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What does it take to exterminate the human species?:

Gerald Zosewater
I hear the supposed ability of humanity to off itself being mentioned a lot; usually this implies the use of nuclear weapons. But, what exactly would it take? How many nukes does it take to kill the planet, and what kind of scenario could possibly lead to that taking place?
Ruining everything forever.
 2 Tzetze, Sat, 13th Nov '10 11:40:36 PM from a converted church in Venice, Italy
Gerald Zosewater
Interesting. I guess even without those fancy vaults, things wouldn't have been as bad as they were in Fallout.

there is no scientific basis for expecting the extinction of the human species.

That seems enough to answer my question. I had a feeling this would be the case.

So, across the span of how much longer it takes for the sun to heat up and make Earth uninhabitable- about 5 billion years if my textbook is worth anything- are there any extinction scenarios that are at all likely?
Ruining everything forever.
 4 The Badinator, Sun, 14th Nov '10 12:31:04 AM from THE FUUUUUTUUUUUURE
An extinction-level asteroid impact will almost certainly happen before the sun expands — several, in fact, but our ecosystem has (barely) survived such impacts in the past, so whether this would definitively end the human race is still in question.

There are biological weapon outbreaks to consider, but these would almost certainly never be nearly as effective as the one depicted in The Stand. Nanotech disasters may also become an issue in the future, but like nuclear warfare, they likely won't be quite so complete in their destructiveness as writers would like to think.

EDIT: Also, on an off-note, remember that Fallout is deliberately based on outdated science and cultural mores, so the unlikelihood of the scenario is kind of the point.

edited 14th Nov '10 12:32:40 AM by TheBadinator

Gerald Zosewater
I've only played Fallout 3 and then only barely, and I was just using it as a point of comparison for the shittiness scale.
Ruining everything forever.
 6 Deboss, Sun, 14th Nov '10 12:53:36 AM from Awesomeville Texas
I see the Awesomeness.
In terms of likely hood? Super flu is the most likely since it would probably spread at a geometric rate since it infects rather than expends itself with exposure. There's the asteroids mentioned above, along with various other random cosmic shit that could wipe out the planet. I don't think chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons pack the long term oomph to make an extinction event stick.
 7 Gelzo, Sun, 14th Nov '10 1:16:06 AM from the vault
Gerald Zosewater
I guess there's no reason that any of these events couldn't happen at the same time across such a large span of time.
Ruining everything forever.
 8 Jinren, Sun, 14th Nov '10 8:33:36 AM from beyond the Wall
Historical evidence seems to be that fifteen thousand individuals is enough to completely repopulate the planet ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck ).

Back in university I was taught (i.e. "ignore this fact, it's probably wrong") that the minimum viable population size for humans was around fifteen hundred.

Both of these indicate that exterminating humans is a good deal tougher than it looks... a tiny village in the remote north could theoretically be enough to survive many devastating events. It also indicates that there's a possibility of proper preparation that could result in species survival in many circumstances (a couple of thousand is small enough that we could probably put a colony of that size on Mars by the end of the century).

edited 14th Nov '10 9:10:39 AM by Jinren

 9 Game Chainsaw, Sun, 14th Nov '10 8:38:09 AM from sunshine and rainbows!
The Shadows Devour You.
Catastrophic climate change harsh enough to wipe out large mammals and starve crops would probably do it. If the world got too cold or too hot then its possible that for all our technology we simply wouldn't be able to eat. We might be able to survive by fishing. Humans would become clustered around areas with access to either the sea or rivers. Doom would only come if something made conditions in those rivers too harsh for fish to survive.

Also remember that that would kill off cotton, wool and most sources of fur. Unless we could still make synthetic fibres, unlikely in those conditions, we'd have trouble clothing ourselves. And nudity is as great a death sentence in overly warm conditions as it is in cold ones.

Alternatively... well a large enough object would kill us off. Viruses and other nasties have a low success rate; someone will be immune.

edited 14th Nov '10 8:38:40 AM by GameChainsaw

 10 Caissas Death Angel, Sun, 14th Nov '10 8:43:42 AM from Dumfries, SW Scotland Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
House Lewis: Sanity is Relative
Viruses could only work in conjunction with many other factors. Spanish Flu wiped out a horrifying proportion of the planet at the time, but that was after WWI already softened everyone up for it - had the same virus come at the start of the war, or a few years later, it would have had nowhere near the same impact.

We actually are due another major outbreak, but the rapid increaase in quality of medical technology means that the impact will be proportionately less than such things as the Plague and Spanish Flu, even when it does turn up (Sars, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, etc having all proven to not be as bad as expected, relatively speaking).
My name is Addy. Please call me that instead of my username.
 11 Major Tom, Sun, 14th Nov '10 9:04:28 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
And nudity is as great a death sentence in overly warm conditions as it is in cold ones.

Not true. The Human Body is built at the species level for tropical climates like in Kenya. Meaning you don't have to worry about exposure or overheat in such climates. (Though personal preference for clothes/cooler climates might be an issue...)

On the other hand, death by exposure in hot climates predominately comes from dehydration, not burning to death. Thus the only reason to need clothes in a warm climate is if you are in a windy, burning hot desert with little water to work with and you need shielding to keep from losing water long enough until you find some.
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 12 Game Chainsaw, Sun, 14th Nov '10 9:54:06 AM from sunshine and rainbows!
The Shadows Devour You.
Ah, those were the circumstances I was thinking of. Yes, if it was a tropical climate you'd be fine. I was thinking about risk from sunburn if shelter couldn't be found mostly.
 13 Caissas Death Angel, Sun, 14th Nov '10 10:11:32 AM from Dumfries, SW Scotland Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
House Lewis: Sanity is Relative
Yeah, humanity isn't going to survive very long in a small outpost in the Sahara - or possibly anywhere Equatorial. But warmer is better than colder.
My name is Addy. Please call me that instead of my username.
 14 Major Tom, Sun, 14th Nov '10 10:29:50 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^^ Sunburn is just a mild annoyance. The body will adapt over time for most folks.

Why do you think genealogically folks in the equatorial regions have much darker skin than those in say Sweden? They adapted to the stronger sun and greater exposure.
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 15 Game Chainsaw, Sun, 14th Nov '10 11:03:15 AM from sunshine and rainbows!
The Shadows Devour You.
Hmm... I always thought you could end up getting burned to death if you are out in the desert sun. It sure wouldn't be good for you.

So its rapid dehydration that kills you when you're out in the desert then? Makes sense.

edited 14th Nov '10 11:03:26 AM by GameChainsaw

 16 Major Tom, Sun, 14th Nov '10 11:12:04 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
Dehydration is also one of the quickest ways to die in the cold too. No really, the body loses water in the cold just as quick if not quicker than a tropical heat.
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
How about nuking the rainforests and the major areas of farmland? What would it take to kill humanity by destroying natural resources?
 
 18 Game Chainsaw, Sun, 14th Nov '10 11:37:47 AM from sunshine and rainbows!
The Shadows Devour You.
Reducing it to the conditions of the Sahara would do it. Just heat the planet up enough. Freezing the oceans would do it too.

edited 14th Nov '10 11:38:09 AM by GameChainsaw

 19 Tzetze, Sun, 14th Nov '10 11:39:30 AM from a converted church in Venice, Italy
DUMB
Well, I doubt that we have the requisite firepower to completely destroy the biosphere (quickly, I mean), but we might be able to damage it to the extent that we'd die out before it recovered to the extent that we could survive off of it. Perhaps we could do something with those undersea methane pockets; as I recall the record for most damage/change to the biosphere is held by an "explosion" of some plant rapidly changing the content of the atmosphere some millions of years ago.
 20 Game Chainsaw, Sun, 14th Nov '10 11:45:54 AM from sunshine and rainbows!
The Shadows Devour You.
That was the cause of the Permian extinction. The release of the methane beds coupled with two supervolcanoes going off I believe. The combined methane and sulfur release raised the temperature by about 10 degrees, turned Britain into the Sahara...

EDIT: That could do it. And worse, its perfectly possible.

edited 14th Nov '10 11:47:39 AM by GameChainsaw

 21 Tzetze, Sun, 14th Nov '10 11:50:04 AM from a converted church in Venice, Italy
DUMB
Oh, plenty of things are possible. I like gamma ray bursts, myself, it results in continents melting.
 22 Lessinath, Sun, 14th Nov '10 12:01:57 PM from In the wilderness.
If you took every nuke on earth and fired them all in the same moment in the most damaging manner possible, it still wouldn't be enough to wipe out humans. Would it knock us back to the middle ages? Yes. Wipe us out? Not even close, there would still probably be at least half a billion of us.

See The deadliest mushroom for what nukes do - and what they don't do.

With that in mind, all it would take is a sufficiently large asteroid to do it instead. About six miles wide would do.

edited 14th Nov '10 12:02:54 PM by Lessinath

"This thread has gone so far south it's surrounded by nesting penguins. " — Madrugada
 23 Game Chainsaw, Sun, 14th Nov '10 12:37:06 PM from sunshine and rainbows!
The Shadows Devour You.
^^An event like the Permian Extinction is much more likely to happen though.

edited 14th Nov '10 12:37:14 PM by GameChainsaw

 24 Fighteer, Mon, 15th Nov '10 7:37:35 AM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
More to the point, any conditions that allowed for mammalian life in general to survive would allow humans to survive. Conditions harsh enough to kill off all larger organisms would likely do us in just as well, at least in the long term.
Ironically, the pursuit of the definition of happiness does not appear to be a happiness-maximizing behavior.
 25 Major Tom, Mon, 15th Nov '10 7:58:17 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
The Siberian Traps. That's the cause of the Permian Extinction. A giant flood basalt in area roughly the size from San Francisco to Dallas to Denver and then down into northern Mexico. Yeah, a flood basalt the rough size of the American Southwest. Most of it still survives in northern Russia directly east of the Ural Mountains and butt up against the Arctic Ocean.

It didn't happen all at once of course. Flood basalts have a tendency to take a while to do.

Another factor believed to be caused by the Siberian flood basalts were the largest coal seam fires in geologic history. Basically at the onset of the flood basalt's first eruptions it tunneled through large coal deposits and set them on fire. As is well documented across North America, coal seam fires burn for a long time and the smoke and ash doesn't stay underground. Combine this with the massive carbon dioxide release of the flood basalt and global temperatures would rise to where the methane hydrate aka "the ice that burns" would sublimate and vaporize into the ocean and atmosphere further spiraling the warming effect. (And then you have the convective forces of hundreds of thousands if not millions of square kilometers of hot lava working in tandem with those three things)

Be advised however, this kind of change to vaporize the methane hydrate required more carbon dioxide owing to the basalt flood than industrial Man has put out or will put out for centuries combined.

Earth's carbon dioxide levels present day are about 18 parts per million. In the Permian event just prior to the methane hydrate release it was estimated at around 32+ parts per million. We as a species couldn't put that much out in 500 years at our worst.

Fortunately, flood basalts are geologically rare and as time has gone by become that much rarer. Especially at the continental scale seen in Siberia. The last flood basalt was in Iceland over 200 years ago and was tiny compared to the Columbia River Plateau in what is now Oregon and Washington State.

edited 15th Nov '10 8:00:49 AM by MajorTom

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Total posts: 25
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