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What Earth Without People Would Look Like 671

Raynor writes "Imagine a world without people. What if every human being, all 6.5 billion of us, were suddenly abducted and the planet was left to fend for itself? The planet would heal. 'The sad truth is, once the humans get out of the picture, the outlook starts to get a lot better,' says John Orrock, a conservation biologist. Pollution would cease being created. It would remain around for many years, CO2 taking as long as 20,000 years to be restored to it's natural level, but will decrease. Even if we were all whisked away and our nuclear reactors melted down, it would have a surprisingly little effect on the planet. Chernobyl gives hope to this end. 'I really expected to see a nuclear desert there,' says Ronald Chesser, an environmental biologist. 'I was quite surprised. When you enter into the exclusion zone, it's a very thriving ecosystem.' In the grand scheme of the world there would be little evidence of our existence at 100,000 years. The most permanent piece is the radio waves we've emitted of the last century. As the article puts it, 'The humbling — and perversely comforting — reality is that the Earth will forget us remarkably quickly.'"
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What Earth Without People Would Look Like

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:43PM (#16493503) Homepage Journal

    If so I'd like to recommend Kim Jong Il

    If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet.

    They could try, but we'd be the ones building the voting machines [].

    even though buildings will crumble, their ruins - especially those made of stone or concrete - are likely to last thousands of years. "We still have records of civilisations that are 3000 years old," notes Masterton. "For many thousands of years there would still be some signs of the civilisations that we created. It's going to take a long time for a concrete road to disappear. It might be severely crumbling in many places, but it'll take a long time to become invisible."

    Like the ancients, it's how we bury our dead which will be most telling to the next crop of intelligent life to evolve on Earth.

    "They're all in these frames of petrified wood with evidence of metal rails, hinges and nails around them. Do you suppose they spun these things and then suffocated inside them? Or was this some way other creatures stored their food? They couldn't possibly be so vain as to try preserving their bodies after they died, HA HA HA!"

    'The humbling -- and perversely comforting -- reality is that the Earth will forget us remarkably quickly.'"

    Oh, I dunno. The planet itself might, with the help of perhaps another ice age to drive the remnants of our cities into so much rubble.

  • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:55PM (#16493709)
    If you're interested in what the United States would be like without humans, there is a nifty map developed by A.W. Kuchler in 1964 and refined periodically since of what would grow where without human interference. It is called Potential Natural Vegetation of the Coterminous United States and can be found at the US Forest Service. []
  • by Clueless Moron (548336) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @05:56PM (#16493723)

    Modern "food" turkeys have such huge breasts that they are physically unable to breed without human help. Even if they escaped their pens, they'd be doomed to extinction.

    Modern bananas have been bred totally seedless, like various grape varieties. They spread entirely by grafting. So they too would soon die off.

    The article mocks Poodles, but I wonder a bit about that. They're actually considered one of the smartest breeds of dog there is, and that must be worth something when a major change in lifestyle is called for.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:03PM (#16493807) Homepage Journal
    Although it does seem that way, in 100,000 years, this planet would seem like it was empty of any "intelligent" life forms...except that the animals would truely be the intelligent ones for being able to survive without the need for hurting the planet they live on

    I wonder if they would be able to spell "truly".

    what has become of us humans? Are we no better than a common criminal? Taking the life of a planet for our own?

    Uh, those who kill to live are not simply criminals, although some system of law could make them so. Killing to live is perhaps the only reasonable purpose for killing. (It doesn't make it right, but it does make it understandable.)

    But in response to your question, it's not so much a criminal act as an act of negligence - but at the same time, the powers-that-be are doing everything they can to make us forget about the real issues so that they can rape the planet. Since humans are pack animals, this is typically a highly successful venture.

    Unfortunately, we have given our planet to the people with money and are unwilling to take it back. We elect the incumbent to congress something like 95% of the time but people always complain about how corrupt government is and how badly we need a change.

  • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:10PM (#16493925)
    Like the ancients, it's how we bury our dead which will be most telling to the next crop of intelligent life to evolve on Earth.

    Burials are certainly a rich source of information but believe it or not some of the most interesting archeological discoveries have come from ancient rubbish dumps [].
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:31PM (#16494243) Homepage Journal
    "advanced civilization" is a meaningless term. How advanced? I think we still have a lot of room for advancement. I also think the only way out is through - through technology. Have you noticed that the trend in technology is to use less and less power, and to be smaller and smaller (meaning requiring less materials?) We're moving in the correct direction in a lot of ways.
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:40PM (#16494325) Journal
    slashdrivel - I like that.

    What would the earth be like without people? The fluffy pink ponies and unicorns would come out to play. Won't you plese think of the ponies.

    How is this a slashdot article let alone a front page one? When I think of the stories I submitted that were rejected then think of this one it just annoys me.
  • Re:Moo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @06:44PM (#16494375) Journal
    I think its interesting for other reasons as well. The parent is correct in that the author does indeed discredit his own ability to predict enviornmental impact in an artical about the very subject but the point he makes about Chernobyl is a bit off base as well.

    Chernobyl was a very minor nuclear disaster as the potential for nuclear disasters goes. The Russians basically got very lucky that when the thing went up and blew the cap off the reactor, said cap happend to land more or less back where it was supposed to be. The incided also did not do much damage to the cement shell of the plant either. Basically most of the radiation has been confined to the pant itself and the reactor, very little got out compared to what might have been. I saw a nova sepecial on it once. They indicated that the radiation levels inside where almost 100 times what they are just outside the door. If other meltdowns happen other places there is no reason at all to think those folks would be as lucky interms of damage confinement and by extension no reason to think those areas would not become nuclear deserts.

  • Re: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eagle52997 (691489) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @07:04PM (#16494593) Journal
  • Re: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Frazbin (919306) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @07:37PM (#16494965)
    Discover magazine has a much more poetic article on the same subject-- and there's a picture! th-without-people/ []
    It really blows the other stuff on the topic away, IMO-- it's definitely the first article in Discover to actually bring tears to my eyes.
  • Re:Moo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by techno-vampire (666512) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @07:54PM (#16495093) Homepage
    The Soviets were very lucky with Chernnbyl, and they knew it from experience. Back in 1957, a waste storage plant at Mayak, [] near Chelyabinsk, blew up in a non-nuclear explosion estimated at 75 tons of TNT, contaminating hundreds of square miles. From what I've heard, the site was visible on the Landsat photos as a dead spot surrounded by biomass. It's much more dangerous to pass through that region today than it is to visit Ground Zero at either Hiroshima or Nagasaki and will probably be so for decades if not centuries.
  • by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @08:00PM (#16495147) Homepage
    The EdGCM [] project is a NASA Global Climate Model (GCM) ported to run on Mac and Win computers, and wrapped in a point-and-click interface. If you'd like to turn the Sun down by a few percent or remove the CO2 you can do so with checkboxes and sliders

    So if you want to find out what the earth would be like without humans, you can do so yourself. Download, double-click to install, and then...

    You can use the values for paleo-climate to get CO2, N2O, and other greenhouse gasses from pre-industrial and pre-human times. You can set up trends (changes in inputs) for the future. You can take modern values and then at the year 2010 have everything drop to pre-human values. Run the model for a few hundred years (a day or two on a modern computer), and you'll see how long until the Earth reaches equilibrium.

    Disclaimer: I'm the project developer.
  • Re:Moo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by letxa2000 (215841) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @08:02PM (#16495169)
    It would be accurate to say that the Earth is here, but to say it is here for a specific species is a bit much because that's an unprovable claim as far as anyone can tell.

    Lacking any other species to challenge us on the point, the earth is here for us. If some intelligence created it for us, it's ours. If some intelligence created it for a species that will follow, then that will happen someday and there's nothing we can do about it. If it's just random luck that the planet exists, then all species are free to use it as they see fit and there is nothing morally superior about refraining from using it so that some other inferior species can benefit. It's almost like we are so arrogant that we know better than "survival of the fittest."

    In short, I don't see any scenario where I should feel compelled to think that we do not have a right to exist and use our planet to the extent we see fit. We should do what is in our own best interest. If there is evidence that we'd be better off using sticks and stones and returning to a hunter/gatherer existince, that'd be interesting. So far as I know, no such evidence exists. After all, how would we ever be able to give free healthcare to the {insert your favorite number here} million uninsured Americans if we were all hunting and gathering? Ironically, it's generally the same group of people that think that everyone should have free healthcare that, directly or indirectly, think we should return to some pre-industrial that would make such healthcare impossible.

    Oh, that's right... all our medical ills can be solved with marijuana... My bad.

  • by Capt. Skinny (969540) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @08:05PM (#16495193)
    ...Google "Pripyat", the name of the city in Ukraine that was abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster (as mentioned in TFA). Pretty cool, actually.
  • by sootman (158191) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @08:09PM (#16495229) Homepage Journal
    Earth Abides, 1949 []
  • by Slashdiddly (917720) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @08:51PM (#16495627)
    Using less and less power to do the same task? Sure. However, technological progress necessitates using more and more power in aggregate. In fact, the level of advancement of a civilization is defined in terms of how much power it consumes - see []. So, in the long run there are only two ways of "saving" (ie, preserving) the Earth. One is having us dead. Another is having us get off the Earth.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @10:58PM (#16496781)
    Why do people think that low regional temperatures means that global warming isn't happening? Average temperatures over the past 10 years are indicative of global warming. A chilly fall season doesn't mean that it's not happening.
  • by quanticle (843097) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:07PM (#16496841) Homepage
    I agree with most of your points, but, I do have to point out one exception:

    Antibiotic resistant microbes: Win for ecosystem.
  • Re:No Point! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Slashdiddly (917720) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:46PM (#16497139)
  • by Kaboom13 (235759) <kaboom108 AT bellsouth DOT net> on Thursday October 19, 2006 @04:26AM (#16498761)
    Im so sick of hearing about native cultures living in "harmony" with nature. Such cultures do their share of damage to the enviroment, they just do it on a smaller scale, mainly because their populations were much smaller and they lacked the tools to do more. Lack of medicine and hygiene means lots of illness, add in regular tribal wars and regular famine, and the population will stay small enough to not make a massive impact on their enviroment. The culture's arent any more noble, and when introduced to the benefits of modern society almost invariable embrace them and all the enviromental impact they bring. And primitive people still managed to overhunt wildlife and destroy natural habitats with the best of them. Don't delude yourself, if they had the tools the most backwards tribe in Africa would cause as much enviromental damage as any American.
    The reality of so called harmony with nature is an existence at the whims of nature, with sickness and death around every corner. Farming, and thus the civilization needed to enable widespread farming with resistance to drought and famine, was so attractive to ancient peoples because it allowed them to break free of an existence dictated by luck and the weather. They didnt give a damn about clearing forests full of animals to make farm land. Humans are, and always have been a fairly selfish lot, with little regard to far long term consequences of our actions. And even if a human culture arose that shunned civilization and lived a life with as little impact on the enviroment as possible, that culture would either quickly be destroyed by other cultures who had learned to bend the planet and it's enviroment to their own purposes.
    The best example of this is the American Indians, who although hardly living in perfect harmony with nature as the tour guides would have you believe, largely lacked the tools or manpower to make signifigant changes to their enviroment. When europeans came, they brought with them the rewards of the quite savage raping of the natural European ecosystem (which, after so many centuries of heavy human inhabitance, barely resembles it's original form) and took their land, and either killed them or forced them off into tracts of poor quality land not deemed fit for european settlement. That society would grow so much by using the abundant resources of a hitherto virtually untapped continent to become the dominant military and economic force on the planet, partly through the development of a weapon capable of causing damage to the planet at a rate never before imagined.
    Humans. in our lifetimes or any other, will never find "harmony" with nature, and even if a subset does, they will likely be killed by stronger cultures who want the only chunk of land not yet completely exploited.
    The only realistic ways to escape total destruction of the planet, in my opinion, is technology. Technology can allow us to enjoy all the benefits of our modern society while at the same time making it easy to avoid excessive damage to the enviroment. Technology could even let us one day harvest resources from other planets, as well as allow us to use existing resources more effeciently. None of that will be accomplished by throwing away our cars and computers and screwing around in huts in the woods.
  • by flowerp (512865) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @05:31AM (#16499023)

    If humankind suddenly disappeared, quite a few nuclear reactors would spin
    completely out of control (can't really trust the automated shutdown systems,
    - see Forsmark).

    The resulting burning nuclear cores might result in severe long term
    contamination of large areas. This has not been accounted for in this

  • Older article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theonetruekeebler (60888) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @07:45AM (#16499903) Homepage Journal
    About 20 -- 25 years ago, Scientific American did a similar article. They picked several American structures like the St. Louis arch, the World Trade Center, and the Hoover Dam, and for each one asked an expert, "What will happen to this if all the humans suddenly disappeared?" For most, the answers were fairly straightforward ("A hurricane will eventually take it out," "An earthquake will knock it over"), but the one for the Hoover Dam was fascinating:

    Eventually, the dam's power systems would notice nobody was around and close all the penstock gates. But the dam needs power to hold the gates closed, and it's no longer making power. Once external power fails (yes, electricity flows to the dam as well as from) and the battery backups fail, the penstock gates will open about a quarter of the way, and the turbines will start to spin up. But the breakers have all tripped, so there's no electricity coming out of the generators. This is important, because without electric power, you can't lubricate the generators' bearings. So after a while the bearings seize, which is guaranteed to be dramatic.

    After the powerhouse destroys itself, the dam itself will probably survive until the end of the next ice age. That's when a lake the size of Montana eventually bursts through the ice and about half its contents slam into the dam all at once, tearing its top off and chewing apart the rock all around it. There will be enough rubble left over for Lake Mead to partially and permanently reform, at a third its original depth.

    Has anybody else ever read this article? That's all I remember from it.

  • by ImWithBrilliant (741796) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @08:01AM (#16500081)
    That we humans have a "few billion" years to figure out how to move off-rock is a little optimistic given the record of significant events over last few millions, never mind last billion years. Our species barely survived the Toba eruption- events which occur every few million years, then theres the big impacts. Are we taking advantage of the current lull to hedge our survival over the long term?
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Thursday October 19, 2006 @08:05AM (#16500121) Journal
    Recent below average temperatures? 2006 has been the hottest year on record in Britain - records beginning in the 1600s (the south of England reaching temperatures normally reserved for subtropical areas - around 35 celcius). Autumn is currently unseasonably warm. Although it's turned to typical autumn wetness, temperatures are more in line with mid summer - pushing 19 or 20 celcius.

  • Re:No Point! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by d3ac0n (715594) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @08:42AM (#16500559)
    This is one of the great ironies of the "environmental" movement. To move forward with energy creation into more modern, less wasteful and polluting forms of energy production, we MUST take risks on technologies that in the short term (50-100 years) may run the risk of causing more environmental problems. However, many of these technologies are so villified by the Eco-religion that has taken over much of our scientific community, that little to no research is being done in those areas, and the eco-politics have (in some cases) outlawed or out-regulated these technoligies from being used. Thusly we end up stuck using old, outdated, wasteful and polluting energy technologies rather then moving forward into better alternatives.

    A prime example of this is Nuclear power. A modern nuclear reactor is the safest and cleanest form of power generation around. Research into this area continues to improve the technology, making it safer and easier to use with less and less risk to the environment. Yet there hasn't been a nuclear power plant built in the United States (the world's largest energy consumer) in over 30 years! Why? Because of the eco-religionising of politics and education in the US and the world over the last 50 years. Eco-religion teaches that Nuclear = Bad. Your kids will grow up with extra limbs and three eyed fish will swim through the rivers of Springfield. It's all bullshit, of course, but that's the kind of pap that's being fed to our kids and the general populace. So much so that the NIMBY factor alone has been enough to stop most attempts at reactor building in the last 20 years. I won't even START on the ABSURD level of regulation the nuclear industry has to deal with.

    I live in the Western New York area. We just had to deal with a freak October snow storm that crippled our power infrastructure due to heavy snow crushing the trees and ripping down power lines and poles. I spent 6 DAYS without electrical power or heat in my home. While I could have a backup generator to help out, my question is, why in 2006 doesn't every home have a built-in Carbon-Block nuclear power generator? Why are we still dependant on coal-fired power plants and overhead (or buried) WIRES to deliver our power? Because Eco-religion has kept our power generation capabilities in the 1950's.

    Until we grow up and dump the Eco-religion for good, hard science, it will remain this way in-perpetuity or until we dont have any other choice but to move forward or return to the 14th century technologically.
  • by GReaToaK_2000 (217386) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @09:13AM (#16500953)
    Personally, I was driving around about 3-4 years ago up here in Rochester, NY when we had that huge blackout. Exactly what I expected would happen did happen...

    without power ALL of the massively inefficient electric devices STOPPED. In doing so, they stopped producing massive amounts of heat. All of those building AC units, all the electric motors, and a plethora of other devices.

    I was trapped in bumper to bumper traffic because people in this country get all freaked out and impatient. So, they don't handle the the whole "when the traffic light is out treat it as an all way stop" thing.

    In any event, I watched the temperature on a bank display. In the course of about 30 minutes it drop about 5-7 degrees and the wind picked up. Additionally, it was much quiter. It was wonderful. I am not saying we should just drop all technology. I am simply saying that most of our devices are incredibly inefficient and it seems obvious what would happen on this planet if all humans just vanished from the face of the Earth is very straight forward.

    The temperature would start to drop, dramatically. The wind would pick up and in a matter of a few years the Earth would start to reclaim the spaces we used to inhabit.

    I disagree with the article in one area. I don't think it would take tens of thousands of years. I think it would happen MUCH faster then that.

    That's my two or three cents.

Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust.