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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

When Are We Going to Die?

When Are We Going to Die?

Author: Reilly Capps/Tuesday, August 12, 2014/Categories: sustainability

["Red Giant Earth warm" by Fsgregs, an idea of what the future holds for Earth (7 billion years from now)] 

As a species, we've been really bad at looking ahead. The Catholic pope publicly declared that the world would be crushed by the soles of the Big Guy on Jan 1, 1000. You can imagine how sheepish they were in Jan 2, like I have been after most of my New Years Eves. Atomic scientists put the Doomsday Clock at seven minutes to midnight in 1947. By most definitions, it's been a long seven minutes. 

We're still here. We eat. We breathe. We make love. We ask to make love again. We really like to make love. 

But just because everyone was wrong every time before does not mean that we have no idea when the end will come. 

It's true that civilization COULD end tomorrow -- though that's about as likely as the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl or Paris Hilton winning a spelling bee. It could end this year or this decade if, say, Kim Jong Un shoots nukes at the Kaaba. It could, much more plausibly, end this century or the next if global warming is as bad as the worst forecasts. 

That would dampen civilization, but that wouldn't end the WORLD. Cockroaches deserve their reputation. Nukes can't wipe out bacteria. And the hardiest species of all, Joan Rivers, will never die. 

But the world does have an expiration date. It, like us, won't live forever. 

The sun is getting hotter. And, estimates are, the world will burn up in maybe four billion years. But it's not going to be comfortable for anybody after about 600 million years from now. At that point, it will be so hot that the planet's systems will stop functioning, like an old man in a nursing home.

Why? 

Think about a car on a very hot day. Normally, the coolant keeps the car cool. But if it gets too hot, it evaporates into space. 

The same thing will happen with the molecules in plants. They will just get too hot. 

Most plants, today, when they drink water from the ground, lose 97 percent of the water to the planty version of sweat. They're great sweaters; they plants are sweatier than Pavarotti. Well, when the Earth gets hotter, the plants are going to sweat even more, evaporating all the water, so much that they won't be able to do anything useful. The same thing happened to me on my prom night. 

When that happens, most plants will die. Without plants, you haven't got much of a world; unless you like rocks. 

And that's only 600 million years from now. I repeat: life on Earth is dunzo in 600 million years. 

Feel like a cry? Me too. 

To put that in perspective, animals developed only about 600 million years ago. This means that we -- life on Earth -- have lived half as long as we are going to live. We are exactly middle aged. 

(And aren't we going through a midlife crisis? Aren't we buying sports cars [nuclear weapons] and experimenting with powerful secret creeds [like Islam]? And couldn't the mixture of those two things spell the end of our marriage [life on Earth]? And isn't this a tortured metaphor?)

So ... drink up, folks. We're halfway through it all. Mortality stares us in the face, 600 million years from now. 

What can you do? Hug your kids, try and be nice, eat a vegetable. Oh, and vote for people who are going to try to take care of this rock and the plants that live here. We're middle aged, after all. It's time we started to look after ourselves. 

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