Earth without Humanity

Life on Earth can survive any man made disaster. But will we?

The fluctuating state of global weather is a topic on many people’s minds, and a source of conflict based on varying opinions. Does the Kyoto Protocol (and protocol extension) go too far, or not far enough when it comes to diminishing global greenhouses gases? What about countries that withdrew from the treaty (Canada), or failed to meet their emission reduction pledges, or weren’t all that thrilled with the deal in the first place (the USA)?

When examining this issue, we should be mindful of the commentators and scientists who look at climate trends based on a yearly basis, by the decade, century or even by the millennia. What is the true measure of change when it comes to planetary weather patterns? There are some pundits who believe the Earth is basically a limitless system, capable of absorbing almost any amount of man made contamination injected into it. Mother Nature heals all wounds … although now that I think about it, these global warming naysayers might be onto something.

Hold onto your ‘Friends of the Earth’ indignation for just a moment. I am by no means siding with the folks who preach that global warming is only a theory, and maybe a myth, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be right about a few things. Part of the popular dogma climate change deniers cling to is that it’s absurd to believe human activity can affect the planet to such a degree that temperatures rise, or that we can even ‘save’ the Earth in the first place. I wholeheartedly agree with the latter point. The best we can hope for is to save ourselves, and maybe a few other species while we’re at it.

Massive meteorites have collided with the surface of the planet in the past, darkened the skies, set off cataclysmic global events (extreme heat, cold, fire raining down from the sky), wiped out entire species, polluted the water, melted glaciers and altered planetary evolutionary patterns in severe ways. Yet through it all, life somehow survived.

Even if we threw the worst we’ve got at the Earth by instigating a global or regional nuclear war, life would go on. Paradoxically, as terrible as the idea of a thermonuclear war might seem, the dense carbon clouds produced from such a conflict could feasibly reverse global warming fairly quickly (oh, the irony). You might think that kind of calamitous scenario has about as much of a chance of happening as pigs flying, but it’s not that far fetched. All you have to do is consider the complex regional alliances and rivalries of countries like India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel, not to mention some of the former Soviet republics, getting out of hand. Of course, the pigs sprouting wings in any potential post-apocalyptic future would most likely be Day-Glo green, with three eyes, two tongues and a second nose where their curly tails used to be.

Irrespective of the activities of mankind bringing about severe droughts, rising sea levels, destructive super storms or a nuclear winter, the actions we choose to take now, or put off until a later date, won’t affect the planet much in the long run. Heck, even weapons-grade Plutonium-239 only has a half-life of just over 24,000 years. While that might seem like a long time to a bipedal mammal with a lifespan of less than 100 years, it’s nothing for a celestial body as robust as the Earth to wait out.

What this means, in the pragmatic sense, is that if the ocean levels continue to rise and the great deserts continue to expand, humanity’s continued existence will become extremely problematic, although not necessarily impossible, to manage. Maybe, just to be on the safe side, we should all look at, and seek to limit our adulterating impact on the planet, regardless of our socio-religious or political stance on the subject, just in case the climatological science isn’t that far off the mark. The planet will thrive in one form or another, with or without us. The ‘with’ part is, by and large (sorry to say, giant asteroids do exist) up to us.


Read more of Carl Pettit’s weekly column, Root Down, on The Good Life.

Image credit: FlyingSinger/Flickr

About Carl Pettit

Carl Pettit is a writer, illustrator and musician whose education and travels have taken him all over the world. When not out exploring, or pondering the universe, he finds time to produce fiction for both adults and children. You can catch up with him on his blog, or twitter.


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  2. One thing we know for sure is that in the long term Earth will definitely not survive without humanity. In the next billion years the sun’s luminosity will increase to the point where liquid water (and with it life) will no longer exist here. I know that is quite awhile away, but it is not something I ever hear discussed from an environmentalist point of view. Are we to accept that this is just the inevitable end of the life-cycle of a planet?

    • One thing we know for sure is that in the long term Earth will definitely “”not”” survive without humanity.

      Am I reading this correctly? If I am – exactly why is humanity so important and what is the relationship between the presence of humanity (or even a single Homo Sapien) with stellar evolution, our stellar’s relationship to the Main Sequence and any deviation from Hertzsprung–Russell?

      • I’m only saying that due to the sun, eventually all life on the planet will eventually end without us (assuming no other intelligent life ever evolves here). If we’re still here then perhaps there’s something we can do about it.

        • I can’t quite allow myself to even believe in the possibility of a.n.other intelligent life form evolving with Homo Sapiens about. Given out normal wise ways we would probably have them murdered in their cribs – a little like Herod. If they have managed to evolve in our presence they are evidently highly intelligent and evolved to stay very quiet as an evolved defence mechanism.

          • Seriously, I’m just wondering how long it will be before the dolphins leave a note saying “So long and thanks for all the fish” and take off.

            • The Dolphins can’t get away – their ship was commandeered by the mice! P^)

              They’re pissed about it too, with the depleting fish stocks and the price of Sushi. Oh the signs of Misspent Youth – and I do wonder what would happen if sentient beings could overcome Babel.

    • Jesus, I pray that the environmental movement is successful enough that humans one day have to deal with that.

      Honestly I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves talking about a billion years in the future. After all, multicellular organisms only evolved about two billion years in the past.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Global warming is probably the result of a mixture of factors, of which human activity is just one of several. Human production of greenhouse gases no doubt plays a role.

    However, there are also things outside of human control. For one thing, the earth’s climate has NEVER been stable. At any given point in the past few billion years, the atmosphere has been getting warmer or cooler, wetter or drier. There is no “normal” temperature for the atmosphere, just a range of averages across a particular time period. Humans experienced years of profound cooling and unusual warmth long before we ever industrialized. “Climate change” is actually a redundant phrase. What we need to worry about is not climate change but “radical climate change.”

    There is also the sun itself. Solar flares play a role in the planet’s climate, especially in relationship to the planet’s magnetic field, which is itself always in a state of flux. This is another great irony of pop environmentalism – the sun, far from being our permanent, steady savior who will rescue us from destruction through solar power, may be the thing most responsible for global warming.

    The truth may actually be even more depressing: there’s no reason to assume that the Earth is MEANT to sustain human life indefinitely, even if humans didn’t soil their own nest. The ultimate in provincial thinking is to think that the universe wants Homo sapiens to survive.

    We could do everything perfectly to sustain us and still totally fail because of things no humans could ever control…..

    • there’s no reason to assume that the Earth is MEANT to sustain human life indefinitely..

      Aint that the truth, but of course the Judeo-Christian-Moslem religious view is that it was made for us and it can’t go wrong. I remember hearing one analogy which did make me laugh – in the big scheme of things if you think of the earth as a living entity with the same life span as a human – mankind in a head cold – arrives, makes your temperature rise – leaves you feeling rotten and congested – force fluids – it’s gone in a day or two. Get back to work.

    • Hah, true. I guess in the most literally sense the sun is solely responsible for global warming.

      Also true, that the Earth is not meant to sustain us. I don’t think we have any clue what the Earth is meant to do. I mean, the universe itself is estimated as only 4% matter, so we have no idea what this whole existence/life thing is for.

      But I do think the Earth has the potential to sustain human life for a whole lot of time, probably enough time to figure out how to move off planet earth. Of course, some deus ex machina might (think asteroid) might sweep down and kill us all, but I don’t think that should stop us from trying. I firmly believe we can live on this planet in a healthy, sustainable, fun, exciting way. And I think we owe it to both past and future humans to try and make that world a reality.

  4. Good points Carl. Global warming will not destroy life on earth. It may very well destroy humans, but life will go on.

    At this point, I’m pretty convinced that we’ve missed the window to avoid serious negative consequences for our species in the long term. The planet is warming rapidly and that will bring profound weather changes that kill a whole lot of people, probably poor people.

    The question at this point is: how bad will we let it get? Are we willing to start working now, before too many terrible disasters, or must we wait for something truly dramatic to happen? Moving forward, the most we can do is mitigate the eventual pain.

    • The question at this point is: how bad will we let it get?

      I think it is wildly optimistic to think that man, as a supposedly highly evolved species, can do anything about climate change. How bad will we “let” it get? We haven’t figured out how to control the internet which we created – we haven’t got a cat in hells chance of controlling a complex global climate system we are still struggling to model past 5 days. Global Riot Control is a bit adventurous too. most civilisations are still trying to work out if queuing up or nor is the way to go.

      It’s time for those with brains and foresight to get ready and that will not be any form of guarantee that they will stay in the gene pool.

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