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Now that humankind has weaponized the power of the sun, what is the likelihood that we will blow ourselves up and when. This page is all about the link between the likelihood and when.

The first calculation runs from 1949 to present time and returns the 50% likelihood of a nuclear winter by 2014. That likelihood is just 0.01 or one percent. If this picture holds, and there is no reason to assume that it does or does not--it is just a single sample in time. Having survived for over six decades without a nuclear war, by reverse logic, the true likelihood can be estimated as about one percent.

In this age of terror most prognosticators believe the odds of a nuclear weapon being used are higher than that. The Bay of Pigs crisis was one near miss. There other near misses, like a nuclear-armed bomber crashing.

Many pundits believe that a terror group will obtain one or more live weapons and use them in an attempt to intimidate the rest of the world, but it will be relatively local not global. Certainly some fissionable material has gone missing. It is less certain whether an actual armed or armable weapon has gone missing. But the missing material is enough to manufacture a few primitive, Hiroshima-type bombs. Can we assume their owners are certain to keep them under the tightest security?

All assumptions have attending probabilities, and are usually unknown. So what level of probability should we seek to assure the survival of humanity out to say a million years? Or is a tenth of that time sufficient? No? How about a hundred times? Evolution will take over much beyond a million years. (Or maybe humanity will alter its own genome away from suicide this century!)

No probability is the safer way, and only total disarmament has a chance at that. Even then, only an International Authority with full inspection privileges anywhere and everywhere will be needed to enforce compliance. Needless to say, any sovereign nation that puts individual interests above those of the species, will resist such an event.

What can any odds at this point really mean? Knowing them can mean a lot for they govern how safe from the nuclear genie we want to be. Peg that number and we have a guide for the needed quality level of inspection and control programs to assure survival of our species at least until evolution asserts itself as it surely will. Like radioactivity, species have a half life when living under a probability hammer, as they always have. But we cannot peg the number under that hammer. Probability, as the word itself implies, can only be an estimate, not an actual. The only safe way is the erasure of all nuclear weaponry. This calls for an International Authority able to inspect any and all spots on earth.

Survival likelihood per year Half-life in Years
0.95 14 (1959)
0.99 69 (2014)
0.999 693 (2538)
0.9999 6,931 (8876)
0.99999 69,314 (71259)
0.999999 693,147 (695092)

Mathematicians call this behavior a power law. In its practical form, the above table implies that if our true survival rate is the annual 99% from the only data point we have, then we are already entering an era of living on borrowed time.

Our point here is to give hope that the genie can indeed be bottled somewhere in the 0.99999-9.999999 area. Can humanity achieve such low probabilities? Yes, it can and it does every day in analogous statistical terms. If we think of a nuclear winter in a given year is analogous to a fatal accident in any given commercial airline flight, then the perspective is that our nuclear half-life can be equivalent to commercial flight survival probability. Equivalent care in nuclear quality control can ensure similar low odds that humanity's half-life will be on the order of a quarter of a billion years or so.

We have the technical skills to do it. The stratosphere is achievable. We have the basic smarts to reduce the probability of a nuclear winter to less than that of an unstoppable bolide impact. Long before that, humanity will evolve to yet higher planes of achievement in the physical, intellectual and emotional arenas--if we live through the current age of confusion and fights between and among various dogmas and the natural equilibrium of nature.

In the parlance of quality control, Six Sigma is a program used by many high tech industries that reaches the stratosphere in low defect or incidence rates. So such performance is not only possible under special conditions, but industries world-wide prove it daily. However, being aggressive, emotional, impulsive, political, and dogmatic animals by nature, we may not soon reach a level of even 0.999 in political correctness for nuclear controls on every acre of earth's surface. Terror groups and rogue nations must be our first order of business. We have the tools. It remains to implement them.


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