left would find themselves in a kind of a pre-industrial even pre-agricultural situation.
“The future of humanity is going to bifurcate in two directions: Either it’s going to become multiplanetary, or it’s going to remain confined to one planet and eventually there’s going to be an extinction event.” – Elon Musk
How Will the Human Race Go Extinct?
Back in the 1980s, French explorer Jacques Cousteau predicted, due to environmental degradation, that by the end of the 21st century, we would be lucky if the human population was greater than a few hundred thousand people world-wide. This belief was based on his observations of ocean areas rich in plant and animal life visited in the 1940s that had become dead underwater deserts when revisited in the 1980s.
Of course, the possibility of a truly catastrophic event, although rare, is always on the table. Will the next asteroid or comet to come falling out of the sky kill us off next week? Unlikely but possible. Will there be a volcanic out-gassing on a scale that we can’t really comprehend any time soon? Who knows? Will we blow ourselves up in a nuclear war? More likely than an asteroid impact.
According to a 2020 study published in Scientific Reports, if deforestation and resource consumption continue at current rates, they could culminate in a “catastrophic collapse in human population” and possibly “an irreversible collapse of our civilization” in the next 20 to 40 years. According to the most optimistic scenario provided by the study, the chances that human civilization survives are smaller than 10%. – Wikipedia
Will there be a killer virus that suddenly jumps species that we are unable to do anything about? Could it be that nature itself will see humans as the problem and make its own course correction? Not out of the realm of possibility.
Will the human race go extinct? Yes, eventually we will go the way that 99.9% of the species on earth have already gone, extinct. There is some event in our future, maybe of our own doing, that will put an end to humans like all the species that came before.
Even the earth itself will come to an end at some point in the future. So, even if we survive the present threats that we currently face and the civilization ending cosmic or geologic events that will inevitably happen on earth; the only real hope that humans can avoid extinction in the end is to get off this planet and colonize other worlds. Even worlds that orbit different stars. That is not going to happen any time soon so hold onto your hat and enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Retired from the real world after several careers. But thinking back, college was a lot of fun. And researching various topics for debate team was one of my favorite things to do. On this little website I get to research anything that catches my attention. How fun is that! Add in a little commentary and opinion for good measure. And that’s it!