Life Today vs. a Hypothetical Future | Teen Ink

Life Today vs. a Hypothetical Future

December 4, 2023
By EllieY BRONZE, Medina, Washington
EllieY BRONZE, Medina, Washington
1 article 3 photos 0 comments


Over recent decades, the threat of human extinction has been looming. With the invention of AI, rapid escalation of climate change, and the ever-present risk of nuclear war, humanity’s global focus has increasingly shifted towards preventing its extinction. However, with immediate world issues such as poverty, socioeconomic inequality, and racial discrimination, humanity’s tangle between improving global quality of life and preventing human extinction has never been more complicated. The overarching question is, should humanity focus on solving world issues today, or mitigating human extinction, thereby preserving the chance to address those issues in the future? While undoubtedly, a mix of both is ideal, I argue that improving the overall quality of life in the world we live in today is more important on the grounds of securing a life where the potential for an eudaimonistic life is not overshadowed by the extreme measures taken to prevent an uncertain existential demise.

I. Defining Life

What is life? What qualifies as human extinction? Would a future where humans maintain biological functions without consciousness be considered living, such as in The Matrix? Before delving into the primary question of which is more important, solving world issues or mitigating human extinction, it is imperative to first answer these questions. I define life as the myriad of actions that enable opportunities to pursue self-growth; only being alive in the scientific sense is not enough. As Aristotle asserted in his book Nichomachean Ethics: “A life of eudaimonia is a life of striving. It’s a life of pushing yourself to your limits, and finding success. A eudaimonistic life will be full of the happiness that comes from achieving something really difficult, rather than just having it handed to you” (Aristotle, as quoted in Gatchpazian). To live is to achieve a life of eudaimonia, an experience full of happiness and quality of being.

To define “quality”, I look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Scientifically, only physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter are needed, but to truly live, people must strive towards the top level of the pyramid, self-actualization. Self-actualization is not a concrete state of being, but rather what Aristotle would describe as a eudaimonistic life, a life full of striving to become the greatest version of oneself (Hoffman, as quoted in Mcleod). Maslow said, “It is quite true that man lives by bread alone—when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” (Maslow, as quoted in Mcleod). Humans’ constant desire for more is proof that physiological needs are not what define life; rather, it’s the capability to strive for self-actualization that defines our existence, and achieving such engenders happiness.

II. Moral Imperative to Address Immediate Ethical Concerns

One argument for preventing human extinction is the preservation of the opportunity to address world issues such as global health issues, gender inequality, and human rights violations in the future. However, the perpetual deferment of those issues to subsequent generations neglects the world’s immediate needs and diminishes their urgency. Hence, it is a moral imperative to address those concerns now. Poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States alone (Danelski, “Poverty is the 4th Greatest Cause of U.S. Deaths”), and around the world, nearly 28 million people are being trafficked (U.S. Department of State, “About Human Trafficking”). I raise the question, is there merit in protecting future generations when their grandparents are dying today? Those people are not “alive” from our previously established definition of “life”, as they are unable to strive for self-actualization due to their physiological needs not being met. Therefore, there is no point in focusing on future generations’ wellbeing when those people not only do not exist, but there are others needing help today, suffering and dying from a myriad of preventable issues.

III. Radical Prevention of Human Extinction

Preventing human extinction could lead to extreme measures that ultimately diminish quality of life, both today and in the future. Take, for example, activities such as indulgence in a favorite food or petting a dog. While seemingly harmless, those actions may lead to the end of humanity. Hypothetically, if humans persist in these activities, it could lead to their termination as a species. Overconsumption of certain foods may lead to widespread deforestation, increasing the rate of climate change, hence eradicating human civilization. Petting dogs could spread zoonotic diseases, leading to a humanity ending pandemic. And while those scenarios bear minimal probability, their potential to end humanity cannot be definitively negated. Thus, the best way to ensure human survival is to imprison them in bunkers, eating bland but nutritious food, with no entertainment to conserve energy. But is such a life worth living? Euthanasia has been available for nearly a century, with the sole goal of limiting suffering (Hiatt, “The History of the Euthanasia Movement”). Would it perhaps be a merciful killing if humans lived under those circumstances? And while this case theoretically provides the possibility for life quality improvement, ending humanity would eliminate that possibility. However, in a world devoid of humans, the loss of this potential becomes immaterial; as Jonathan Schell put it, “the unborn [will not] shed any tears over their lost chance to exist; to do so they would have to exist already” (Schell, as cited in Torres). Nature would thrive, unhampered by humans, allowing the world to go on.

Contrarily, enhancing the quality of life may inadvertently prevent human extinction. Consider the Russia-Ukraine war escalating United States oil prices (Appiah-Otoo, “Russia-Ukraine War and US Oil Prices”). The increased prices came with a slew of anxiety for American citizens, especially amongst the middle- and lower-classes. Stopping the war would effectively reduce the prices, thereby increasing life quality, while simultaneously saving countless Ukrainian lives and their future descendants, therefore preventing human extinction. By improving the quality of life, human extinction will be simultaneously and indirectly prevented as well.

To put it plainly, human extinction is something that may not be able to be prevented despite humanity’s best efforts. Take, for example, the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs had no way of knowing a meteor would end their lives one day, nor did they have any way to stop it even if they did know. Even now, with humanity’s advanced technology, a meteor of that scale would likely lead to our termination. Perhaps tomorrow, high-tech aliens will invade Earth, or a new virus will trigger a pandemic. It’s impossible to control such things, and while efforts can be made, ultimately, improving the life quality and hence allowing people to truly live should be our upmost priority, for what is life without spending time with family, playing fetch with dogs, and going to concerts?


To conclude, life is not only defined by biological processes, but rather by quality. Without quality, our lives would be devoid of sipping from a cold, condensed glass of water on a sweltering summer day, feeling the warmth and softness of a cat’s fur under our fingers, and the stomach-dropping thrill of a roller coaster. However, the simple joys that we take for granted are not universal experiences. Every day, people all over the world die from a myriad of causes, and yet we’re more focused on humanity’s survival three centuries from now from something we may not even be able to control. By fostering a better quality of life today, we lay a strong foundation for humanity to thrive, capable of facing the future’s uncertainties. Our moral obligation extends not only to safeguarding a hypothetical future, but to alleviating the immediate afflictions of our world today.

Works Cited

“About Human Trafficking.” United States Department of State, Accessed 15 Oct. 2023.

Appiah-Otoo, Isaac. “Russia–Ukraine War and US Oil Prices.” Energy RESEARCH LETTERS, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 2023.,

“Eudaimonia: Definition, Meaning, & Examples.” The Berkeley Well-Being Institute, Accessed 15 Oct. 2023.

Hiatt, Anna. “The History of the Euthanasia Movement | JSTORY Daily.” JSTOR Daily, 6 Jan. 2016,

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 3 Nov. 2022,

“Poverty Is the 4th Greatest Cause of U.S. Deaths.” News, Accessed 15 Oct. 2023.

Rye, Connie, et al. 1.2 Themes and Concepts of Biology - Biology | OpenStax. OpenStax, 21 Oct. 2016,

“What Are the Moral Implications of Humanity Going Extinct? | Aeon Essays.” Aeon, Accessed 15 Oct. 2023.

The author's comments:

As a high school junior at the time of publication, I find myself deeply immersed in the worlds of design, politics, and philosophy. Through this piece on the ethics of human extinction and life quality, I aim to provoke thought and stimulate dialogue among readers. It is my hope that this article serves as a catalyst for reflection, urging viewers to question and explore the intricate ethical issues that weave through the fabric of our daily lives and the broader world around us.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.