How Long the World Will Last if we Keep Going on this Way?
The Earth is 4.543 billion years old right now. That’s 1.685 trillion days. As organisms that live for no more than 100 years or so, these numbers are unfathomable to us! In fact, humans have only existed on the Earth for about 200,000 years now. That’s about 0.004% of the time earth has existed. Needless to say, we’re the new kids on the block!
Despite being here for such a short amount of time, humans have absolutely devastated the planet. Comparing our effect on the world to cancer’s effect on a healthy human body isn’t a stretch. To put this in perspective, scientists predict that climate change will cause irreparable harm to our planet in just 11 more years. The first industrial revolution occurred in 1760—about 260 years ago. Tack on the 11 years we have left before a climate change catastrophe and humans have effectively decimated the Earth in 271 years—a stretch of time representing 6.02222222e-8 of Earth’s existence. It’s an appalling prospect.
Global warming is an inevitability
While the numbers on the surface are grotesque, the contributing factors are even more horrifying. Global warming is barreling down the mountain at virtually unstoppable speeds, and we’ve got the data to prove it.
- The planet’s surface temperature has risen 1.62°F since the 19th century.
- Ocean temperatures have risen 0.4°F since 1969.
- The five warmest years on record have occurred since 2010.
- Glaciers lost an average of 286B tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016.
- The rate of Antarctica’s ice mass loss has tripled in the last 10 years.
- Global sea levels have risen more than 8” over the last 100 years.
- The acidity of ocean waters has increased 30% in the last 100 years.
- Since the 1950s, 10% of all animal species have gone extinct.
All these facts signal catastrophic environmental change that spells doom for the planet as a whole. Humans have affected devastating change to a degree that’s nearing the point of irreversibility. Now, it’s not a matter of if global warming occurs, it’s when and what we can do to mitigate its full impact.
So how long will the planet really last?
If we carry on the way we are, the planet is in imminent peril. The United Nations predicts we’ve got just 11 years to turn the ship and avert a major environmental catastrophe. If we do correct things and manage to stave off the worst, there’s no telling how long it’ll take the planet to recovery and to what degree we can help it. But, there’s a very real possibility (more than 95%) that global environmental tragedy will come to pass. If it does, the clock starts ticking for our planet and our species.
Let’s start with the baseline. If humans were able to reverse every negative effect on the planet and heal it, we’d have about 10 million years left. At this point, the sun would wink out of existence and the planet would be unable to sustain life in total darkness. That’s the best-case scenario!
The reality—and the harshest of all scenarios—is that humans doom the planet to an environmental collapse. This could happen in as little as 100 years, and it looks like this:
- A thinned ozone layer gets thinner, allowing more UV exposure to warm the earth.
- The average temperature of the earth raises 10°F over the next 100 years.
- 30% of plant and animal species are unable to adapt and die off in mass extinction.
- Food shortages and poor oxygenation doom as much as 10% of the human population.
- Shrinking land mass and rising oceans pushes civilization to consolidate.
- Consolidation increases mortality via new illnesses and viruses.
- As much as 30% of the world’s population is doomed in 500 years.
This scenario is an endless feedback loop, in which a heated earth continues to decimate signs of life. In just a thousand years, humans may be totally extinct—even sooner by some estimates. And this is barring nuclear war, catastrophic volcanic eruption, asteroid collision and any number of other unforeseen events!
Needless to say, things need to change and they need to change fast. Just because there’s a significant amount of damage already done to the planet doesn’t mean everything is lost. There’s still much we can do to salvage our planet—much we should do, so that generations beyond us can enjoy the planet we have. Otherwise, if we keep heading the way we’re heading, it won’t be long until there’s nothing left of this beautiful blue marble that’s been around for more than 4.5 billion years.