8 Ways Earth Will Look Freaking Insane In Thousands Of Years
If the Earth was an apartment, the human race would be like your old roommate -- long after we're gone, this place will still have our stink all over it. And like the old socks or half-eaten sandwiches you're constantly finding behind furniture, distant archaeologists will stumble upon the permanent marks we're leaving on this planet and wonder what the hell was going on. For example ...
Future Earth Will Be Covered In Multicolored Rocks Made From Your Random Crap
Human beings have manufactured around six billion tons of plastic since we invented it around a hundred years ago, and as useful as this stuff is, the downside is that it doesn't ever go away. Look around you and see how much plastic is in the room you're in right now -- all that stuff is still going to exist ages from now. Granted, it will look a little different by then. Something like this:
Hope you have a good mouthwash.
It's only in the past decade that scientists have started to discover the bizarre way that plastic is incorporating itself into our natural environment. Like Ben Grimm, it's turning into rocks. Over many years of exposure to the elements, plastic clumps together and combines itself with rocks, sand, and minerals in the environment, producing weird, brightly colored stones. Millennia from now, rocky shores could look like they're made out of melted Lego bricks. Because they realistically might be.
And it's more than plastic. Other materials, such as glass, are also shaped by the environment into permanent reminders of how little of a shit we give about it. Future beaches might look like this:
Theory: Hyrule is future Earth, and the magical jewels Link collects are old junk.
That's Ussuri Bay in Russia, where the ocean has spat up tons of broken glass and ceramic fragments, which years of water erosion have reshaped into cute little pebbles that look like gummy candies. Don't put them in your mouth, though. Seriously.
Yet another variety of garbage-stone is known as Fordite, or Detroit Shale. It's actually dozens of layers of paint scraped from the floors of car factories, and it's already so ubiquitous that people are turning it into jewelry and selling it.
Yep, we're about done here. Pack it up.
The Same Way We Dig Up Dinosaur Bones, Future Explorers Will Dig Up Fossilized Machines
If some kind of apocalypse knocks us back to the Stone Age and we recover enough to start digging up fossils again, then future archaeology is going to be really weird. On a long enough timescale, anything can be swallowed by the Earth and fossilized until we dig it up and stick it in a museum. That includes whatever you're using to read this article right now.
According to scientists writing for The Anthropocene Review, everything that we manufacture, from pens to garage doors to tractors, will eventually be covered up by sand and dirt and become "technofossils." That sounds like a bullshit term made up for a Michael Bay movie, but it's a real concept which kids might learn in third grade one day.
Imagine future dig sites where people are using little chisels and brushes to delicately extract your PlayStation, or your phone charger, or your dildo (or your phone charger / dildo). And depending on how far removed our cultural memory is from modern times, they'll probably have no idea what half of this stuff even is. Future museums might look like Ariel's treasure room from The Little Mermaid, with plaques explaining how forks were used for combing hair and cheese graters were defensive weapons.
And this has the potential to get weird. Imagine future scientists digging up the Neon Boneyard, the place where Las Vegas dumps all of its old neon signs. Or thousands of fossilized E.T.: The Video Game cartridges.
Dear lord, let's hope they don't find a way to play those games. Then they'll really hate us.
If Humans Ever Forget What Satellites Are, Future Astronomers Will Be Screwed
Ever wondered what would happen to the over 1,000 active satellites orbiting the Earth right now if we suddenly lost the ability to maintain them? Like maybe there's a nuclear apocalypse, or someone forgets the password. Well, most of them would fall back to Earth within 25 years, while others (the larger ones that run the risk of surviving reentry and smacking some poor SOB in the face) are blasted further out into a 500-year orbit at the end of their lives. The latter would be our great-great-great-great-grandchildren's problem, but not ours.
But then there are the "geosynchronous" satellites -- the ones which are designed to exactly match the rotation of the Earth. To us, they look like ordinary stars, except for the fact that they don't move as the Earth rotates, as if they were creepily staring at us the whole time (which they probably are, though the government denies it). They're calibrated so precisely that they don't experience any drag or friction, which means that they won't come down for literally billions of years. That's some enviable stamina.
Now imagine the scenario that scientist and photographer Trevor Paglen proposed in 2016 while studying these objects: A thousand generations after the fall of civilization, a new society (be it human, talking dog, or whatever) emerges from the dirt, survives its medieval period, and enters an Enlightenment. Some future Galileo analogue invents a telescope and points it to the sky in the hope of figuring out how the Solar System works, perhaps already harboring the suspicion that we're a speck of dust in an infinite cosmos of orbiting spheres ... only to get confused by the fact that a whole bunch of stars never move at all. He throws his (correct) telescope out the window and becomes a flute player.
It would be hundreds of years before we'd have the technology to correctly identify these unmoving stars as space junk from a prior advanced civilization. Until then, we'd probably have developed some "Facebook group for flat Earth enthusiasts"-level wrong theories about what stars are and how the Universe operates. In short, we've already started trolling our future descendants without even realizing it.
Related: Weird Ways Science Is Screwed
We Might Create Color-Changing Cats To Keep Future Humans Away From Nuclear Waste
If history is anything to go by, human beings a mere couple of thousand years from now are going to be completely unable to understand our current language. Ever tried to read Beowulf? That shit was English at some point, but now it looks like your friend sat on their phone with the chat window open.
You know what doesn't change so quickly, though? Nuclear waste dumps, which will remain unsafe for tens of thousands of years. And this begs the question: How the hell do we keep humans away from there long after we've ceased to be able to interpret contemporary "Do Not Enter" signs? One of the fears is that no matter what symbols we come up with, future humans are going to interpret them to mean "buried treasure," because the various "holy fuck seriously do not dig here" signs posted by ancient Egyptians didn't work so well on Europeans.
Scientists have been giving this conundrum a lot of thought lately, and they've been coming up with some truly bizarre ideas about how to communicate danger through the eons without using language. For example, we could plausibly genetically engineer a race of Technicolor cats. This idea isn't as insane as it sounds. Or OK, maybe it is, but it's one that they've been seriously considering. Because cats are likely to remain ubiquitous companions of humankind until the end of our species, if we could engineer them to change color in the presence of radioactive material, theoretically, future humans might learn to associate such color-changing felines with danger and stay the hell away. That or we'll think they're witches and burn them all.
Though it seems easier to look for the suddenly hairless, tumor-filled cat.
Other ideas include trying to create some type of religion, a so-called "Atomic Priesthood" which keeps future generations away from waste dumps, like the guardians in the non-Tom-Cruise version of The Mummy. Others suggest we could cover waste sites in a "Landscape of Thorns" -- fields of jagged, impassable, ominous stones that would make excavation both difficult and frightening. Future people might think we're dicks, but hey, at least their dicks won't fall off.
We're really hoping for the color-changing cats scenario, though. That sounds awesome.
The Hoover Dam Was Designed To Be The Great Pyramid For Future Ages
Of all the monuments that humankind has created during its dominion over the planet, one of the most, uh, monumental, is Arizona's Hoover Dam. It's estimated that it'll keep chugging away for around 10,000 years, even if a catastrophe knocks back our civilization an era or three and we forget what it is. Should that happen, future civilizations are going to ask a lot of questions about this place and its weird-ass artwork.
See, the Hoover Dam site is lousy with sculptures by Norwegian-American artist Oskar J.W. Hansen, who was commissioned by the state government to create some artwork that would transform the Dam from just another public works project into a downright Wonder of the Modern World. And Hansen did precisely that, decorating the dam with sculptures like two 20-foot-tall bodybuilders made of bronze with wings on their backs. According to Hansen, they represent "the immutable calm of intellectual resolution, and the enormous power of trained physical strength, equally enthroned in placid triumph of scientific accomplishment."
"And here we see the majestic monument to armpit stench."
Hansen had greater aspirations for the dam than it being a big power station. He compared it to the Great Pyramid, and wanted it to stand as an equal testament to mankind. And like the Great Pyramid, he covered it in hieroglyphics that nobody will be able to understand now that he's too dead to explain them. On top of the Sphinx-like Winged Figures, the dam is decorated with bas-reliefs ...
Future people will be impressed that we made this before we invented clothes.
... and celestial maps which cryptically record the date that Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the structure in September 1935. The star chart was created so that "those versed in astronomy could calculate the precession of the Pole Star for approximately the next 14,000 years." We imagine our descendants will probably be disappointed if they ever decode these symbols and discover they just reveal the date that the dam opened, and not, like, the cure for cancer or something actually useful.
Mount Rushmore Will Be The Last Monument To Humanity
Flash forward seven million years from now. Humankind is gone. Either we Mad Max-ed ourselves into oblivion or blasted off into space and left our dying planet to its fate. By this time, the Earth has swallowed every trace of our once-great civilization. If aliens ever visit our world long after we have perished, only one solitary monument will remain. And that is ... American jingoism, baby!
According to the scholars who study the legacy of humanity long after it's perished, the presidential carving at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota is likely to be the last human construction that remains after the Earth's natural housekeeping processes blow away every other trace of our existence. The dirt, sand, and oceans will sink our cities beneath the ground, but Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln, and anyone else we add (Kanye?) will continue to stare down at a planet otherwise swept clean.
That's because the Black Hills, where the monument is, happens to be one of the most tectonically stable places on Earth. On top of that, the statues are carved out of solid Precambrian granite, one of the toughest naturally occurring rocks on the planet. According to science writer Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, the faces on Mount Rushmore will be recognizable for around 7.2 million years, barring some freak event like a direct asteroid collision or alien death ray.
Which is moot, since no species that advanced would be stupid enough to fuck with Teddy Roosevelt.
And this isn't a coincidence. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, chose the site specifically so that the sculpture would "last forever." In fact, he even specified that the statues should be three inches thicker than the ideal measurement, so that the natural erosion would take a few million years longer. He was pretty fond of presidents and/or faces.
As an addendum, there is a similar sculpture which geologists think might last almost as long: the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia. Also carved into solid, nigh-impenetrable granite, the statue is kind of the anti-Mount Rushmore, depicting Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and the appropriately named Stonewall Jackson. Just saying, it's remotely possible that the final surviving testament to human civilization will be a celebration of slavery.
Related: Rushmore: 15 Behind-The-Scenes Gems
Future Alien Explorers Will Probably Assume We Were A Burrowing Species
Let's look forward to around a hundred million years after we disappear. Even Mount Rushmore is gone. Earth looks like a brand-new planet never before touched by intelligent life. Would some alien visitor ever know that we were here? They probably would, but they would likely assume that we were some kind of giant Dune Sandworm-like creatures, due to our final legacy: a whole bunch of tunnels.
Why tunnels? Because natural environmental erosion tends to erase everything on the surface fairly quickly if people aren't around to maintain it -- like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch, but really slowly and measured in geological epochs. Under the ground, however, such erosion doesn't occur. In fact, an important factor in the science of geology is studying the tunnels dug by burrowing creatures such as worms, rabbits, moles, and woodchucks, since these burrows remain there long after the animals that made them have been relegated to evolution's dustbin.
Well, for all intents and purposes, human beings are a burrowing species too, though on a much greater scale. Animals might build tunnels and burrows, but we build subways, boreholes, and mines. The (sexy) term for this is "anthroturbation," and it will be the last evidence that we existed. Things like the Salt Lake City mines and the London Underground will probably remain until the end of the Earth itself. This brings up an interesting point for those searching for alien life: Instead of looking for alien cities and giant Mars faces, we should probably be looking for evidence of ancient extraterrestrial subway systems.
In A Bizarre Twist, Scientists Are Going Back To Recording Our Knowledge On Stone Tablets
No matter how long human civilization continues to trundle along, future archaeologists who try to get a glimpse of our world will probably assume that we were all wiped out sometime in the late 20th century. After all, that's when we stopped writing things down. Digging up fossilized computers won't do our future descendants any good, because no data on those machines will be recoverable. In fact, as we've covered before, we'll be lucky if we can interpret today's computer software 50 years from now, let alone in a million years. The digitization of information and the large-scale purging of hard copies has made all of human knowledge compact and convenient, but it also put an expiration date on all of that stuff. If we vanish tomorrow, then the totality of our combined human knowledge will last only as long as the batteries in our Kindles.
With this in mind, some scientists have decided to go full circle, preserving the legacy of human knowledge using the best method we've ever figured out: etching it on stone tablets and burying it in the desert.
They're even scattering these coins with their location around the world so future generations can know what an unhelpful map looks like.
The Memory of Mankind Project intends to utilize the one technology that mankind has gotten progressively worse at over time -- data storage -- and etch as much of our knowledge, history, popular fiction, and culture into the surface of a number of ceramic plates, which they will then bury deep in an abandoned Austrian salt mine. Millions of years hence, the hope is that our future descendants will stumble across a treasure trove of ancient plaques which will teach them everything from modern calculus to the relativity formula to the recipe for a really great chili to ... Pepe the Frog.
Yeah, the MoMP people aren't the only ones seeking to create an eternal ceramic legacy to mankind's "achievements." In 2017, the website 9Gag also bankrolled a project to bury a carved stone tablet deep beneath the Earth for the benefit of future generations. But far from the collected enlightenment of a foregone past, its purpose is to record internet memes. You know, like Dickbutt, Philosoraptor, and Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen. On second thought, we deserve oblivion.
Get your cat ready for business because let's face it, cats are going to take over the Earth.
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