Think coronavirus is the worst thing that could happen to the world? Think again. It could be worse, much much worse. Feeling better now?

Things are tough just now, right? You want to be cheered up, don’t you? Well, consider this: things could be much worse. The existence of humankind is not a given. There are a variety of existential threats out there and, put is this way, the odds could be better.

I was reminded of this by an article in today’s “Observer” newspaper which contains this comment:

[Toby Ord] has tried to present his modelling in as calm and rational a fashion as possible, making sure to take into account all the evidence that suggests the risks are not large. One in six is his best estimate, factoring in that we make a “decent stab” at dealing with the threat of our destruction.

If we really put our minds to it and mount a response equal to the threat, the odds, he says, come down to something more like 100-1 for our extinction. But, equally, if we carry on ignoring the threat represented by advances in areas like biotech and artificial intelligence, then the risk, he says, “would be more like one in three”.

This newspaper article reminded me of a book I once read: “Our Final Century” by Martin Rees (2003). In my review of this book, I noted:

Martin Rees is a research scientist of international repute and so one has to listen when he opines that: “humanity is more at risk than at any earlier phase in its history” and “I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the present century without a serious setback”.

The risks are growing for three reasons: small groups and even individuals now have the capacity to unleash threats such as a biological or computer virus; society is now critically dependent on networks and systems that are vulnerable to attack or damage; and instant global communications will magnify the perceptions and repercussions of any such disaster.

There now: aren’t you feeling better about the current crisis?


  • Pete Roberts

    Well Roger, since neither of us are likely to be around to contemplate a complete disaster (unless you count Trump & Boris) like an asteroid or supervolcano this makes comforting reading… 😉

    All the best and thanks for a great blog! Stay safe, cheers, Pete

  • Roger Darlington

    Thanks, Pete.


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