Our science-fiction apocalypse: Meet the scientists trying to predict the end of the world

10 May 2014
by Aaron Labaree

How exotic and unlikely-sounding disasters could kill every last human being.

It’s been a summer of bad news: what with increasingly bleak-seeming geopolitical turmoil and conflict in American streets, not to mention all the carbon spewing into the atmosphere faster than ever. But I’ve been talking to experts in the field of catastrophic risk, and I’m happy to report that, all seeming evidence to the contrary aside, the effort to prevent human extinction is making progress. When it comes to the survival of the human race — the long-term, species-level survival — global war and global warming may be relatively small potatoes.

“Global warming is very unlikely to produce an existential catastrophe,” Nick Bostrom, head of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, told me when I met him in Boston last month. “The Stern report says it could hack away 20 percent of global GDP. That’s, like, how rich the world was 10 or 15 years ago. It would be lost in the noise if you look in the long term.”

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