The Sound of Science - "Extinct Humans"

Feb 1, 2019

Sam: Welcome to the Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Sam from NIU STEAM.

Jeremy: And I’m Jeremy! Today we have a question from Maddy.

Maddy: I'm Maddie from Fox River Grove, and I would like to know what would happen if all of humanity went extinct? 

Jeremy: Great question Maddy! Sam, what are your thoughts on the extinction of our species? What would happen?

Jeremy Benson and Sam Watt of NIU STEM Outreach

Sam: Well I’m going to assume that whatever happens to us, it would be quick with no other impact on the world. In short, our planet would carry on just fine without us as it has for millions of years. There is a great series called “Life After People” that describes what would happen to plants, common animals, predators, our cities, and more if we were to just disappear. 

Jeremy: One aspect that isn’t covered too much in that show though is how our absence would affect the climate. In the past 150 years, the Earth spiked in temperature by 0.8 Celsius. That might seem like very little over a very long time, but it’s quite the opposite!

Sam:  Humans pump out trillions of kilograms of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, methane, soot, and other greenhouse gases every year through the burning of fossil fuels. 

Sam: So imagine if we all stopped existing. The amount of greenhouse gases emitted wouldn’t drop to zero because millions of landfills would still produce methane and carbon dioxide, but that would be a fraction of current amounts.

Jeremy: From there, without human interference to slow them down, vegetation would begin to retake the Earth. This is crucial for climate recovery because plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. 

Sam: Oxygen is not a greenhouse gas, so it helps disperse greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. It’s like opening a window to let fresh air into a stuffy or stinky room. With less dense coverage of greenhouse gases, heat from the planet is able to escape. 

Jeremy: Reforestation and adding new forests are actually some of the many feasible solutions proposed by Project Drawdown, an organization of experts from around the world.

Sam: Learn more about how you can chip in by visiting drawdown.org.

Jeremy: Keep your questions coming by emailing us at stemoutreach@niu.edu.

Sam: This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ.

Jeremy: Where you learn something new everyday.