I just received Scientific American’s September Special Issue on “The End” and immediately turned to pages 82-83 to read the article “Laying Odds on the Apocalypse: Experts Assess Doomsday Scenarios.” Eight scenarios are listed, ranging from a killer pandemic (Destruction Ranking 4, Odds: 1-in-2 over the next 30 years) to bubble nucleation, in which a universe pops up within our own (Destruction Ranking 10, Odds: 1-in-1,000,000,000 over the next trillion years). While I skipped over the latter (and won’t pretend to understand it), I was very interested in scenario #5 on nuclear war. The magazine gave it a Destruction Ranking of 6 (hundreds of millions dead) and Odds of 1-in-30 over the next 10 years.
I wish the article had used consistent numbers, such as a time horizon until we expect the event to occur. Thus, the killer pandemic’s odds of “1-in-2 over the next 30 years” would become a time horizon of 60 years, while bubble nucleation’s 1-in-1,000,000,000 over the next trillion years would become a time horizon of a billion-trillion years (10^21 years). Using that system, nuclear war’s odds of 1-in-30 over the next 10 years would become a time horizon of 300 years.
Alternatively, we could express the odds as probabilities over the expected lifetime of a child born today. The killer pandemic would have better than 50-50 odds of occurring in that time frame, bubble nucleation would have very slim odds (roughly one chance in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000) and nuclear war would be in between with a 25% chance of occurring.
Scientific American’s estimates are consistent with my own research which found the time horizon for a full scale nuclear war to be no greater than 1,000 years and possibly in the 100 year time frame. And, even if the time horizon were as long as 1,000 years, that newly born child would have roughly a 10% of not living out his or her natural life.
It’s past time to wake society up to the unacceptable risk it faces so that we can start changing policies and give that child better odds. One way to do that is to send a link to this post or whatever you find most helpful in that effort to all your friends. An alternative link (or better yet, recommend both) is a great new video done by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation ,“The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence.” It’s currently at the top of their home page, but should that move, it’s also on YouTube.
As our slogan says: The risk of a nuclear catastrophe is far greater than we think. Our ability to reduce that risk is far greater than we imagine. Let’s get busy finding out just how much we can do!