If We All Vanished Tomorrow
What would *really* happen if all humans disappeared? The Earth grins at the thought
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist — Friday, October 20, 2006
Of course you already know. Of course you can merely look out the window and see the traffic and the plastic and the smog and the bad haircuts and the war and the Paris Hilton and the Bush and say, well duh.
But imagine the result anyway. Imagine for a moment that every human on the face of the planet was suddenly whisked away to the divine gurgling ether in one big blast of cheery Armageddon nothingness, all the Bible-waving True Believers carted off to a giant sex-free harp-filled cosmic Wal-Mart while the rest of us leap to the next luminous transformational echelon of timespacelove.
What would happen, really? How would the planet respond if all bipeds disappeared tomorrow?
You can probably guess. Almost immediately, the planet would shudder, shift, align itself anew. Immediately, all endangered species would begin to recover. Light pollution (that is, pollution caused by industrial light) would soon vanish, followed by a great reduction in air pollution, methane gasses, chemicals in fresh water. Soon, all bridges and dams would collapse, roads would become overgrown, buildings would decay, corals would regenerate, most organic landfill would decay and vanish. And that’s just the beginning.
In other words, as the fascinating/depressing cover story in the recent issue of New Scientist points out (along with this nifty graphic from the Times U.K.), the Earth would quickly begin to recover mightily from the deep disease that is human existence. What’s more, the planet would, by every estimate, quickly become a whole lot healthier, more balanced, back in harmony with itself.
Translation: We have wreaked just a horrific amount of damage and done just about exactly zero good for the place while we’ve been here. It is, obviously, not the most heartwarming thing to accept.
Perhaps the good news is, with the exception of some nuclear remains, were our species to vanish entirely, most traces of man’s existence would wink out within about 50,000 years, and almost all traces within 200,000. Not bad at all, considering the extent of our damage. Pretty much a blip on the geologic timescale, really. Don’t you feel better?
Humans are the single most dominant and destructive species in planetary history. But sentient man has been around for what, a million years? The Earth has been here for roughly 4.5 billion. No matter how you slice it, the Earth still sees us as just another fly in its bedroom. A particularly obnoxious one, no doubt, but still a fly. Isn’t that reassuring?
There are two ways to react to such a viewpoint: One is to say oh my God what the hell is wrong with us and just look at how much damage we’ve wrought and the pain we’ve inflicted, look how much better off the place is when we’re out of the picture and what can we do to make less of a violent impact and improve our karmic outlook while we’re here because oh my God this can not be good.
Option 2 is to ask: Who the hell cares? If all our remains vanish in a couple of hundred thousand years, does it really matter how much damage we inflict? After all, there’s no way to say whether or not the planet really gives a damn one way or the other about our species, given how our entire existence has taken up but a flutter of an eyeblink of time anyway. Hell, we could nuke the whole place tomorrow and the planet would merely shudder and shrug and pause for a few million years and start all over. Right?
How do we really measure our impact? Soulless GOP warmongering oil execs see this planet as merely one giant oil well to be sucked dry. Millions of humans, if they think of it at all, merely view the Earth as a giant sandbox, a mute playground to be trammeled and paved over and drilled into and burned through and sliced up like so much ecological pie until it’s all gone and we’re forced back into the caves to beat each other with clubs over the last scraps of beef jerky and nuclear Twinkies. I mean, who cares?
I have friends who don’t exercise. I know plenty of people who still smoke and drink a ton of beer and get stoned frequently and eat gallons of processed foods and watch TV like it was pixilated cake and the last time they truly got their hearts pumping was when they had to walk five blocks from their house to the sushi joint because their car broke down.
They just laugh. What’s the point of eating right and exercising? they say. Why the hell spend all that money on yoga and gyms and vitamins and try to take excessive care of the body when we’re all just gonna break down and die anyway? What’s the point? Just to live a little longer? Who wants to live to 90 anyway? Why not enjoy life’s vices now and let the body wallow and slump? This is what they say.
It is the cutest viewpoint, like, ever. The initial reply is almost too obvious to explain: The point of a healthy lifestyle is not to live longer. It is to live better, right now, in the moment, to breathe deeper and dream more lucidly and step lighter and orgasm stronger and be able to touch your toes and touch your lover’s toes and try, just try, to evolve, just a little, while we’re here, in fits and spurts and groans and via healthy snifters of Oban 18 and lots of tongue kissing in the street.
It’s about paying attention. It’s about tuning in. It’s about respecting the physical so as to connect more profoundly with the spiritual so as to try and hone the interdimensional so as to prepare, somehow, maybe, if this is at all possible and many, many gurus and healers and mystics and wise ones truly believe it is, for some sort of massive cosmological transformative goobleslamdinglewhap. Hey, it’s your choice.
Maybe the planet is no different. Maybe we should take care of it because it makes our lives better and our orgasms stronger and the trees look at us without cringing and begging for a divorce. You think?
We take care of it because it’s the vessel. It’s the womb. It’s our collective body and it’s the place that holds us and feeds us and plays with us in the park while at least some of us try to prepare to get sucked back up into the grand Mystery to see what the hell happens next.
But truly, the Earth may not really care. If we abuse her to death, she might merely shake us off like a bad rash, a nasty head cold, a giant whining bipedal kidney stone. After all, despite all our bitching and stomping, we really ain’t all that.
But your soul. Your soul cares. But you knew that already. Right?
Join the conversation!
Are human beings just a temporary blot on the landscape? Certainly Mother Earth would be better off without us. But in the lifetime of the earth, the totality of this planet’s existance, do we really matter? Do we as a species have a purpose? If so, what is it?
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