As I pack for my annual paddling trip, my thoughts have turned this summer to the dire situation we humans have created for ourselves and all other life on the planet. My paddling trip this year is to Temagami in Northern Ontario — I’m going with my brother and a group of friends. No doubt the experience will lead to further musings that I’ll share after I return.
In the meantime, an online article about the long-term human legacy on the planet from a mining and geological viewpoint was recently published on the Discovery.com website and I suggest you check it out.
It ties in nicely with my thoughts about what we’re doing in what some call the “Anthropocene” — an era like the Holocene but with humans doing the terra-forming, not glaciers.
It’s possible that within only a few centuries or perhaps decades this planet will have no tigers, lions, elephants, etc. in the wild, and no sharks or substantial life in the oceans, which may be mostly lifeless water clouded with toxic algae blooms and jellyfish. Opinions differ about when we’ll run out of economically-viable fossil fuels and metals, again some saying centuries and some saying decades. But it will happen.
What’s sad and a bit frightening is that once humans have gone extinct, if another intelligent species were to evolve it won’t have all these free gifts from the earth to speed them along in the creation of technological civilization. In other words, we will almost by definition be the last species that can ever evolve intelligence and create civilization based on that intelligence, because of natural resource depletion. A future alien visitor would find a barren planet riddled with tunnels, mine shafts and the traces of old pipelines — evidence that some creature tore through the geology of the planet seeking energy and useful malleable materials. But unless we embrace sustainability in a big way, and soon, that is all they’ll find, at least in terms of intelligent life.
Here’s the introductory page of the Discovery article and at the end the link that you can paste into your web browser to access the rest of the article:
We’re accustomed to thinking geologic history has an extremely long, slow time scale. But in recent years Nobel Laureate atmospheric researcher Paul Crutzen and other scientists have proposed that human activity is changing the planet pervasively and permanently. As a result, they suggest, we’ve said goodbye to the Holocene epoch, which began 11,700 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, and entered into a new, man-made Anthropocene epoch.
In a newly published study, Earth scientists Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams, of the University of Leicester, and Colin Waters, of the British Geological Survey, bolster the case for an Anthropocene epoch by pointing out that human activities — ranging from fracking for oil and gas to underground nuclear tests — actually have created profound changes deep beneath the Earth’s surface.
“Many of these underground transformations, being beyond the reach of surface erosion, will effectively last forever,” Williams said in a release. “They can be preserved for millions and even billions of years into the future, and thus may form our most enduring — and most puzzling — legacy, for any intelligent creatures that may inherit the Earth from us.”
The worry is that such changes may combine with climate change and chemical alteration of the oceans to create an environment that’s less and less hospitable to life, including humans.
Here are six ways in which humans have changed the planet beneath its surface.