Unsettling Study Finds People Just Don't Care That Much if Humans Go Extinct

Forget nuclear weapons, biological warfare, and the slew of other ways humanity could cause its own destruction for a moment.

Forget nuclear weapons, biological warfare, and the slew of other ways humanity could cause its own destruction for a moment.

If you take into account only naturally occurring phenomena — supervolcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, and the like — researchers from the University of Oxford recently determined that the probability of our entire species going extinct in any given year could be as high as one in 14,000 (although it’s probably closer to 1 in 87,000).

 

Now consider this: In October, a separate team from Oxford published its own paper on human extinction in the journal Scientific Reports — and it found that people don’t seem to see the loss of humanity as uniquely tragic.

The second group of researchers asked more than 2,500 people in the United States and the United Kingdom to rank three possible scenarios from best to worst: no major catastrophe, a catastrophe that wipes out 80 percent of the human population, and a catastrophe that causes complete human extinction.

As you might expect, most people ranked no catastrophe as the best possibility and complete human extinction as the worst. But when asked to think about the difference in "badness" between the possibilities, most people were more bothered by the possibility of losing 80 percent of humanity than losing all of it.

"Thus, when asked in the most straightforward and unqualified way," the researchers wrote, "participants do not find human extinction uniquely bad."

When the researchers switched the whole scenario to focus on an animal species, though, survey respondents saw the…

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