This Is How Human Extinction Could Play Out

Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone:

The stubs of corn stalks that were chopped down because heat and lack of rain ruined the crop, litter a field in Nebraska. 2012 saw the highest recorded temperatures in American history. Over the summer most of the mid-west experienced a tremendous drought, where hot weather and the lack of rain destroyed crops and grazing land. In the high plains of Western Nebraska’s cattle lands, this created ideal conditions for wild fires, which spread across the land sparked by single bolts of lightning. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Oh, it could get very bad.

In 2015, a study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology pointed out that if the world’s oceans kept warming, by 2100 they might become hot enough to “stop oxygen production by phyto-plankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.” Given that two-thirds of the Earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, that would “likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”

A year later, above the Arctic Circle, in Siberia, a heat wave thawed a reindeer carcass that had been trapped in the permafrost. The exposed body released anthrax into nearby water and soil, infecting two thousand reindeer grazing nearby, and they in turn infected some humans; a twelve-year-old boy died. As it turns out, permafrost is a “very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark” — scientists have managed to revive an eight-million-year-old bacterium they found beneath the surface of a glacier. Researchers believe there are fragments of the Spanish flu virus, smallpox, and bubonic plague buried in Siberia and Alaska.

Or consider this: as ice sheets melt, they take weight off land, and that can trigger earthquakes — seismic activity is already increasing in Greenland and Alaska. Meanwhile, the added weight of the new seawater starts to bend the Earth’s crust.

More here.