A few days ago, I was watching a video by YouTuber LEMMiNO called “Consumed by the Apocalypse”. This video, which can be found here, talks about the various threats that could potentially wipe out the human race. Some of the threats he went over were quite far-out, such as a supernova destroying all of the earth. Others were more sci-fi focused, like self-replicating nanobots that can consume all of humanity. Watching this video really got me thinking: what would be the best way to destroy humanity? Let’s take a closer look at this.
Before we talk about the best ways to destroy humanity, let’s first define what destroying all of the human race entails. Truly destroying all of humanity is a hard task. Although threats such as nuclear war may be capable of killing millions, it is not able to reliably wipe out the entire human race. Remnants of humanity may survive in isolated pockets, and thus the human race will live on. Destroying all of humanity means to eradicate all of the human race from this Earth, meaning that the cataclysmic event would have to make the entire human race extinct, with no real way of humanity ever recovering again. Just like how an asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs, what is humanity’s “asteroid” of extinction?
An easy answer for many people would be just an asteroid strike or any impact of Earth from a stellar object. If it had worked for the dinosaurs, then surely it can work for us, right? Well, contrary to what most people think, asteroid strikes are actually very rare. Although small objects frequently collide with Earth, larger asteroids only strike the Earth about once every 20 million years on average. In fact, the last asteroid that hit the Earth that was larger than 10km in diameter was the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, known as the Chicxulub asteroid. Of course, there is no guarantee that if a large asteroid did strike the Earth, it would wipe out all of humanity. For reference, the Chicxulub asteroid was responsible for the extinction of 75% or more of all species on Earth. However, some species survived the extinction event, such as sea turtles and crocodilians. Other species even thrived after the event, such as the rise of the mammals. If an asteroid the size of the Chicxulub asteroid struck the Earth today, many people would be affected by it, but humanity probably would not go extinct because of the impact.
Although many people think of natural causes when talking about the hypothetical end of the human species, the risk of extinction through these natural disasters are relatively low. After all, the human race has existed for over 200,000 years, and yet we are still thriving. However, a new form of threats has emerged over the last 100 years or so. These threats, known as anthropogenic threats, are man-made sources of catastrophic risk. As our society becomes more technologically advanced, the chances of us destroying ourselves grow. These anthropogenic threats include AI takeover, environmental destruction, nuclear war, and manufactured biotechnology. These risks are some of the greatest threats to the human species, and they are quite likely able to cause human extinction within the next few centuries.
How would an anthropogenic extinction event take place? Although anthropogenic risks as a whole are more likely to occur than natural threats, there are some threats that are more likely than others. Some of the more likely omnicidal risks include man-made biological diseases and climate change. These kinds of threats are oftentimes aided by another factor: the stubbornness of society. Many people refuse to listen to instructions from authorities, leading to more serious conditions. During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this past year, many people around the world have refused to follow government advice to wear masks and social distance. This refusal to adhere to instructions has led to increased COVID-19 cases and casualties. This sort of stubbornness could be critically dangerous if humanity ever faces an extinction-level catastrophic threat.
In 2008, the Future of Humanity Institute performed a survey where they asked various scientists and researchers the chances of different disasters happening before 2100, and whether it would lead to human extinction or not. The survey result showed that there was a 19% chance that humans would go extinct by 2100, whether it be because of superintelligent AI, engineered pandemics, or molecular nanotech weapons. Although it is becoming easier and easier to wipe out humanity, the overall chances of it happening are still quite low. The human race is over 7.6 billion people strong, and so wiping out all of the human race won’t be that easy. In a more likely scenario, these natural or manmade disasters would lead to a widespread breakdown of social order and the loss of most of the human population. Still, humans would likely survive and could live in the new world by scavenging and becoming hunter-gatherers. Humanity is too resilient to be wiped out in this way. However, although humanity will probably be able to survive, whether they will be able to rebuild society is another question. Thriving and rebuilding a new society from the ruins of the old one is another task entirely. Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and yet human civilization has only existed in the last 7,000 years or so. Rebuilding after this catastrophic event would be a momentous task, and so even if humanity itself is not extinct, perhaps society as we know it would be gone forever.