What is an existential threat? meaning explained

RUSSIA has admitted it would use nuclear weapons if faced with an “existential threat”.

Vladimir Putin’s Press secretary Dmitry Peskov has confirmed that the use of nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out given the ensuing international tensions Russiainvasion of Ukraine.

Russia would use nuclear missiles if faced with an existential threat


Russia would use nuclear missiles if faced with an existential threat

What is an existential threat?

Existential means existential, i.e. existence-threatening if the existence of something is in danger.

The term can be used in relation to both living things and non-living things.

So it can mean a threat to a country, for example when a nation feels threatened.

When asked about the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons by Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, Russian official Peskov said, “We have a concept of internal security, and, well, it’s public.”

He added: “You can read all the reasons for using nuclear weapons.

“So if it’s an existential threat to our country, then it can be deployed according to our concept.”

What would qualify as an existential threat? states: “something is generally considered to be an existential threat when it assumes massive proportions, such as climate change or nuclear war”.

These threats range from environmental and natural disasters to biotechnological risks.

Existential threats to humanity are dangers that could lead to the total annihilation of humanity and threaten the very existence of the earth.

academics at Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge examine the types of existential threats facing humanity and how they can be mitigated.


Here are some of the areas they look at:


Asteroids are rocky bodies that orbit the sun.

Smaller asteroids regularly fly towards Earth, but they are often broken up into harmless matter when they hit Earth’s atmosphere.

Occasionally, a larger and more dangerous asteroid joins them collide with the earth.

Scientists believe that 66 million years ago a large asteroid collided with Earth, causing widespread devastation that wiped out dinosaurs and other plant and animal civilizations.

About every 1000 years, asteroids larger than 100 m hit the earth.

So it’s possible that a large asteroid could make contact with Earth and lead to human extinction, making asteroids an existential threat to humanity.


As the past two years have shown, pandemics can pose an existential threat to life as we know it.

A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of a disease, examples of which are Covid-19, HIV and smallpox.

Pandemics can occur naturally or be man-made.

A genetically engineered pandemic could occur if a killer virus is created and spread.

Air travel has made containment of pandemics more difficult.

Nuclear winter

Large-scale wars using nuclear weapons are designed to lead to a Nuclear winter.

This is the global climatic cooling that occurs after firestorms.

These post-war fires are thought to drive soot into the stratosphere and block sunlight, hence the term Nuclear Winter.

Should a nuclear winter occur, crops would die due to lack of sunlight and the presence of soot in the atmosphere, leading to widespread famine that would pose an existential crisis for humans and animals.

collapse of the ecosystem

Climate change, changes in the hydrological cycle and the decrease in the pH of the oceans threaten human civilization CSER.

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The Earth’s ecosystem requires certain variables to support human and animal life.

It is important that certain conditions are met as changes in the Earth’s ecosystem can lead to mass extinctions, hence ecosystem collapse is an existential threat. What is an existential threat? meaning explained


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