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The number of nuclear weapons in existence...
...has dropped by 75% since the 1980s
Earlier this year I was speaking to a friend about writing this blog, and he responded ‘what does it matter, we’re all going to die soon anyway’. I’m not sure if he was referring to COVID, the climate crisis, AI, or some collection of other existential threats, but he expressed a view that is shared by a lot of people: that humanity will, sooner or later, destroy itself.
It is worth remembering that the majority of all human civilisations have ended, and indeed that 99% of all species have become extinct (most without our help). While it may well be that technology does destroy us, it is precisely that technology that has enabled humanity to continue to thrive (at least in numerical terms) in the modern era. We are no longer so susceptible to changes in the weather or cataclysmic events, and our global supply chain makes us far less vulnerable (although of course not invulnerable) to changes in local availability of food and water.
Existential concerns were certainly in my mind when I started researching this blog - I found myself wondering if my children, or even myself - would see some sort of apocalypse. And of course we can’t draw graphs of the future. But we can perhaps argue that the end of the world has never been far from mankind’s collective mind, and it is only the precise nature of the inciting incident that has changed.
For decades, in most people’s minds nuclear weapons were the most likely cause of humanity’s end. But the story (so far) of that outcome is, yet again, a good one. No bomb has been used in anger since Nagasaki, and the total number of nuclear warheads in existence has decreased from around 60,000 in the 1980s to around 15,000.
Of course, the risk caused by those 15,000 warheads is still substantial and we should do all we can to limit the significant dangers caused by such technologies, but the fact is that the doom-mongers from the 1950s (who include Albert Einstein amongst many others) were wrong, and that gives me hope that humanity will face its current challenges in the same way.