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January 27, 2009


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Thanks Micheal for a very thought provoking post on the future of our species and the planet. I am reading The World Without Us and it is a sobering exploration of what would endure if we suddenly disappeared as well as how nature would re-establish it's dominance over the the works of humans even if required hundreds of thousands of years,if not more in regards to radioactive materials that were left.

I think(and hope)that humans,out of pressing necessity in this century,will have to learn to better appreciate and protect the so-called "lower" forms and ecological processes of life that have contributed to all other species evolution and without which we could not exist.

Not sure if you intended it as such, but this post would be perfect for inclusion in the upcoming geoblogospheric carnival The Accretionary Wedge,hosted by Clastic Detritus.

Indeed. Zalasiewicz makes exactly these points in his concluding chapter:

".... conserving living organisms is far more important than conserving fossils....The Earth, in sustaining and harbouring these organisms is by far the most intricate, the most subtle, the most complex and valuable object in space for many, many billions of miles in any direction."

and, with respect to the Urban Stratum:

"Best to leave as small a message as we can, to impress today's human footprint as gently as possible into the strata of tomorrow: to diminish, as far as we can, the stratigraphic signal that we leave behind us."

Well put, I think!

very interesting perspective.

.....His perspective is from 100 million years hence - without doubt long post-human. The structure is from the point of view of future geologists/archeologists/anthropologists - re-evolved editions of ourselves or alien, it doesn't matter - attempting to discern and reconstruct the nature of the species which dominated the planet for a brief time in the distant past.

Reconstructing something that happened 100 million years ago will no doubt pose all the problems you describe provided there has been no one to record earth events through those 100 million years. But what if there has been a continuity in intelligent life on earth for those 100 million years? Then even if earlier physical footprints will be destroyed through plate tectonics , won't there be a continuous knowledge base present?

Good point. For the timescale of a hundred million years there are, after all, almost infinite possible futures and pathways. Zalasiewicz addresses this, accepting that, under optimistic scenarios, our species may well persevere for a long time (by our standards)but in all likelihood a short time geologically. He chooses a relatively short-lived scenario, on the basis that the way we are going extinction is a natural outlook hastened by our own activities. It's a "what if" exercise among many possible "what ifs" and it's an entertaining one. A continuity of intelligent life is indeed a whole other story, firmly rooted in science fiction. And alternatively, our future investigators may be the result of re-evolution of intelligent life.

Of course some may argue that the foundation for the continuation of "intelligent life" has yet to emerge - it's only us who are around to describe ourselves as intelligent. I'm reminded of Gandhi's response when asked what he thought of western civilization - "I think it would be a very good idea."

I'm with Jules and Callan, this would be a natural for the current Accretionary Wedge at Clastic Detritus, link above, due January 30.

Will do - thanks, and I'll make sure that I advertise the Accretionary Wedge Fest!

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