It’s time to seriously consider fleeing earth before the apocalypse cometh.
No, that phrase wasn’t uttered by a charismatic cult leader or fundamentalist preacher last week; rather, it was stated bluntly by famed scientist and author Stephen Hawking while speaking at a series of BBC lectures earlier in January.
What’re the greatest threats to you, me, our pets and neighbours down the street? According to Hawking, who’s seemed uncharacteristically negative lately, “Nuclear war, global warming, and genetically-modified viruses” are guaranteed to spell doom for humanity.
Don’t be too concerned. Even though Hawking is a brilliant scientist, these kinds of “We’re all doomed, doomed I say” warnings go back to humanity’s earliest days and don’t hold water. In fact, in some ways they go back before humanity even existed.
About 65 million years ago the planet was ruled by a group of animals called “dinosaurs,” of which I’m sure you’ve heard. None of them are around today because of something called the “K-T Extinction Event,” named after the Cretaceous–Tertiary time period. The fossil record showed that roughly three quarters of animal and plant life were wiped out in a very short period of time 65 million years ago. Scientists discovered, in the fossil record of the same time period, a layer of iridium. Iridium is very rare and usually found only in the earth’s deep crust or in meteorites that land on earth. For a layer of this material to be deposited over most of the earth means something very big hit our planet. Despite this, 25 per cent of animals and plants survived to create the world we know today.
Actually, the fossil record proves even bigger disasters. In what is referred to as the Permian-Triassic Extinction or “The Great Dying” about 252 million years ago, up to 96 per cent of marine species were killed off and about 70 per cent of land species. No cause for the extinction has been proven but life obviously continued on.
Closer to modern times, humanity survived what has been called the Toba Catastrophe that archeological evidence suggests occurred about 70,000 years ago. A huge Indonesian volcano now referred to as Lake Toba erupted at this time in spectacular fashion, evidence of which suggests the blast affected the entire planet through a “volcanic winter” (ash/smoke/particulate clouds block out the sun, killing off plant life) and reduced the planet’s human population to between 10,000 to 30,000, the ultimate “natural selection” of which we all are descended. The Toba Catastrophe would explain why human beings around the world are so genetically similar. Despite the catastrophe, we survived and prospered.
Relatively recent was the devastation of an ancient North American people called the Clovis, according to some archeologists. The Clovis culture lived in North America up to about 13,000 years ago and genetic evidence from well-preserved human remains shows some modern aboriginals in North and South America are descended from the Clovis. Sadly, about 13,000 years ago a serious event hit them, almost an “extinction event” according to some researchers. Some scientists promote the “Clovis comet hypothesis” which suggests that, according to archeological evidence, something set fire to North America, causing massive mortality in large animals and devastating the Clovis people. However, regardless of what happened 13,000 years ago, the Clovis were not wiped out and have ancestors alive today.
I think it’s inaccurate and irresponsible to predict “absolute doom.” Life has survived innumerable disasters, and humanity itself has survived unbelievably terrible catastrophes and survived to this day. We will continue to do so.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.