Pondering the Future of Life


It’s possible that humans, at the far end of this hellride (maybe a hundred years off), will have eradicated all life on this planet except the most intense extremophile bacteria and archaea.  I think even from where we stand now, assured of calamitous devastation, surfing the edge of an extinction event in progress, that does not seem likely.  The way that would happen is if the completely runaway global warming that is already too late to stop snowballs into temperatures that rival the Hadean Eon.  I don’t know how possible that is.

But it is surely probable for this heat to become globally devastating in a way we’ve never seen before.  It’s a pretty safe bet that all large mammals will go extinct outside of enclosed environments, and 90% of what else is living beyond the artificial spaces will go extinct as well.  That’s enough to make a nature lover miserably sad and some of us fit to suicide bomb a petrol exec or politician.  Looking forward to more of that happening, because this stuff does have me miserably sad, and I’d love to see the fuckers eat shit and die.  Zero qualifications regrets or backtracking on those words.  If you’re petrol or a political enabler, please, set yourself on fire on live TV for me.

But this post is about none of that.  I am inclined in this random moment to think about the life that will survive global warming.  Because unless we successfully turn Earth into Venus, this warmed world will settle into some kind of equilibrium eventually.  Birds and reptiles are much better at surviving heat compared to mammals, and despite the insect apocalypse going on at the moment?  You know those lil bastards will bounce back.  Again, huge numbers of species will be gone forever, but those that remain?  Will ultimately repopulate to exploit the niches that remain.

I know less about plants.  Obviously if they don’t make it through, the rest of life is in a bad way.  Goodbye to all tetrapod life if that happens, probably – no lizards no birds no rats.  But I suspect there are plants that will do well enough, even in a world that reaches a hundred sixty in the summer, choking in fire every year until the last scrap of tinder is mingled in deserts of ash.  The poles will not be quite that hardcore, some cool weeds will probably stick around and wait for a chance to spring back.  That will give a foothold for some insects and some kind of tetrapods.

If humans are lucky in all that, we’ll be living in tightly controlled environments with smaller populations.  Maybe underground.  We’ll be living off of vat-farmed algae and recycled garbage.  But what I’m most curious about in this moment of detachment is this – what animals will be the best survivors?  Who will be the lizards and bugs and weirdos that scrap back, diversify and repopulate the Earth?  If we’re lucky enough to still have dinosaurs, who will they be?  Ducks and chickens pulled off this feat once before, I bet they could do it again.

For the comments, I’d like to see people placing their bets on what animals survive this mess.  I, for one, believe that humans will be one of those animals – for good or ill.  But aside from eyebrow lice and gut flora, who will we be sharing the world with?


  1. lochaber says

    I’m going to suggest maybe critters that do okay in deserts, but are widespread into other areas, like coyotes and crows/ravens.

    But they also do really well because they are good at existing in/around human settlements, so I don’t know how that will change things…

  2. says

    Crows in the pacific northwest are remarkably good at operating in rain and snow. Lots of other birds flake out, and they’ll be turning over the moss in sidewalk cracks to get at worms and such. Respect. The problem coyotes have is the same problem humans will have – we are shit for diffusing heat. They’re not as bad off as two hundred pound monkeys, but they will have to change their range. They’ve done it before and probably they’ll work it out when time comes. As long as rodents live, I think coyotes will find a way to get by. Might have to do so entirely within the arctic circle.

  3. says

    Birds can do well by traveling efficiently to far-flung food sources. Reptiles and amphibians get by without much food by going lazy. Cave-dwelling olms have to be breaking records on that. I read one managed to not move and inch and not eat a bite for fifteen years.

  4. lochaber says

    and after a bit of thought, and a re-reading…

    I don’t know about that “160F temps” bit…

    Isn’t that about the temp that people test their cooking to make sure it’s safe to eat? as in, it kills pretty much all parasites and pathogens? (and those are things that tend to be more likely to survive extreme events/scenarios)

    I guess critters can maybe learn to seek cooler areas to shelter in during the day and forage at night, or maybe migrate or something, but plants don’t really have that option, and without plants, we won’t have anything resembling an ecosystem we recognize.

    Part of me wants to try and imagine how this will be self-correcting once human society collapses, and all of our carbon streams are abruptly cut off, but that doesn’t take into account the various feedback cycles and such that will continue regardless of humans efforts, so long as a temperature threshold is crossed.

    well, fuck…

  5. says

    Here’s the thing about my level of expertise – it’s quite pitiful. Is 165 possible? IDK. But let’s say the hottest spots around the equator could literally boil. If the north and south pole max out at 125? Life can find a way. I’m trying to guess what that would look like. This is also what I was alluding to in the first paragraph re: the Hadean. Yes, there are runaway warming effects going on, maxing out all the worst predictions right now. But this process surely has a maximum somewhere. Where is that? Maybe Abe Oceanoxia could hazard a guess.
    And unless we do autoclave the planet, the climate of the planet has reversed many times and will do so again. If anything survives that, the planet can have a flourishing biosphere again – with or without our descendants.

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