These Are the 8 “Catastrophic Risks” to Humanity That Could Happen in the Next Five Years

How could the human population be decimated in the next half-decade? Researchers from Oxford’s Global Priorities Project who were determined to ruin your day have set out to answer this very question, and the answers are a little terrifying. According to their new report, there are eight different imminent threats to humanity, all of which could happen in the next five years.
Global Catastrophic Risks

According to the report, three of these “catastrophic risks”–nuclear war, natural pandemic, and engineered pandemic–are somewhat likely to happen within the next five years, while dangers such as catastrophic climate change, an AI apocalypse, and a failure of geoengineeering are likely to happen at some point, but are unlikely to show their effects within the next five years. (Geoengineering refers to artificial changes to our climate as a result of our efforts to battle climate change, which could theoretically lead to a Snowpiercer-type situation.) And then there are a few risks that are somewhat unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, and so don’t command too much of our attention, such as a devastating asteroid impact and a supervolcanic eruption.

Just to be clear, this report details various “catastrophic” risks to humanity as opposed to “existential” risks, which means they couldn’t wipe out the entire human race. However, they could eradicate approximately 10% of our population, which is still pretty damn scary. And the chart specifies that in the case of risks such as climate change, the fact that it’s not likely to show effects in the next five years is no reason to pay it less attention than more immediate risks like nuclear war. In fact, we should probably pay more attention to risks like climate change, because that’s something we absolutely know is going to happen, where risks like a pandemic and nuclear war are viscerally scary, but still speculative.

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“Even when the probability is low, the sheer magnitude of an adverse outcome warrants taking these risks seriously,” write the authors. “A global catastrophic risk not only threatens everyone alive today, but also future generations. Reducing these risks is therefore both a global and an intergenerational public good.”

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