The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction

The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction

The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction

The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction


Are we in imminent danger of extinction? Yes, we probably are, argues John Leslie in his chilling account of the dangers facing the human race as we approach the second millenium. The End of the World is a sobering assessment of the many disasters that scientists have predicted and speculated on as leading to apocalypse. In the first comprehensive survey, potential catastrophes - ranging from deadly diseases to high-energy physics experiments - are explored to help us understand the risks.One of the greatest threats facing humankind, however, is the insurmountable fact that we are a relatively young species, a risk which is at the heart of the 'Doomsday Argument'. This argument, if correct, makes the dangers we face more serious than we could have ever imagined. This more than anything makes the arrogance and ignorance of politicians, and indeed philosophers, so disturbing as they continue to ignore the manifest dangers facing future generations.


Aside from having this Preface, the paperback is virtually no different from the hardcover of two years ago. One or two misprints have been corrected. A book’s publication date has been revised from 1996 to 1997. The hardcover’s talk of problems which computers might hit when handling the change from 1999 to 2000, making ‘the next millennium’ open with a crash, was at fault because, strictly speaking, the next millennium will begin only in January 2001—so you’ll find I’ve now instead written of the year 2000 perhaps opening with a crash. Etcetera, etcetera, leaving everything almost exactly as before.

On page 1 and elsewhere, however, the chance has been seized to emphasize still more strongly (since some reviewers had oddly missed the point) that this IS NOT a book firmly predicting Doom Soon. The ‘end of the world’, meaning the end of the human race, is bound to happen sooner or later. All that the book argues is that its happening in the fairly near future is rather more likely than people have thought. As Chapter 3 says, I myself give our species up to a 70 per cent probability of surviving the next five centuries. If it did, then it could stand quite a good chance of colonizing its entire galaxy.

Developments of the last two years seem to have produced little change in humanity’s long-term prospects. There were some interesting news items, though:

There is now a large illegal North American market in CFCs, efficient destroyers of Earth’s ozone layer. Mostly smuggled in from Russia, which failed to meet the agreed phase-out date and was promptly rewarded with a four-year extension, they are disguised as CFCs legally recycled from worn-out cooling systems. Winter zone holes’, twice as large as Europe, stretched from the Arctic

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