Can We Survive this Century?

Well, I know I won’t. I’m 58, it’s 2008, you do the math. But this is a larger, vital, and very (very!) important question which concerns us humans, and untold other species of plants and animals that have arisen through time from the starstuff of earth:

Can we survive this century? Will the year 2100 be noted, observed, or recorded by anyone?

The question will be the subject of an ABC special this coming September- Earth 2100. Scientists from various disciplines will gather together to discuss what might happen, and when, if current population growth and resource consumption continues unabated.

Last summer, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman was published. Weisman interviewed biologists, engineers, geologists, and meteorologists about changes that would occur if, for whatever reason, humans were no longer part of the planetary equation. The result is both fascinating and disturbing- if you’re a human, of course. For most other species*, the possibility of our sudden absence would (if any of them noticed) be the greatest day in the last 1.7 million years!

The deterioration of buildings and infrastructure would begin within days. A Scientific American video- The Earth Without Us, based on Weisman’s book- is an interesting introduction to the phenomena of urbanscapes turning into landscapes. Intriguingly, one of the last recognizable humanly concocted “structures” to exist would be Mount Rushmore.** Four million years from now, barring any direct asteroid hits, George, Abe, Tom, and Teddy will still be staring out through granite eyes, into the Black Hills surrounding them. (Where there once lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon, somewhere there.)

The immediate disappearance of all humans is almost impossible, outside of a cataclysmic planetary event, like a massive asteroid, or a physics experiment gone terribly wrong. But there are numerous possibilities for the gradual but total absence of humans. Chief among them would be a virus, or a new strain of bacteria. Other possibilities- very real ones- would be nuclear fallout after a large scale war, meteorological changes, a series of smaller asteroid hits, or a depletion of resources a la Easter Island, on a global scale. And if anyone thinks that humans are not stupid enough to let the latter happen, keep driving your SUV, or allowing agri-businesses to patent the world’s food supplies, or burning anything we can put a match to.

What will be lost, if humans are? The ability to record what is happening in the world and the universe, great art (paintings will turn to mold), and the inability to warn other species that may evolve into beings that “need” styrofoam about our short-sighted and continuous mistakes.

What would be gained? Consider the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air..

*Animals that are dependent on humans, of course, would not find such an event very fortunate.Most pets would soon die of starvation, as would all zoo animals which were unable to escape. Cattle, most breeds of which have had all speed and most wildness bred out of them, would be the victims of canines- wolves, coyotes, dingoes, and dogs- which would flourish, and some felines, which would make a gradual comeback as well. Pigs, if they could escape their confines, do fairly well, fairly quickly in the wild. Interestingly, roaches living outside of their native tropical environs, would disappear after a year or two of no heated buildings. Mice and rats in former urban areas would also disappear as food supplies dwindled and as raptors- hawks, eagles, and others- began making high rise buildings into dream aviaries.

**Also interestingly, the last artificially lighted city on earth, because of the nearness and automated systems of Hoover Dam’s electrical production, would be..ta-da!..Las Vegas!

The Earth Without Us

3 thoughts on “Can We Survive this Century?

  1. My stepdad was talking this weekend about how bad things are getting. Only he was recalling rationing cards and talking about Jesus coming back soon. Strange how the “signs of the times” affect us all differently. Most people I know in my knotch of the Bible belt share the same mythological apocalyptic view of the world based largely on patchwork theology and cultural conditioning.

    If you understand the threats we are facing, it doesn’t convince me that the church is the place to go for solutions, at least not now. It underscores the necessity of replacing W. in the White House and the vast differences between the two candidates. Even more it drives home the massive shift in individual and collective mindset needed to become eco-friendly and move away from a consumer based society we live in and contribute to.

    Despite hearing that the “sky is falling” from every pulpit and cable news outlet, I am very optimistic and confident in the younger generations coming of age. There are biases and prejudices to be found in them too, but I think less and of a different nature. Their core worldview is so radically different than their parents. They’re view of race relations, higher level of education, better healthcare, and more eco-minded, especially about basics of recycling and understanding the limited nature of resources. There are a lot of exceptions to be found in every generation, but as a whole I think with every changing of the guard we’re getting closer and closer to a group of people which will at least understand the dangers we face and be more prepared to handle them. The choice is ours.

  2. My honest reaction (which may be too revealing for most):

    A planet without humans sounds wonder-full…i mean, what are we really trying to save? maybe “it” does not merit saving…ugh! I hope I don’t regret this!

    I love my life, but we humans are a scary bunch on the whole…your post really sums up a real truth that most may not have even caught…the true insignifigance of our “efforts”…how small we are…that’s why we need such big buildings and we create empires and we isolate ourselves from the pain and harshness of life…that would all come back and be available again for the next group of beings with awareness of themselves if we were to go back to the stars all together….hopefully there would/will be enough evidence so they can trace the reason for our extinction….

    I sound like someone completely lacking compassion for humans…this is not the case…I am simply looking at a large view of the state of the earth and being honest about what is probably best for the earth itself right at this moment in time…its survival…not human survival.

    Thanks again!


  3. Lyndon..Bless your confidence in the younger people’s ability to fix this mess! I fear that the damage which has been done will continue exponentially for awhile before we become serious enough- as a species- to try and do anything about it. At that point, it may be beyond our ability to fix. My main hope is in those groups of indigenous peoples around the world to make it through (somehow) and begin again, without the dogma which has brought us to this precipice.

    Elise..I think an earth without humans is a sublime meditation, but I still hope that it can be recorded and further understood. Thus, a presence of humans is demanded since, amazingly, that is apparently is our function and role. I cannot help but feel though, like you, great hope for the earth’s flora and fauna if they are not having to step around us or being stomped out of existence by us in our pursuit of…what? More styrofoam cups? Bigger houses? Better cell phone coverage?

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