• Question: will humans ever become extinct

    Asked by webber13 to Alan, Caspar, Diana, Murray, Sarah on 21 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Diana Drennan

      Diana Drennan answered on 18 Mar 2011:

      Probably. Maybe because we kill ourselves off through war or a meteor hits or something, or maybe because we might evolve into something else. There are lots of humanoid species that have died out that were here before us. Some of them were our ancestors, so we evolved from them. That species is extinct, but their genes, their legacy, are still around inside of us. It wasn’t a dead end. Some of them, however, were not our ancestors but evolved from something that we also evolved from. Sort of like our cousins. But they are extinct too, but we don’t have their genes. So their genes met a dead end.

      For example. Suppose your cousin had blue hair. And he got laughed at so he and his wife went to an island and had kids who all had blue hair. And for 1,000,000s of years they lived there and their descendants evolved into another species called the blue-hairs. Now, a meteor comes and wipes out everyone else. No more normal humans, just blue-hairs. Would humans be extinct ? yes, but some of their genes, their legacy, continues…

    • Photo: Murray Collins

      Murray Collins answered on 19 Mar 2011:

      Hi Webber

      All species seem to go extinct eventually, just as death is a part of life. What is unusual about us is our abilities with intelligence, culture and technology, so that we can understand risks of extinction and change them.

      Conservation biologists understand the processes which lead to extinction, and know how to reduce these risks. Whilst conservation biologists apply this understanding to threatened species like tigers, we are increasingly realising that these rules don’t just apply to other animals, but ultimately to us. We are over-using the resources we have, and our population is continuing to grow, with maybe another 2 billion people in the next three decades! Wow. More people eating more food, but already our food supplies for instance from the sea are shrinking because we are taking too much. So we face massive challenges over our lifetimes. Climate change is a massive risk for humans, since it will make food production harder in many places, and make the earth more difficult for us to live on, even with the numbers of people we have now, let alone another 2billion! That is why I am focussing on climate change, as I explain in another answer http://ias.im/35.1640

      Extinction would mean the death of every last human, which I think for the immediate future at least is unlikely. In the past humans have survived ice-ages and huge volcanic explosions which plunged the world into year-round winters when lots of plants and animals would have died, making it very difficult to survive. But do we just want to survive as a species, or thrive? I think we want to thrive. This would mean fewer people who are able to live within the limits of what natural ecosystems can provide us, without having to come into conflict with one another for fewer and fewer natural resources.

      Interesting question, could go on a lot longer…. πŸ™‚



    • Photo: Alan Winfield

      Alan Winfield answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      That’s an interesting question. If you mean in the next hundred or so years, then I think yes – it is possible that there might be some major catastrophe that affects a huge number of people on the planet. Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal has suggested that humans have a 50-50 chance of making it through the 21st century without a serious setback. He said “Some natural threats, such as earthquakes and meteorite impacts, remain the same throughout time, while others are aggravated by our modern-interconnected world. But now we also need to consider threats that are human induced”.

      So what threats are there? I remember reading that the biggest 3 are (1) climate change, (2) a viral pandemic like the flu outbreak in 1918 that killed around 20m people and (3) a super volcano eruption. There are others of course, like a meteor strike – but I think that’s much less likely to happen. Someone also has suggested there is a threat from intelligent robots taking over – but I think that’s nonsense! But – to go back to your question – even if one of these things happens I think it’s highly unlikely that it would be a ‘complete extinction event’ for humans. There are so many of us, and we’re spread over so many parts of the world, that even if something really bad happened I think there would be pockets of humanity left who survive and carry on.

    • Photo: Caspar Addyman

      Caspar Addyman answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      It is amazing and depressing that the most likely way we would go extinct any time soon is if we did it to ourselves. Ever since the invention of the atomic bomb humans have the ability to wipe ourselves out. Fortunately nuclear war is not such a threat as it was in the 1960’s 70’s. Right now i think nuclear war is very unlikely but politics is a crazy business and you never know what is around the corner.

      Assuming that we don’t blow ourselves up then I think the next biggest danger is from giant asteroids. but these are very very rare.. This is thanks to having jupiter and saturn in our solar system. Their large gravitational forces mean that the inner solar system has been swept clean of a lot of the smaller debris that forms comets, asteroids and metorites.

      So i think we got at least a few thousand years that are relatively safe. And while evolution won’t change us much in that time..I can’t imagine what the world will be like thanks to technology. There will certainly be lots more robots but I don’t think they will want to KILL ALL HUMANS.

    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      Well humans are very widespread on the Earth, live in communities all over the world and humans are capable of some kind of basic survival in isolation. So the only way for humans to become extinct would be if the entire planet became uninhabitable. Or if aliens came and killed everyone. Even if there was a global pandemic of a deadly disease, there are communities that are remote enough that they wouldn’t be affected by it.

      So how could our planet become uninhabitable? Well i suppose if there was a massive scientific disaster, such as the Large Hardon Collider at CERN forming a black hole, then that could ruin the planet. Or a giant nuclear war. Or perhaps some environmental disaster like an ice-age.