Work and World

What If Humans Disappeared?

from damming rivers to changing the chemistry of the atmosphere humans have had a powerful impact on our planet but what would happen if we suddenly disappeared the first few weeks would be chaotic within hours power plants would run out of fuel and shut down as lights go out and electric fences lose their sting over one and a half billion cows nearly eight billion pigs and more than 20 billion chickens will break out of their enclosures desperate for food without any humans to feed them most of these livestock will starve or become food for over half a billion dogs and a roughly equal number of cats who now have to fend for themselves of course many of our fancy breeds are ill-suited for life in the wild and will probably be out competed by Hardy or mutts not to mention wolves coyotes and wild cats other animals that depend on humans from rats to cockroaches will suffer drastic population declines some like body lice and head lice will go extinct in the cities many of our famous boulevards are now rivers without electric pumps to keep them dry underground subway tunnels will quickly fill with water other streets will be overtaken with weeds and vines followed by larger plants and trees but before that happens most cities will be wiped out by fire modern houses especially in the suburbs are still largely made of timber with no firefighters around a single lightning strike is all it takes to start a fire that could burn a whole subdivisions to the ground in the countryside many wood structures will be destroyed within a few decades if not by fire than by termites and other decomposers after 100 years most wood structures will be gone and anything made of steel from apartment buildings to cars and even bridges aren’t far behind steel is mostly iron and without constant application of paints and coatings it will quickly react with oxygen in the atmosphere and return to its native form of iron oxide or rust by this time humans have been gone for a few hundred years and most species of animals around the world at least the ones we haven’t driven to extinction will have bounced back to the levels they were at before we evolved but their distribution will remain forever altered camels now roam Australia while in North America dozens of species of songbirds imported from Europe will continue to thrive it’s even possible that in some parts of the world escaped zoo animals could form new wild populations leading to the prospect of lions on the Great Plains or hippos in south American rivers forever proliferating through space will be the electromagnetic radiation we created from our radios satellites and phones but if anything will outlast us on earth it may be our trash the chemical bonds that hold together plastics or vulcanized rubber are immune to most of the digestive enzymes used by bacteria to break down natural polymers and unlike metals plastics don’t rust or corrode these micro plastics escape into waterways or drift along in the ocean and are eventually deposited in sediments hundreds of millions of years from now alien geologists from outer space may be surprised to find sedimentary rocks full of tiny carbon-based particles that were once part of rubber tires or plastic bags of course whether something survives depends greatly on the conditions everything will last much longer in deserts where there is no moisture to speed up rusting or support decomposing organisms and while the carbon cycle will return co2 levels to equilibrium after a few thousand years local deposits of long-lived organic chemicals or radioactive material could persist for a very very long time it’s hard to know what alien paleontologists of the future will make of us how they’ll explain our love of plastic or the fact that within a geological eyeblink we exploded out of africa to colonize virtually every inhabitable space on earth but they’ll definitely wonder why if we were so successful for so long we disappeared so quickly this episode is brought to you by Squarespace com if you’ve ever wanted to make your own website Squarespace recently launched the latest version of their platform Squarespace seven which has a completely redesigned interface integrations with Getty Images and Google Apps new templates and an incredible feature called cover pages you can start a free trial at squarespace.com slash ASAP and if you decide to sign up use the offer code ASAP at checkout to get 10% off thanks again to Squarespace for supporting our show and if you haven’t seen our latest ASAP thought video on why we miss here lyrics you can check that out with a link in the description as well it should give you a good laugh and hopefully solve some of the mysteries of your brain on music and subscribe for more weekly science videos [Music]
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guh7i7tHeZk

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