No, I'm not really planning this.
August 9, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Say I'm a mad scientist... like Dr Ain (.pdf). I've decided that the only way to save the planet from complete environmental collapse is to engineer a pandemic 100% lethal to human beings. How long after the extinction of the human race will the ecosphere be returned to a level of complete (i.e. pre-Holoscene) health and diversity? What about residual chemicals, heavy metals, over-nitrogened waterways?
posted by jokeefe to Science & Nature (12 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: hypothetical chatfilter

You've read Rainbow Six, right?
posted by baylink at 11:18 AM on August 9, 2006

Response by poster: No! Who's it by?
posted by jokeefe at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2006

Tom Clancy.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:21 AM on August 9, 2006

[ reads story ]

Interesting; doing it as a short.

My snap reaction (well, the one after the *other* snap reaction :-) is: who cares? Can time be measured if there are no Men around to measure it?

In practice, though, I suspect that the decay time of human civilization, unmaintained, would be on the order of several hundred years; probably 300-600; longer if you look at it from the standpoint of things like redispersing heavy metals to the distributions they had before they were mined and coalesced.
posted by baylink at 11:24 AM on August 9, 2006

Response by poster: *googles*

Pffft. In my scenario, no counter-terrorism secret elite death squad stands a chance against my suicidal scientist acting alone.
posted by jokeefe at 11:25 AM on August 9, 2006

How long will it take for all the radioactivity to fade when the reactors melt down?
posted by kimota at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2006

No, but your suicidal scientist would have a three or four order of magnitude harder time coming up with something lethal enough to kill 6 billion humans, but no animals... and dispersing it appropriately.

While R6 is *not* my favorite Clancy novel (though I've moderated my scathing ePinion on it; it's not quite as bad, on re-read, as I first thought it was), his dispersal method was ingenius.
posted by baylink at 11:28 AM on August 9, 2006

I don't think the reactors would melt down, kimota; I'm pretty sure they'd scram them first, and they'd probably idle down safely.
posted by baylink at 11:30 AM on August 9, 2006

Well, if all of the humans were instantly iradicated, you have to keep in mind the millions of animals than rely on humans to live. All the household cats and dogs, all the livestock, all the zoo animals would starve and die.

Also, all the nuclear reactors and chemical plants and weapons caches maintained by humans would likely over the course of a few years become sources of extreme danger to the newly human-less world.

So, yeah, I'd say there's good odds that some diseases could spring up or some sort of nuclear/chemical/etc. accident could happen that would make eradicating the humans all for naught.
posted by internet!Hannah at 11:30 AM on August 9, 2006

Best answer: What makes you think there is such a state as "complete health and diversity"? The earth is a complex, chaotic system. Nearly any measurement you care to take, from level of diversity to temperature to average cloudcover, has, in the history of the planet, been both significantly higher and significantly lower than it is now. I really don't mean this as a derail, I'm just not sure how to answer the question. Do you mean until it is as if humans had not existed? Given a few million years, even if there were still things like over nitrogened waterways, there would probably be ecosystems that depended on them. Things like metal concentration on the surface, radioactive waste, and the redistribution of species would last a long, long time. But in a much shorter time those things would become part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.
posted by Nothing at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2006

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement folks have a little blurb about what it might be like if everyone died off more or less suddenly.

Not exactly authoritative, but it's a start.
posted by jedicus at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2006

Whoops, forgot to link to the blurb in question.
posted by jedicus at 11:35 AM on August 9, 2006

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