Does The World Have 1000 Years Left?

The first lines of students formed at 8am outside the Oxford Union, ready for the icy 12 hour wait for a glimpse of Professor Stephen Hawking It was the 14th of November 2016, and Hawking – “the greatest living physicist and cosmologist” – was giving a long-anticipated appearance at Oxford University’s world famous debating society

But when he finally took to the stage, the crowd became wracked not with excitement – but with fear “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet” he declared And, by the time he had finished his speech, many of the audience solemnly agreed with him It was not the first time Hawking made this troubling forecast Earlier in the year, he had lectured at the BBC

He warned about a range of factors likely to cause an apocalypse The first danger is the coupling of advanced weapons technology and human aggression Second is accelerating global warming Third is the evolution of antibiotic-resistant viruses and incurable diseases Fourth, is the potential for artificial intelligence to destroy its human “masters”

Hawking argued that the only way to avoid certain demise from one of these possibilities, is by colonising other planets and preparing them for human habitation Others agree In 2015 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists changed the Doomsday Clock time to three to midnight This clock represents the countdown until a man-made apocalypse Security experts consider the threat of nuclear war at an all-time high

Former Pentagon Chief William Perry says, “The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the Cold War” He says this because there are more nuclear states than ever before, with a cumulative arsenal of 16,300 nuclear warheads Political scientist Peter W Singer, a specialist on future war, says that “it is perfectly possible that a third world war could start with a small event, or even by accident” Besides nuclear war, global warming may indeed pose the lethal threat Hawking warns

As of 2015, 97% of climate scientists agree global warming is happening, and that humans are the main cause Writer David Auerbach says, “At this point, lowering emissions is just half the story – the easy half The harder half will be an aggressive effort to find the technologies needed to reverse the climate apocalypse that has already begun” Calculations show that if the global temperature increases by 2-4 degrees, the planet will verge on being uninhabitable The “minor” European heatwave in 2003 killed 70,000

The Earth’s average surface temperature is currently 14 degrees celsius A 2015 report by the Committee on Climate Change revealed that a 4 degree increase would result in over 2 billion people living without usable water, and severe loss of habitats for two thirds of plant species and one third of animal species With the installation of President-elect Donald Trump in January 2017, the impact of global warming looks even more unpredictable Not only has Trump denied any link between human activity and global warming, but in December 2016 he appointed climate change denier Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency Alarmingly, this signals that U

S policy will become environmentally more regressive across the next five years A study by University of East Anglia estimated that the world will cease to be habitable somewhere between 175 to 325 billion years’ time

Yet, their findings also reveal a more horrifying reality: that the Earth might very well have moved into the solar system’s “hot zone” much sooner than this In other words, the Earth’s orbit may shift closer to the Sun This would expose Earth to extreme solar radiation that would destroy all life on the planet Hawking’s final anxiety, a destructive conquest by Artificial Intelligence, is also echoed by others in the field Dr Stuart Armstrong of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute has predicted that AI will eventually monopolise key state functions such as work and healthcare, before eventually running governments themselves and controlling human populations

It is also hard to dismiss concerns of a deadly disease wiping us out The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies calls the rise of antibiotic resistant drugs an “apocalyptic” threat Davies suggests that within the next two decades a huge number of patients will die due to the failure of antibiotics development to keep pace with the increasing sophistication of disease strains NASA has announced that by 2030 it intends to have human colonies living and working on Mars Scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Centre have also suggested that human settlements on Venus are a very likely possibility in the next century as well

The extent of these projects certainly indicates that governments are worried about humanity’s future on Earth While these experts do paint a bleak picture, there is certainly hope Combatting global warming is now a priority of the international political agenda In 2015, 194 countries signed the Paris Agreement This initiative intends to prevent a climate apocalypse by preventing the global temperature rising by more than 2 degrees

Artificial Intelligence may one day wipe us out, but such sophisticated technology does not yet exist For now, this is pure speculation Theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explains, “it is still too early to run to the hills” And while the Earth could very well move into the “hot zone” of the solar system, there is no evidence to suggest this is an imminent possibility Some, such as realist scholar Kenneth Waltz, argue that global nuclearisation is actually making the world more stable

He points out that states develop nuclear capabilities in order to protect themselves and increase their chances of survival Therefore, as more countries get these weapons, the risk of a nuclear counterstrike becomes very real and very dangerous Hence, nuclear weapons become a deterrent for war However, the possibility of an epidemic of antibiotic resistant disease developing remains – according to the UN General Assembly – a “fundamental threat” to mankind This comment was part of a campaign to put the issue at the forefront of the pharmaceutical agenda

For now, we can only hope that this will energise research in the field to eliminate the threat posed by disease We live in dangerous times Given the acceleration of global warming, the increasing threat of nuclear war, the evolution of diseases and the Earth’s natural lifespan, as well as the multitude of unforeseen possibilities, the Earth may well have only 1000 years left Despite human efforts to combat each of these, there is no certainty that we will succeed in preventing an apocalyptic tragedy

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