Do you freaking love science? Then you might be a big enough sucker to fall for a claim like this one: “Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.” Which was actually made by an environmentalist group called the Global Challenges Foundation and reported with a straight face in The Atlantic.
What this report means by a “human-extinction event” is one “that would wipe out more than 10 percent of Earth’s human population.” Not exactly extinction, but I’ll grant that it’s big and horrible enough. Nominally, they are referring to rare and unusual cataclysms that we can’t do much about, like supervolcanoes and killer asteroids. But you can guess at what they’re really aiming. The Global Challenges Foundation describes its mission as raising “awareness of the Global Catastrophic Risks. Primarily focused on climate change …” Bet you saw that one coming.
The fact that such claims are taken seriously tells you a lot about how global warming has become a religion with a veneer of science — down to the specific form of argument that it borrows from religion in this case.
Consider the peculiar, probabilistic nature of the claim being made here. They are pretty obviously fudging the probabilities in both directions. A fatal car accident seems like an ordinary and commonplace danger, but it is actually quite rare these days, after decades of steep declines in traffic fatality rates. (Keep that in mind, because it will be relevant later.) But at least it can be measured and quantified based on actual past data from experience. The basis for calculations about “human-extinction events” is a lot fuzzier. But it doesn’t really matter, because even though they are actually far rarer than car crashes, when a “human-extinction event” happens, then by definition everybody dies. So the sheer scale of the disaster makes up for its extreme rarity.