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CosmosUp | February 27, 2021

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Could Humanity Survive Catastrophe?

By | On + -

It’s easy to slip into judgmental mode when we’re talking about the future of humanity, moving quickly from the question of whether we can survive to whether we actually deserve it. I’m often shocked by how many of us feel that humanity shouldn’t go on.

People who are horrified by the death penalty will cheerfully opine that the entire species should be consigned to extinction because we are such bloodthirsty, carbon-barfing creeps.

 But if you think that humans are the first species to destroy the planet’s atmosphere, you are suffering from a species-level delusion of grandeur.

Billions of years ago, cyanobacteria poisoned the Earth by farting out so much oxygen that our methane-dominated environment became oxygen-dominated. Only the creatures who could breathe oxygen made it through (along with a few extremophiles).

It was pollution by oxygen — the opposite of today’s pollution by carbon. Meanwhile, there is strong evidence that ants, chimps, and even dolphins go to war with each other. My point is that humans aren’t the biggest bastards on Earth. We’re in good company.

Like every other animal who ever lived, humans have a will to survive that transcends ethics, culture and beliefs. We’re not going to survive because we deserve it. We’re going to do it because we’re adaptable and there are a lot of us. Take out 6 billion humans and you still have a billion left.

So for me, the question is what our survival will look like. Homo sapiens could survive a radiation disaster by moving underground, eating bugs and mold, slowly losing the ability to speak and write over millennia of tragic evolution.

Or we could survive by planning for the future, based on what we know about the Earth’s history. We can begin the slow process of mitigating climate change, retrofitting our cities to be carbon neutral and changing our agricultural practices so that we enhance species diversity. We can plan ways to mitigate other disasters too, like asteroid strikes and earthquakes and famines.

 Whether you believe we deserve to or not, Homo sapiens will be around for many more millennia. So we’d better start planning now how to make that survival as good and healthy as possible.

Of course there are always going to be disasters we can’t plan for, no matter how nice we are: A supernova could fry off a chunk of our atmosphere, or a pandemic could drop our population down to a few million.

But if we don’t prepare ourselves for these and other eventualities, our survival could be a pretty ugly thing that nobody deserves.

Will we be scrabbling out an existence in the ruins, or building robust cities and exploring the spaces beyond our planet’s puny envelope of atmosphere? That’s up to us, right now.

You could got some ideas about how we might survive, checking out this book if you want to find out more!


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  1. Sanjay Bhalla

    Very interesting & captivating reading.

  2. Stephen Beres

    Humans will survive, but the percentage that do, will be small. Much of this depends on the size of the catastrophe, its rate of onset, and our ability to predict when it will happen, and our capability to stop it, or to mitigate the damage, or our ability to adapt to the resulting change.

    Civilization as we know it and depend on it won’t.
    Ecologies are robust. Economies are fragile.

    We’re getting better very rapidly to track and predict potential asteroid strikes. Greenhouse climate change happens slow enough that we can adapt to keep pace.

    An Earth bound asteroid strike is inevitable, but the size and timing are not. Supervolcanoes are inevitable, and we are overdue for one.

    In September 2012, a massive Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) missed us by 1 week. Had it hit, we’d have maybe several hours warning, and no way of stopping it. Our electrically powered, globally connected civilization would cripple our infrastructure instantly. The last time this happened was well over 100 years ago. (The Carrington Event). The only thing damaged was that telegraph offices burned down.

    Our electrically powered, digitally connected world will end. Any device that contains digital electronic circuits, from watches, electric toothbrushes to the huge transformers that keeps our power grid on will fry. Food, water, sewage treatment, transportation and communications in urban centers will cease immediately.

    Within weeks, 90% of the human population will be dead of starvation, thirst, waterborne disease, and panic looting. Atomic reactors will all melt down as their diesel powered backup cooling pumps run out of fuel. All airplanes and most other forms of transportation will stop. Stored food will rot without refrigeration.

    The survivors will most likely be stone age tribal communities that don’t depend on electricity. Amazonian natives, Papau New Guinea, African jungle-dwelling tribes, nomadic herders and hunters, Inuit and other pre-industrial societies will see very little change.

    The chances of a Civilization-Ending CME are 2% per decade. It will happen inevitably. The odds of it happening in the lifespan of the youngest reader of this comment are very high. Whether in 2 days or 200 years is totally unpredictable.

    FEMA has been actively preparing for a “Mass Depopulation Event” for a couple of years now. Thousands of cheap, plastic coffins are manufactured daily and distributed to over 60 facilities in the USA, with more sites being built.

    Mass Near-Extinction of Humans is inevitable.
    Survival of perhaps at least 5% of Humans is very likely.
    Civilization-Ending Catastrophe in our lifetime is highly probable.
    Total Extinction of All Life on Earth is nearly zero.

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