The end of us

From the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex to the itty-bitty Tobias’ caddisfly, 98% of all species to have ever existed on Earth are now extinct. Whilst it seems unthinkable that humanity is no different to our doomed predecessors, our days are probably numbered too.

Unless we can master interstellar travel, the sun’s evolution into a planet-engulfing red giant will ultimately spell the end of humanity. Fortunately it’s a few billion years before we have to worry about that. Unfortunately, there are several other theoretical scenarios that could result in Homo sapiens’ demise well before the sun boils our planet alive.

Firstly, and this isn’t so bad, we may just evolve into something else. You might well think that, with all of our medicine and technology, there is no longer any driving force (selection pressure) for the process, but scientists are still recording subtle changes in human biology such as the lengthening of the reproductive period. There are also arguments that advanced civilisation is accelerating evolution by allowing a huge global population. Amongst other things, this large population means it’s more likely that some of us may be able to adapt to any dramatic changes in our future environment. Realistically, a group of humans truly evolving into something else would require interbreeding between different regions to stop for tens of thousands of years, so it seems pretty unlikely.

Another potential conclusion could come in the form of an asteroid strike. It’s a widely accepted that the sudden demise of the Dinosaurs was due to such an impact. Many scientists believe a 10 – 15km space rock struck the Earth at Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at the end of the Cretaceous period. It’s thought the resultant dust cloud plunged the planet into darkness and caused a global winter killing off the Dinosaurs and many other creatures. If such an asteroid was found to be on collision course for the Earth any time soon, there really wouldn’t be much we could do about it.

A global pandemic might also finish us off.  In the past, outbreaks such as the Black Death have resulted in the demise of millions. Currently the biggest pandemic risk is probably some form of Influenza because of the virus’s ability to change form or mutate rapidly, flummoxing our immune systems. Any disease that was going to level humanity would have to be pretty special though because, in a given population, there are usually some individuals who display a natural immunity.

From nuclear war to a climate change there really are many other hypothetical scenarios that result in a human free world. There is often a sense that our ingenuity will always save us but sadly there is one event that would be completely unavoidable. The big crunch, the theoretical end of the entire universe. The reverse of the big bang, big crunch theory proposes that eventually the expansion of the universe will stop and the universe will begin to re-collapse on itself. This would obliterate absolutely everything and possibly result in another big bang. There truly would be no escape. Oh joy.

FYI

Jack Croxall

Jack Croxall is a science/literature writer and author living in Nottinghamshire. He tweets via @JackCroxall and you can visit his author blog by clicking the 'Website' link below.

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