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Series / Aftermath

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Aftermath, premiering as Aftermath: Population Zero was produced in Canada, but premiered on the National Geographic Channel. Its titular premise is a hypothetical scenario of what would happen if all humans suddenly vanished without a trace. Eventually, more follow-up episodes were produced based on the same concept of coming up with a hypothetical scenario, doing copious research into what exactly that change to the status quo would impact, and then filming an episode the occurrence of the scenario as well as its aftermath.

Not to be confused with the 2016 Space Channel series.

This show provides examples of:

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  • After the End: Every episode leads to an apocalypse and either culminates in humanity's extinction or a post-apocalyptic future where humans have adapted to the hypothetical scenario.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Every single episode has this happen. It's obviously the whole point of Population Zero, given that it deals with the aftermath of humanity's extinction, but even the scenarios that one would least expect to lead to an apocalypse do.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: When each scenario occurs.
  • Shown Their Work: In excruciating detail. The narrator explains exactly what the scenario changes, why it has changed, and what a particular changed thing's status quo depends on in our reality that has been removed with the scenario.
  • Speculative Documentary: The whole point of each episode.

     Population Zero  

Humans, as a species, have existed for a relatively short time in Earth's history and are still relatively young compared to certain other species. Yet of all species that have walked the earth, humans are unique in that we are the only species known to have created lasting structures and buildings and to have had a lastingly massive impact on the earth's ecology. However, on June 13th of an unspecified year, all humans have vanished without a trace for no explicable reason. Population Zero then details what has happened to the artifacts that humans have left behind after the long years without usage or maintenance, as well as what happens to the earth's ecology after humans have been removed from the equation.

  • Big Dam Plot: The Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams eventually collapses after 200 years, restoring the Colorado river's free access to the sea.
  • Going Critical: Because the presently active nuclear power plants across the globe are no longer being manned after humanity's disappearance, it's only a matter of time before they go into nuclear meltdown. Whole regions are turned into death zones for decades to come for any animals trying to survive.
  • Escaped Animal Rampage: All animals in zoos and safari parks have to escape their confines or starve, as humans are no longer there to feed them. This leads to such unusual sights as bush elephants migrating through suburbs while fending off packs of feral dogs, camels wandering through graveyards and lions desperately trying to catch monkeys and baboons hiding out in playgrounds.
  • Humanity's Wake: The whole point of this episode. Humans inexplicably vanish and the focal point is how the earth's ecology is impacted in different time periods after humanity's extinction as well as the eventual destruction of humanity's artifices, one by one.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: As the narration points out, there are multiple ways in which the lives of multiple species are improved in the long run once humans are removed from the equation.
  • Monumental Damage: Famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty begin to degrade from unaddressed rust decay and erosion after about a century. The Eiffel Tower eventually disappears in a new swamp that appears in the Paris metropolitan area, the Statue of Liberty falls apart and its pedestal is ground down by the expanding Ice Age glacier in North America and even the pyramids of Egypt that had stood strong for thousands of years eventually end up buried underneath the desert sand.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Humans vanish without a trace on Friday, June 13th of an unspecified year.
  • Reclaimed by Nature: The pilot episode theorizes what would happen after humanity suddenly vanishes. Most human structures take only a century or two to decay. The only thing indicated to last many millions of years is the moon lander left behind on the airless rock.
  • Time Abyss: After humanity vanishes, most signs of its civilization disappear within a few centuries time, the remainder after the next ice age. Other lifeforms move on and adapt. Planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old, the universe three times that; humanity's whole existence was just the blink of an eye.

     Red Giant/Swallowed By the Sun  

The sun is a star and, like all stars, is aging. It will eventually turn into a red giant, but is currently a yellow dwarf and our sun that is the center of our solar system, the thing that makes our existence possible, and an object we see everyday to the point where we simply take it for granted. This episode posits a hypothetical scenario where the sun ages millions of years overnight and rapidly ages into a red giant at an accelerated rate.

  • Beneath the Earth: Where humans are eventually driven due to the levels of radiation and heat. Most of them die out when Earth's surface temperature reaches 371 °C, as the internal heat from Earth's mantle prevents them from going low enough to escape the heat from the surface. As such, they escape into space.
  • Heat Wave: As the Sun rapidly ages, the Earth's temperature also rises.
  • Humanity's Wake: After humanity goes extinct on Earth, concrete structures and objects made of synthetic materials are the first to crumble. Stone structures like the Great Pyramids and Mount Rushmore last longer, but they eventually melt when Earth reaches 1,320 °C. Ultimately subverted, as some people escaped to the outer planets, where temperatures have now reached habitable levels.
  • Irony: When the temperature reaches 149 °C, it gets too hot for humans to walk on the surface of the earth without a spacesuit. At that very same point, there is not enough oxygen for fire to be possible.
  • Kill It with Fire: Due to the aforementioned temperature spike, oxygen levels fall to less than 10%, making it impossible for things to truly burn. Objects that can melt or evaporate are still destroyed, but fire can't burn until it gets so hot that water vapor escaping into space is split via hydrolysis, allowing oxygen to return. Anything that survives is consumed in mass firestorm.
  • Misplaced Vegetation: Early on, the higher temperatures and lower levels of carbon dioxide cause maples, oaks and evergreens to experience a mass die-off. This allows plants like bamboo and long grasses to move northward, resulting in Chicago and Toronto having foliage like that of Southeast Asia.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Gas Mask: The recurring astronaut.

     When the Earth Stops Spinning  

This episode is unique among the episodes of Aftermath in that nothing happens specifically overnight. The Earth's rotation is already slowing, though at such a low rate that it's barely even measurable. It's just that one day, right out of the blue, this slowing starts to accelerate to the point where the Earth stops spinning entirely 5 years after the start of the earth's rotation's accelerated deceleration. This was probably done because if the Earth did stop spinning in an instant, everything on the surface would be thrown eastward at more than a thousand miles per hour.

  • Crapsack World: What we finally end up with when the world finally stops spinning entirely. Most of the world's population has died and what humans are left have been forced to retreat to isolated colonies with no hope of progressing beyond subsistence.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Given that Most of the world has been made unsafe to live in, in some cases by what constitute natural disasters, until the only habitable areas are by the coasts of the new mega-continent by the polar oceans, what else would you expect?
  • Earthquakes Cause Fissures: We don't see the full effect of this, but it's explained that one consequence of slowly slowing the Earth down would be extremely powerful earthquakes in places that had never seen earthquakes before; Earth's magnetic field relies on the fact that the layers of the Earth spin at their own speeds. Change that speed, and the change varies from layer to layer, resulting in ungodly amounts of friction coming into play, manifesting as gigantic quakes.
  • Everytown, America: AKA Flyover Country. Ironically enough, one of the safer places to be once the Earth has completely stopped is what's left of the American Midwest. It's just out of reach of the flooding and the worst of the solar radiation, though humans living there would only just be able to make by through subsistence, and face a perilous first few years there without desalination plants to extract water from the ocean.
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: Two of them. One is the difference between the poles and the equator as the earth slows. While the poles are flooded, the equator is not only dry, but also has a atmosphere too thin to sustain human life. The other is the "day/night" cycle left after as the Earth slows and eventually stops. The hot, scorching day, and the dark, freezing night.
  • Hope Spot: The survivors who head to the American Midwest manage to build subsistence farms and fish for their food, but face ever-decreasing rainfall as the Earth continues to slow. When it stops completely, there's no longer any Coriolis Effect. Without any wind to push storms at sea over land and not enough energy or resources to desalinate ocean water, it's going to seriously suck for them.
  • The Insomniac: The lengthening of days as the earth's spin slows to a stop messes up everyone's sleep cycle. Their ability to sleep is impaired during the times when practically speaking, it is daytime and yet time-wise, it is still night.
    • Sleepyhead: The lengthening of the days, as well as making everyone in the world The Insomniac when the sun is out when it is usually nighttime, also turns people into this when it is dark during the traditional daytime.
  • Regional Redecoration: As a consequence of the Earth's slowing spin, the planet's equatorial bulge begins to flatten out, causing the oceans to start flowing north and south. The result is two vast oceans covering the top and bottom thirds of the world, while a vast supercontinent joins the world's major landmasses. Miami is left hundreds of miles from the coast, while everything north of Kansas is underwater.
  • Robinsonade: The fate of the scientists who set sail for the equatorial supercontinent. They make it almost the entire way there, but a strong storm near the equator wrecks their ship on the shore of the new land. While they have enough supplies to last for a little while, the group faces an uncertain fate, given a combination of thin air and the unforgiving rays of the Sun.
  • Stock Scream: The Howie Long Scream is used when a rock climber, due to a lack of oxygen at high altitudes once the Earth slows, falls to his death.
  • Three Lines, Some Waiting: The story mainly follows three different groups: one heading for low-lying states like Kansas, one staying in Miami and one leaving San Francisco to colonize the new supercontinent. The first is ultimately doomed to starvation when the Coriolis Effect shuts down, the second abandons Miami once their resources run out and the latter-most manage to build a small colony. After a year, the Miami group manages to migrate westward and joins up with them.

     Population Overload  

It is a fact that in the last two centuries, the world population has increased at a much faster rate than in all of human history. As the world population count has gone through each billion mark, it has been increasingly more often that the question of just how many people can the planet support has been raised. Because of issues of poverty in certain areas and segments of the population, there is also the question of just how many can live an adequate life without draining the planet's resources. Population Overload exploits this hot topic, especially the fact that the world would soon hit the seven billion mark at the time of production. This episode presents the fact that the world's population is presently roughly 7 billion and then postulates what would happen if the world population suddenly doubled overnight to 14 billion.

  • The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: Inverted with the United States closing its borders entirely because of the influx of refugees and migrants. Played straight, however, in that the various problems that result from the increased population result in scientists uniting to solve them and, most importantly, in ways that ensure the survival of as many people as possible.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The ironic result of this scenario. The world population is 4 billion - around the same amount as it was in 1974 - 35 years after the world's population doubled overnight to 14 billion.
  • Mega City: Most of the population of North America becomes concentrated around the Great Lakes after a drought-induced mass migration. A massive mega city surrounds the lakes.
  • Overpopulation Crisis: The episode explores exactly this, when the population of Earth spontaneously doubles overnight. At first humanity tries to cope by rationing resources and rapidly expanding construction, but eventually society breaks down, resulting in huge population movements and an eventual Depopulation Bomb that results in a still fairly large, but dramatically reduced human race.
  • The Plague: The first variant happens as a result of the increased population. The plumbing is strained from multiple people flushing the toilets, causing the waste water to taint the supply of drinking water, causing outbreaks of cholera.
  • Water Source Tampering: An unintentional variant. Desperate attempts to grow enough food to feed the increased population as well as strains on the plumbing result in much of the world's water being unsafe to drink, if one can even find or attain any of it.

     World Without Oil  

The oil crisis is currently a hot topic and the fact that there is only a limited amount of fossil fuels to drill has been a point that many politicians have repeatedly mentioned. Therefore, this episode was produced, postulating this question: "What would happen if the world's remaining oil reservoirs suddenly disappeared?"

  • Bittersweet Ending: Despite the chaos and trauma of the first few decades, gradually humanity is able to adapt to a post-oil world with renewable technologies, urban farming, and mass transit.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: Some countries manage to largely mitigate the issues with a world without oil by using ethanol-based biofuel, particularly in the case of Brazil, which already has a massive biofuel program that it uses to great effect, making it through the crisis in much better shape than a lot of other nations around the planet. Why more technologically advanced countries such as the United States don't start a crash biofuel project is left unanswered, especially since the US military had such a program in development for years at the time the show was aired precisely to address the Post-Peak Oil scenario.
  • Days of Future Past: Eventually, people start growing their own food and keeping livestock, in a similar manner to most people before the advent of mechanised farming. Later still, once lithium and biofuel technology becomes widespread, new towns are formed along railroad tracks, in much the same way settlements during the 19th century were founded in places like the American Midwest.
  • Here We Go Again!: In the last segment, 40 years after the oil disappeared, rechargeable electric batteries have become commonplace especially for vehicles. A news clip discusses the approach of 'peak lithium' in a few years when the world's lithium supplies are no longer commercially viable...meaning the scenario is likely to repeat itself. That being said, some nations opted to rely on Ethanol biofuel instead, growing plants to turn into alcohol; these nations are more likely to thrive when Lithium begins to run low, and will probably have quite a few things to teach the world when that day comes.
    • Even before then, the world's coal reserves are stripped with frightening speed, as non-equatorial nations resort to it for winter heating and demand for fuel to run emergency vehicles makes extracting liquid fuel from processed coal a necessity.
  • Hidden Supplies: Deconstructed; people who have conserved or hoarded gasoline find out that it has a limited shelf life (a few months to a year). One family learns this the hard way when it tries to drive a sick child to the hospital.
  • Ludd Was Right: As social infrastructure collapses, it turns out that the old-fashioned way is the best way. Those who grow their own food and keep livestock, as well as doing other things that aren't mentioned the old-fashioned way, make it through the crisis. Even 40 years after the oil supplies ran out and humanity has adapted to this new fact of life, society is still agrarian, growing their food locally and growing only what they need.
  • Post-Peak Oil: The episode presents a rather extreme hypothetical by erasing all the oil supplies in the world at once, rather than having demand gradually outstrip supply like a regular Post-Peak Oil scenario. The world quickly descends into chaos while some countries manage to cope by switching to alternative energy sources. However, at the end a similar Post-Peak problem is foreshadowed with the mineral lithium.

Alternative Title(s): Aftermath Population Zero