The World Without US: Parts III & IV Andy Allen Amy Williams S. Khang The Fate of Ancient and Modern Wonders The English Chunnel Animals such as reindeer from Norway and wolves from Romania could potentially travel the English Chunnel into Britain. The chunnel is protected by a buried bed of marl and has one of the best chances of surviving for millions of years without humans. It would likely flood, with rising waters entering the Coquelles, France entrance, and remain intact, but nonfunctional. The Great Wall of China 4,000 miles long. Comprised of rammed earth, stones, fired brick, timbers, and glutinous rice used as mortar paste. Requires human maintenance. Will easily succumb to tree roots and water, eroding until only stone remains. The Panama Canal Separates North and South America, eliminating the need for ships traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific to travel around South America. Like a “wound” on the earth. Requires extensive maintenance to keep from “healing.” Without humans, the dams would fail and the Rio Chagres river would reclaim it’s natural path and Lake Gatun would drain, causing the Panama Canal to dry up. Mount Rushmore Completed in 1939 by Gutzon Borglum. Carved in fine-grained 1.5 billion year old Precambrian granite. Erodes only 1 inch every 10,000 years. At that rate, Mount Rushmore could last for 7.2 million years. The World Without War Wars can destroy ecosystems. War can also be beneficial to ecosystems. For example, during Nicaragua’s Contra War of the 1980s, shellfish and timber exploitation was halted along the Miskito Coast, and the lobster and pine species rebounded. The Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, which marks the divide between North and South Korea is a strip 2 km on each side that has not been inhabited since 1953. Many species who would otherwise have disappeared seek refuge in this area, including the Amur leopard, Asiatic black bears, Eurasian lynx, Musk deer, etc. Without humans, the rest of the world could follow this pattern. Wings Without Us Food In a world without humans the passenger pigeon would be the most abundant bird on Earth. They flock 300 miles long and they would number in the billions. They would eat immense amounts of acorn, beechnuts, and berries. A way humans have kept the population of passenger pigeons is by cutting down forests and limiting their food supply. Another way is by shooting them with lead pellets. In 1850 when most of the heartland forests had been cut down passenger pigeons were taken into New York and Boston by the box car. When word came around that their numbers were dropping it drove hunters to slaughter them quicker. By the 1900’s the fate for the passenger pigeon was over. A few were kept at the Cincinnati Zoo, but by 1914 the last one died. Other great birds to be extinct because of humans were Moas that stood 10 feet tall and the Dodo of the Indian Ocean’s Mauritius Island. Power The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services reported in 2000 that 77,000 towers had to have aircraft warning lights because they are higher than 199 ft. These blinking aircraft lights attract birds and it was estimated that about 200 million birds had made collisions with these towers. Many of these birds being found dead that hit these towers tend to be birds traveling at night. Another type of infrastructure that is keeping the population of birds down is the wires that run through every pole in every town. Bird’s wings are able to brush by an un-insulated transformer or bad wiring and it sends a shock that most times stops their heart. Other birds die simply by flying into the power line poles themselves. The two big killers to birds are the automobile and the window. Centuries ago people were traveling by horse and buggy, now their driving 80 mph getting ready to cream Tweety. Windows are not recognizable by any sized or type of bird, and a collision with a window can either break the bird’s neck or damage its beak. The Pampered Predator As the human population has grown so has the cat population. Between 1970 and 1990 the cat count rose from 30 to 60 million. Fact about cats: They not only kill birds for food, but they do so for pleasure as well. Simple alley cats are credited to up to 28 kills per year. Other cats that live on farms and rural areas can triple those of an alley cat. In Wisconsin alone around there are 2 million freeranging cats killing up to 219 million birds per year. The nationwide count is in the billions. Hot Legacy If humans suddenly vanished, we would leave behind approximately 30,000 nuclear warheads. These warheads have almost no chance of exploding without us, as they require that the fissionable materials be slammed together at a speed and precision which does not occur in nature. Eventually the bomb housings will erode, exposing the insides of the warheads to the elements. The plutonium within could be disastrous to animals who come in contact with it. It would take 250,000 years before the plutonium was completely degraded. In the 1930s, humans began using large amounts of CFCs and in 1985, it was discovered that these CFCs had created a hole in the ozone layer. Today, we use milder forms of CFCs, called HCFCs. If humans disappear, the CFCs and HCFCs that are found in things such as air conditioners and refrigerators will eventually be released into the atmosphere as these things erode. The result will be slow and chronic, not fatal, for remaining species. Plants and animals would have to naturally select for higher levels of UV tolerance in order to survive. Uranium-238 is created by converting the more potent Uranium-235 into a gas compound, then separating the different atomic weights by spinning it in a centrifuge. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. In the US alone, there is at least a half-million tons of it, which is used primarily for fashioning bullets. It could possibly emit radiation for the entirety of the Earth’s existence. In the United States alone there are millions of tons of nuclear waste. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico is the storage area for detritus from nuclear weapons and defense research. It contains 6.2 million cubic feet of waste. humans protect it and other waste storage facilities from wildfires, but without humans, it will most likely catch fire and send clouds of radioactive ash across the continent or even further. If everyone on Earth disappear, 441 nuclear power plants would overheat and burn or melt. This would emit radioactive material into the air. Radioactive lava would be released and would later cool and become cemented. It could remain deadly for species that approach it for thousands of years. Typical human activity is more damaging to biodiversity than nuclear power plant disasters. In places such as Chernobyl, certain species have shorter life spans, but multiply at higher rates, so their populations are not diminished. Over time, animals would develop a tolerance to radiation emitted after we are gone and would thrive without us. Our Geological Record Holes In the Northwest territories of Canada, ice ages have gouged cavities into the land. These cavities contain permafrost. This permafrost is melting due to diamond mining in these holes. If it continues to melt, it would thaw ice that forms around methane deposits, or clathrates, and 400 billion tons of methane deposits would be released, elevating global warming to levels unknown since the Permian extinction, 250 million years ago. Height Since the 1970s, humans have been sheering away the top third of mountains in Appalachia in order to mine coal. If humans remain for a few more decades, most of the coal would be gone. We would dig it up and burn it. One plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to seal it in stone by injecting it in saline aquifers that lie under impermeable depths of thousands of feet. These deposits would remain as a marker of human existence. Archaeological Interlude The Mayan civilization lasted for at least 1,600 years, with unrivaled achievements in mathematics, literature, architecture, and astronomy. They collapsed and vanished within a period of 100 years beginning in the 8th century. The Mayans lived in equilibrium with the land, participating in minimal war and doing little damage to the landscape. The civilization eventually collapsed under the weight of the excess of nobles who demanded thrones, excessive riches, and temples, which exhausted resources. The fate of the Mayans shows just how possible it is for humans to become extinct. If something throws off the balance between ecology and society, civilizations can crumble. Metamorphosis Fossil records show that 252 million years ago, the planet was abundant with trees, insects, amphibians, and early carnivorous reptiles. Then, 90% of these species went extinct. This is known as the Permian Extinction. Mass extinctions are common throughout Earth history. The current explosion of extinctions might be indicative of another mass extinction, which might take humans with it. Where Do We Go From Here? Would We Be Missed? “If humans were gone only a third of all birds on Earth would notice” – Steve Hilty (ornithologist). The birds he is referring to are the ones who don’t stray away from places such as the Amazon jungles or Australian forests. Other animals that would notice would be hunted, stressed, and endangered animals but they would not mind our disappearance. The most intelligent species of animals such as pigs, dolphins, and chimpanzees would miss the human existence very little. Animals that would miss the human existence would be domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, and other household pets. Humans would also be missed by humanus capitis and pediculous humanus humanus (head and body lice). There are 200 other bacteria that live and feed off dandruff and dead skin that would highly miss the human race. Preserving the Human Body Mike Matthews (professor at University of Minnesota’s Mortuary Science program) states, “In much of the modern world, we begin with embalming.” Embalming delays the decomposing process and is usually only used for funerals. Embalming wasn’t common until the Civil War when it was used to send fallen soldier’s home. The soldier’s blood (which decomposes at a rapid rate) was replaced with anything that had that wouldn’t decompose. Most times it was a bottle of Whiskey or Scotch. Arsenic was also used until it was banned in the 1890’s. What archaeologists today are finding is that the bodies still decomposed but the arsenic was left behind. After arsenic came today’s formaldehyde, which oxidizes into formic acid (same toxin in fire ants and bee stingers). Eco-burialists have been protesting formaldehyde because of the amount of pollution it is putting into our water tables. Eco-burialists also challenge the process of being buried in a tomb after death and then being put into the ground. They believe in “from dust back to dust”. The funeral industry puts a large emphasis on preserving the body and sealing it away. Some caskets are made to withstand practically anything, and even in a flood the caskets would float to the top. Although these caskets are luxurious and indestructible, the truth is there will be little to no remains of the human being after it decomposes. Being Wiped Out All at Once Dr. Thomas Ksiazek (chief of the Special Pathogens Branch at the US Centers for Disease Control) states that it would be highly unlikely for a disease to spread that would wipe out all humans. Dr. Ksiazek gives the Ebola and Marburg viruses in Africa as an example. Although these viruses killed many villages, missionary groups, and healthcare employees the viruses were able to be dealt with once the hospital staff began thoroughly disinfecting themselves and wearing protected gear when dealing with an infected patient. The one virus we do have to worry about is a strain of Ebola – Reston. As of now it only kills primates but if the virus were to mutate humans would have a serious problem on their hands. Also, if the AIDS virus became air born it could wipe out our species but the chances of that happening are highly unlikely. Humans have been able to survive through sickness and viruses that plagued villages with death because people eventually build immunity. Les Knight: Founder of VHEMT VHMET: Voluntary Human Extinction Movement Knight believes that no virus or war could ever wipe out the human race. He also makes the argument that there is no way that anything else in life will be able to keep up with the growth of human population (harvest, wars, and diseases). Knight makes the suggestion that everyone just quit procreating. “Or that one virus that would truly be effective strikes and all human sperm lose viability.” To back up his suggestion he states: in 21 years there will be no such thing as juvenile delinquency, no orphan would go un-adopted, abortions would be a thing of the past, and the living would be able to live the rest of their days in peace. Transhumanists VHEMT not only advocates for the extinction of human existence but is also trying to collect a group of respectful thinkers and inventors who are trying to colonize virtual space by developing software that is capable of uploading their minds that would output into a body. (You never have to die) Prominent Transhumanists include Nick Bostrom (Oxford philosopher), Ray Kurzweil (inventor), and James Hughes (Trinity College bioethicist). Art Without Us Bronze sculptures will outlast steel constructions. Things made from noble metals could likely last forever, whereas materials from chemical compounds will revert back to the compound. The Statue of Liberty is made from copper sheeting. If it were to be knocked underwater by glacial waters, it would oxidize and turn to stone, but would still bear the same shape. Some museums etch music recordings onto copper with lasers, so music may be one of the longest-lasting art-forms after humans are gone. Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes were launched in 1972 and 1973; Pioneer 10 will pass the red star Aldebran in 2 million years; Pioneer 11 will not pass any stars for 4 million years. Both probes have gold-plated aluminum plaques attached to their frame which contain line etchings of a human male and female, geographic depictions of Earth’s location in the solar system and the sun’s location in the MilkeyWay, and a mathematic key indicating wavelengths where humans are tuned in, listening. The two Voyager Space shuttles launched in 1977. They contain an aluminum, gold-anodized box which contains a 12 inch, gold-plated copper analog disk which carries greetings in various languages; voices of animals; sounds such as thunder, a jackhammer, a mother’s kiss, and crackling fire; photos of human interactions, DNA, and architecture; and many examples of music, from Navajo music, to Mozart, to Chuck Berry. These shuttles could leave a lasting impression of human existence on intelligent life-forms who may exist outside of Earth. Television and radio waves could potentially be detected by intelligent extraterrestrials. In 2005, the signals bearing the sounds and images of the first episode of I love Lucy had traveled 300 trillion miles from Earth since 1955. By 2450, they could reach intergalactic space. These signals would have to compete with other sounds, such as those emitted by the Big Bang, but it’s possible that they could be detected by intelligent life-forms. The Sea Cradle A large threat to ocean life is what Jeremy Jackson would call “slime”. “Slime” is when bacteria in the ocean uses up to much oxygen and chokes out the coral which creates more room for algae to feed more microbial bacteria. Microbes will make it for billions of years after the existence of humans because they were here way before humans were, but the only structures that microbes can form are mats of slime. The existence of fish life will flourish after the extinction of human beings. Jeremy Jackson and a group of scientists went to Kingman Reef (a place barely visible off the coast of Hawaii). Kingman Reef when they went had been barely touched by humans and was flourishing with life. The scientists learned that a large amount of fish in that area was carnivorous fish such as sharks and snappers. Fish life is not this vibrant in other parts of the sea due to human pollution, fishing and shark hunting, and other human error. Enric Sala states, “In a year sharks may attack 15 people while humans are taking sharks by the millions. It’s an unfair fight.” Sala also believes that if global warming were to have an effect and wipe out the ecosystem that reefs would be able to sustain themselves again within two centuries. “It would be patchy. In some places, lots of large predators. Others would be coated with algae. But in time, sea urchins would return. And the fish. And then the corals.” Coda: Our Earth, Our Souls It is inevitable that one day the sun will expand and absorb all the planets closest to it. Earth will be one of these planets, and will one day be no more. When this happens the aliens that do find our sound waves or shuttles with evidence of our existence in them they will have no recollection of where we as humans originated from. In Buddhist and Hinduism beliefs it is said that the Earth will be destroyed but will start from scratch again. Christians believe that the Earth will melt but a new one will take its place where the eternal light of God is their sun. Theorist James Lovelock proposes that we all go back into wildlife and live as animals. The payoff of doing this would be that a new natural ecosystem would be able to flourish and sustain itself. If humans could not keep up with the natural way of living they would be swallowed into the black hole that they are trying to push every other species into. If humans can make life better for themselves right now, why can’t they make life better for everyone and everything else as well? This is the type of mindset human beings need to push towards in order to enjoy what time we do have left on this planet.