In BriefHumans are continually doing great harm to the planet. But what would happen if we all just suddenly disappeared? What traces will nature allow us to leave behind? Our structures will be reclaimed but at least one aspect is likely to remain.
No other species on Earth is capable of caring for the planet as well as human. Conversely, no other species is capable of treating it as poorly as we are. From pollution to climate change, and all other anthropogenic disasters, humans are not great stewards of the only place in the universe we know can support us.
Humans are responsible for the loss of an estimated 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) of forests, and that’s each year. So often we see the unhealthy tradeoff of a few extra acres of developable land for the resulting loss of species, increased soil erosion, and speeding up of climate change. Our oceans are even warming at a rate thirteen percent faster than we thought. This rapid oceanic temperature change will cause a quicker depletion of Arctic ice, thus continuing the escalation of climate change and its disastrous consequences.
So, knowing all of this about ourselves, what would happen to the planet should we all just disappear?
Even if we suddenly poofed off the face of the Earth without some catastrophic nuclear war/mutually assured all-destroying ball of fire, the planet would not be able to forget our presence for many millennia.
Even so, many of the creatures we leave behind would immediately feel our absence. The billions or animals domesticated as pets or livestock would now have to fend for themselves. Without humans there to feed them, most will die. Many more will become scrumptious vittles for the real predators who have always survived without, and often in spite of, the interference of humans.
Our infrastructure would very quickly and easily be swallowed by nature. From streets and tunnels being reclaimed by water, to buildings being scaled by vegetation, the elements would soon assert their dominance. This is, of course, after fire or termites claim our wooden homes. Steel structures will be claimed by rust.
However, the real lasting feature that we will be remembered for is our love of plastics. Other garbage can decompose naturally and succumb to nature, but the true mark of humanity would be the plastic the would end up embedded in sedimentary rocks. If nothing else, alien geologists that might be studying our planet would wonder why we loved plastic so much.