Vanishing humans

Discuss Marilyn's column in PARADE magazine.

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Vanishing humans

Postby robert 46 » Wed May 25, 2011 11:44 am

Ask Marilyn - Sunday's Column - May 1, 2011
ask marilyn Marilyn vos Savant May 01, 2011
If human life were to vanish from Earth, leaving only animals and plants, how long would it take for the environment to return to a pristine state?
—Rod Strassburg, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Marilyn responds:

Buildings, roads, dams, and bridges would become ruins in just a few centuries, but they’d take thousands of years to disappear entirely.

I recall reading that bronze statues would last for millions of years. Over sufficient time, human artifacts would be worn away and washed into the oceans, then subducted into the mantle, melted, dispersed and formed into new rock. The ultimate in recycling.
Meanwhile, nuclear waste in long-term storage would gradually become harmless. Without human attention, our hundreds of active reactors would catch fire or melt down and release radiation, but even that wouldn’t stop nature’s rapid return. (Many plants and animals seem to be flourishing in the contaminated area around Chernobyl, the scene of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine only 25 years ago.) Excess carbon dioxide would be cleansed by the oceans over tens of thousands of years. By then, added methane would be long gone. The toxic impact of pollutants such as DDT wouldn’t last even a century.

So the planet would forget all about us in maybe 50,000 years

This is, of course, anthropomorphizing.
—far less time than humankind has existed. And if an unaltered atmosphere isn’t an essential part of what you call a pristine state, our influence would be gone in less than half that time—and maybe much less.

May 24, 2011

The Long-Term Impact of Civilization
ask marilyn Marilyn vos Savant May 24, 2011
Steve Huemmer of San Diego, California, writes:

Marilyn: Not a question, but a comment on your column regarding whether human presence on the planet would have a lasting effect. (May 1, 2011) I am always impressed with the objective and well-reasoned approach you have to issues. However, this time I believe you left out a critical part of our impact on Earth: species extinction. Our demands upon the planet's environment and destruction of ecosystems are setting up the most abrupt and far-reaching extinction of species in at least tens of thousands of years.

More likely in the past 65 million years, at the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Yes, of course the planet will "recover," since life is too persistent and adaptive to not do so, but it will be with a hugely diminished diversity of life forms if we continue to destroy ecosystems for our own ends. Many, many thousands of fellow inhabitants of our planet will be gone, probably forever. As you imply, it depends upon what one means by "pristine," but I would not call this a return to pristine, at least not for much longer a period than you suggest. Will evolution ever create another gorilla, tiger, polar bear?

Evolution doesn't work backwards. Once species are extinct they are gone forever.
Marilyn responds:

Thank you, Steve.


Tony Goff of St. Louis, Missouri, writes:

Marilyn: Why entertain questions of this nature? I find this fascination with the passing of the human race disturbing.

Morbid? It is disturbing just because of its inevitability.
We are not some alien species ravaging this fragile Gaia.

Are too. There is no species fundamentally incompatible with nature other than humans.
We are the current apexes of a wildly successful primate mutation that may yet move out to the stars.

Nonsense. Humanity is creating so many problems on earth that they will never have the opportunity and means to travel to the stars.
Then, the self-hating elements of our species can stay behind and witness first-hand, how gentle nature will be with them.

More anthropomorphizing. Golden Ages come to an end, and this will happen to the Age of Technology as humanity becomes a more primitive animal pressured by scarcities of many kinds, and an "unfriendly" environment.

Note the devastation in Joplin, MO. Do you think people will build smarter to resist tornadoes? If there were no insurance for natural disasters then people would have to choose between building so flimsily and inexpensively that a complete loss would be of little economic hardship, or build so strongly that the structure could withstand a tornado and sustain little damage and economic loss. Humans, maximizing the amount of stupidity in the universe, tend to build in the regime between these extremes so that society suffers the maximum amount of economic loss when the to-be-expected natural disaster eventually strikes. Do people actually think the Mississippi river is not going to flood after the spring thaw? Sure looks like it from how they always rebuild the same way.
I would think that someone like you, Marilyn, possessing such an IQ, would devote your time to a more worthy question. I plan to devote my limited time to reading other columnists who don't entertain such dead-end questions. Pun intended.

Everything created is of necessity inevitably destroyed by nature. It is just a matter of time.
Marilyn responds:

Hey, Tony, it was just a science question!

With philosophical overtones.
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Postby JO 753 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:44 am

We could possibly have a pozitive impact before degenerating back to non-technological primates.

There are several large asteroids out there known to be on a course that will possibly impact the Earth in the relatively near future. We have the ability to prevent a major extinction event.

Considering the seeming novelty of the development of our technological abilities, its suspiciously coincidental. Evidence for the existence of Gia.
DONT KaST YOR PRLZ BEFOR SWiN. XA WIL BE IGNOReD & TRaMPLD INTQ XU MUD. HaND XeM OVR RESPeKTFULE INSTeD.
http://www.nooalf.com
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Postby robert 46 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 8:51 am

JO 753 wrote:We could possibly have a pozitive impact before degenerating back to non-technological primates.

There are several large asteroids out there known to be on a course that will possibly impact the Earth in the relatively near future. We have the ability to prevent a major extinction event.

Considering the seeming novelty of the development of our technological abilities, its suspiciously coincidental. Evidence for the existence of Gaia.

Here is the Gaia Hypothesis:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

The reason the world seems to be self-regulating is because if it wasn't we wouldn't be here- seeing as how we are the result of some 3.8 billion years of life on earth. If it wasn't self-regulating life wouldn't have lasted long enough for humans to arrive, so the Weak Anthropic Principle:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle
...appears to be involved. Humans have a capability for changing the environment which other species don't have in such magnitude. Termites release methane, and elephants topple trees; but their effect is minor compared to humans. Humans don't have the wisdom to sensibly use this power we have acquired. So the crucial issue is to gain more wisdom prior to gaining more power. If humanity doesn't then its power surely will be lost. Perhaps this can be seen as an aspect of the self-regulating nature of the world.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_philosophy
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Postby JO 753 » Sat Jun 18, 2011 5:39 am

Thanks for the links. Finally had the time to read the 1st one and its an eye opener for me. I thought Gaia was only an old Pagan nature god thing!

One of the objections is a mistake - that the Earth (or the biosphere if you prefer) doesn't fit the defininition of 'life' because it doesn't reproduce.

Reproduction is basicly a repair mechanism. If an organism could repair nearly any level of damage and has the ability to avoid the things that could completely destroy it, reproduction is not necessary, even if it's still a good strategy.
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Postby robert 46 » Sat Jun 18, 2011 8:45 am

JO 753 wrote:Thanks for the links. Finally had the time to read the 1st one and its an eye opener for me. I thought Gaia was only an old Pagan nature god thing!

One of the objections is a mistake - that the Earth (or the biosphere if you prefer) doesn't fit the defininition of 'life' because it doesn't reproduce.

Reproduction is basicly a repair mechanism. If an organism could repair nearly any level of damage and has the ability to avoid the things that could completely destroy it, reproduction is not necessary, even if it's still a good strategy.

An astute observation. A human being is a colony of cells, symbiotic, commensal and some pathological organisms. So the earth can be interpreted- by stretching the constraints to just before the breaking point- as a living organism; in the sense that it is interaction which defines a living organism. Human, ant, bee, wolf, etc., societies are organisms in and of themselves. Marvin Minsky's book The Society of Mind is interesting reading.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_mind
And particularly see the MIT link:
http://web.media.mit.edu/~push/ExaminingSOM.html
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