A few coming events in our planet’s future – some predicted, some certain – will see the human race wiped off the face of the earth, literally. Of course there’s also the unpredictable, such as a rogue comet sending us the way of the dinosaurs or the absurd such as the sky eventually crashing down because of the ‘carbon tax’. There might also be a virus, currently unknown and exposed to life on earth that delivers a catastrophic pandemic and of course there is always a religious loony warning that God will strike us dead with a bolt of lightning if we keep sinning. Steven Spielberg likes to assure us that creatures from another galaxy will one day develop a taste for human flesh and every one of us will end up on a galactic dinner plate; a fate that could have already befallen us if it weren’t for the likes of Flash Gordon or Sigourney Weaver.
But, science tells us we are all doomed unless there is some intervention or miracle to save our battered souls.
Ignoring the unpredictable, we could face our first real crisis in roughly 100 years, according to Professor Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University who has predicted that the human race will be extinct within the next 100 years:
He has claimed that the human race will be unable to survive a population explosion and ‘unbridled consumption.’
Fenner told The Australian newspaper that ‘homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years.’
‘A lot of other animals will, too,’ he added.
‘It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.’
Since humans entered an unofficial scientific period known as the Anthropocene – the time since industrialisation – we have had an effect on the planet that rivals any ice age or comet impact, he said.
Well, that’s his opinion, rightly or wrongly. None of us will be here to see if his crystal ball was working, however, I can’t disagree that humanity has played a big part in sending the planet on a downward spiral. It’s up to our generation, to a large degree, to ensure that humanity is still here in a 100 years. Our generation could cause either the demise of the human race or the seed of its longevity. Let’s face reality; we can’t always rely on science to repair what we have broken.
If we survive Fenner’s prediction, and those with similar apocalyptic prophecies, science tells us that the unstoppable forces of evolution conspire to ensure our demise anyway, in roughly 10 million years, unless of course science or nature can discover a way to halt the unstoppable. We males will be the first to go:
Among the more alarming rumors prompted by genetics research was the impending extinction of the Y chromosome. The classic male marker seemed to be shriveling. Would the human race become an all-female species? The Y is, after all, just a tiny nub of a chromosome, having undergone serious shrinkage in the past.
The time frame of 10 million years was heard on a radio show some months back, so it’s only speculation. But I’m not going to argue if it’s right or wrong.
There has already been a significant shift in the gender balance in my life time. In the mid 1960s males represented 51% of the human population. They’re now on the skids, making up 49%. Unless there are sperm banks on every street corner in 10 million years time it will be very hard to find a dancing partner.
Of little interest to any of us is the unavoidable obliteration of the planet from the dying sun. Of this we are doomed:
The sun is dying, and when it finally kicks, it will take Earth with it. We probably won’t be around to see it, though: The sun’s death throes will have taken out life here well before it swallows the planet.
The good news? We’ve got a very, very long time before any of this happens.
A panel of scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science described the situation in 2000, and it still holds true. Astronomers generally agree that the sun will burn up its hydrogen fuel supply sometime in the next 5 billion to 7 billion years. As it does, gravity will force the sun to collapse into its core, which will ratchet up the heat on the remaining hydrogen and cause the sun to expand into a red giant.
At this point, the sun will swallow the Earth.
“Earth will end up in the sun, vaporizing and blending its material with that of the sun,” said Iowa State University’s Lee Anne Willson. “That part of the sun then blows away into space, so one might say Earth is cremated and the ashes are scattered into interstellar space.”
By then, the sun will be hot enough to burn all its stored helium and the sun will fluctuate in size. The sun isn’t quite massive enough to explode in an awesome supernova, so it will merely collapse into a relatively cool white dwarf.
Perhaps a moot point, though, because we’ll most likely be long dead before this occurs. As the sun revs up to its red giant phase, it’s getting about 10 percent brighter every billion years. At that rate, scientists estimate that all the water on the planet will evaporate in the next billion years.
That gives us a mere billion years to find way of getting off this rock and re-establishing our species on an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star. Not everyone can go. If the human race was to survive past this point then it would be with thanks to a handful of intergalactic pioneers.
In a billion years the human race will find a way of ensuring it survival, subject of course, to having survived every other uncontrollable threat to it extinction along the way.
But I want to go back to the more immediate threats and our immediate future. Do we really deserve to be a part of it? Just look how we’ve shamed ourselves over the last 100 years; killing ourselves with war, turning a once fertile planet into an infertile lump of rock, wiping other species off the planet at an alarming rate, and choking the life out of every waterway, paddock or city.
We have a poor record. Since the beginning of the last century we have killed an estimated 200,000,ooo fellow humans in wars alone.
We have polluted the planet so badly that it is estimated that 40% of all deaths worldwide are caused by the damaging effects of pollution. And that’s just us humans.
Pollution is one of the primary ways in which humans have caused drastic modifications of wildlife habitat. Historically we have regarded the air, water, and soil that surround us as waste receptacles and have given little consideration to the ecological consequences of our actions. As a result, wildlife populations are confronted with a bewildering array of pollutants that we release into the environment either by intent or accident.
Not content with wiping ourselves out, we are also intent to wipe out all life.
The planet would be better off without us. Have we earned our place in the future? Unless we can evolve into a higher level of consciousness we’d better start looking for another planet about a billion years earlier than expected.
But as it is, the earth is a very dangerous place. Nobody gets off alive.