Mother Earth has caught the Flu

If Earth was a forty year old woman, how long would humans have lived on her? That’s one of the questions asked in the Science Corner of our website.

Well, if Earth turned 40 years old today at noon, multicellular life would have appeared on her when she was fifteen, the Dinosaurs would have shown up 2.5 years ago, and Homo sapiens would have arrived only yesterday, around half past six in the evening. So from the planet’s perspective, as Science Corner points out, we humans are like a “24 hour Flu” infection. And interestingly, the symptoms of this Flu probably only became noticeable in the last minute or so.

years ago what date and time, if
Earth was 40yrs old
4,000,000,000 Earth forms 5/10/1972
2,500,000,000 Multicellular Life 5/10/1987
500,000,000 Trilobites 5/10/2007
250,000,000 Dinosaurs 5/4/2010
65,000,000 Mammals 10/2/2012
2,000,000 Hominids 28/9/2012 4:41 AM
200,000 Homo sapiens 4/10/2012 6:28 PM
60,000 Exodus from Africa 5/10/2012 6:44 AM
12,000 Invention of Farming 5/10/2012 10:57 AM
250 Industrial Revolution 5/10/2012 11:59 AM
Today, noon 5/10/2012 12:00 PM

I was reminded of this table, which I had created some time ago, when I recently discovered the Chronozoom website. In this visualisation of the timeline of everything, when the lifespan of the universe (13.5 billion years, give or take a couple of decades) fills the width of the screen, we have to imagine humanity’s presence somewhere on the right edge, too narrow to show up. Zoom in on the age of the Earth, and what the site calls ‘human prehistory’ (the last 8.5 million years) grows to one pixel. And when we zoom in to this prehistory, ‘humanity’ (the last 3000 years) is still too small to show up even as one pixel.

This really puts our significance for the planet in perspective. Earth was doing just fine without us for 99.995% of its existence.  And while we are certainly affecting the conditions on Earth now, to the planet that will not be the end of the world. The things living on it – we humans especially – do have a lot to worry about, but Mother Earth will shake this off like any other Flu.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wulf says:

    This article surely makes one think about the ever-accelerating daily rat race and the emphasis on “growth” at the fastest possible rate.

    Scientists estimate that humanity is now consuming more than Earth can provide, i.e. present population levels are unsustainable. If we let the infection run its due course, the human parasites may soon have destroyed themselves and Earth can recover and emerge in new shape. Maybe insects take over after the age of the mammals …

    According to a common theory, it may not be the first time that it’s happening, either. In the distant past, some organisms figured out how to split water in a process called photosynthesis, releasing the toxic waste product oxygen into the atmosphere and depleting carbon dioxide levels. This spelled doom for much of existing life on Earth, and a new type of aerobic organisms who could deal with the pollution (oxygen) and actually make it part of their metabolism took over …

    1. Andy Giger says:

      That’s right. Looking at it that way, we may be preparing the ground for that new group of organisms that will be able to use the mess we leave behind to their advantage. They will one day be thanking us, just like we have to thank those algae that messed up the planet with oxygen.

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