If Humans were to just disappear

Although I’m a Computer Scientist, a big part of my life is more… philosophical… in nature. Every so often, and quite regularly, I will just sit and ponder on a question. This time, that question is ‘What would happen to the planet if humans were to just disappear. This is my attempt to record my thoughts on this, so apologies if it is somewhat rambly.

My first thought is of my pet dog. If no-one was home when everyone disappeared, then the chanses are that he would be locked in the house and would either starve or die of thirst as unless he can open the cupboard where we keep his bones then he would have no food. The possible exception would be if one of our widows got broken by another animal, but I think that unlikely where we are.

Moving beyond the personal though, my next thought is nuclear power stations. Power generation generally can just cease in most generation scenarious with negligable effects. But nuclear power stations are another matter. With humans gone, at some point something mechanical owuld fail, most likely the pumps for pumping cooling water. Then the control rods should be automatically engaged to stop the reaction. However, the water would still boil off and so a meltdown would happen at some point. As the closest nuclear powerplant to my home in Norfolk is Sizewell, it is possible that any effects would reach us. Certainly the high radiation in the seawater and air around Sizewell would cause enourmous environmental damage for a significat period of time.

Happisburgh just up the coast, would almost certainly fall into the sea as its erosion would no longer be slowed.

Naturally, almost everything not natural around us would probably start decaying pretty quickly. Everything. the patchwork of fields that the UK has almost everywhere would be quickly consumed again. Roads would decay. Buildings, streetlights. Books could fair slughtly better – but not much better. Computers would cease to function relatively quickly. Almost every piece of information created in our lifetimes would vanish.

The ironic thing is that, the Pyramids would still survive, the Colluseum, the Acropolis. These would all survive, more or less, for a long time afterwards. As would the Rosetta Stone. Anything on paper or more recent technologies would decay very quickly in comparison. everything more than 1000 years would be lost. the odd bit of plastic might survive in the long term, but any writing on it would be long gone. Any future sentient creatures would know more about the humans from 2000BC than from 2000AD. Physics would have to be rediscovered almost from scratch. Science generally. Maths. Literature. everything all of us owns will be outlasted by The Pyramids, and the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians.

One comment on “If Humans were to just disappear

  1. Craig says:

    A few points of contention, if I may. The vast majority of nuclear powerstations are set to shut down automatically and would then cool themselves in a maximum of a month or so. Despite not being built for regular shut down most nuclear power plants would be able to no ‘meltdown’ as was seen in japan. That was an experimental breeder reactor that was over 40 years old. Sizewell (a&B) must be about that age but are better designed. They’re also designed to stay self contained so baring earthquakes and other natural disasters they would sit their happily for some time. Still any “future sentient creatures” would find these monolithic ‘temples’ that harmed them if they opened certain doors or walked too deep (if walls/containment was breached.)

    Secondly current pollutants like coal powerstations and landfill sites would continue to leach more pollutants into the ground leaves toxic husks where they once lay.

    Various plastic artefacts would remain, as would most buildings. Mortar on old walls (as you may have noticed) is able to withstand erosion longer than he bricks, and I imagine concrete and cement would last further still. Longer than, or at least as long as the pyramids. Without any way to date these though ‘future sentient creatures’ would find a strange mix of ancient and modern buildings. Books and other organic materials would quickly decay if say, library doors did not remain locked or sealed. The longest lifetime of a data medium is about 100 years and I’m sure some archives would last longer. The technology to run them may have failed by then but I can’t tell. DVD players and PC aren’t designed to last 100s of years but they may in some functioning manner.

    Also, animals would start moving into the cities and using derelict buildings as homes. Even highrise flats could create new environments and biomes. Eventually this would select for new species. Trees may begin using tall buildings for support etc.

    Just my thoughts though, you may want to consider watching “The Future is Wild” a BBC mockumentary of the earth and it’s creatures after various periods of tiem if all humans left today.

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