General Question

6rant6's avatar

If 99% of all humans were gone, how would things be different?

Asked by 6rant6 (13672points) February 6th, 2012

The premise is that 99% of humans are gone. Whether it was from volcanic activity, or disease, rapture or alien abduction isn’t material. They’re gone; what’s going to be different?

Some things are obvious like less pollution. Some are subtle like the decrease in market size making R&D expenditures on new products less cost effective. No iPhones for these people.

Would it change the way we educate? Medicine? Travel?

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72 Answers

bob_'s avatar

Traffic would no longer be such a bitch.

Coloma's avatar

The natural world would be rejuvenated and many endangered species would begin to make a comeback as time went by. Our world would no longer be monopolized by corporations changing the face of government, medicine, big pharma and all the other evils that oppress.
If the population was at 1% spread out world wide, I imagine we’d all enjoy a return to Walden Pond. I would be relatively uneffected as I already live on the fringe and would welcome the shift. :-)

@Bob…LOL….ten thumbs up there!

zenvelo's avatar

It still leaves 70 million people around. There’d be a lot of extra infrastructure and housing in the developed countries. But if the reduction were applied evenly across the board, we’d see expertise pretty much the same, and in less developed countries a lot less competition for resources and goods and services.

I imagine within ten years everybody would be in pretty even living conditions.

WestRiverrat's avatar

You could no longer eat anything not produced locally on a regular basis. And you would spend most of your time improving your shelter, growing or searching for food, defnding yourself from threats.

janbb's avatar

The 1% would live pretty high on the hog.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I wonder if there would be a massive effort to demolish empty buildings, or if they would be left in case of regrowth. People would invest in real estate like crazy, if they could afford to.

marinelife's avatar

There is no pollution to speak of.

We probably descend back into tribal living.

SpatzieLover's avatar

It would completely depend on what type of people make up this remaining 1%.

TexasDude's avatar

Well, occupy wall street would be over with, for one.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Most of the infrastucture would slowly fall into disrepair as there would not be enough of a workforce to properly maintain them. People would slowly demolish nearby buildings as they needed materials to repair or improve their own dwellings. People would migrate out of the cities as the power grids failed and they needed to find land and water to survive.

Coloma's avatar

@SpatzieLover LOL..great point..yeah, if the 1% left were all sociopaths..well….haha
Then again, they’d just serve self extinction even further.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Coloma Yes. Or maybe these doomsday people were the only ones to make it through whatever disaster?

incendiary_dan's avatar

In most places, life would probably start resembling the way we lived for most of the time homo sapiens lived on earth, i.e. small village life centered around gardening, hunting and trapping, foraging, small pastoralism, and most of our time spent with our village groups maintaining relationships. We’d just be doing that with backhoes and rifles for a few years.

Nullo's avatar

That’s what, seventy million? Under ideal conditions, they could carry on life pretty much as we know it. If they were all scattered around, it would be a return to subsistence living once things started to give out.

@janbb Only until things started expiring.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think there would be a huge need in the early years to deal with waste – from demolition, from food produced for no one to eat, farm animals (and probably people, depending on the reason for all this) that would no longer have a market. There would have to be a movement to organize survivors to take care of that, and also to apportion things that are left in the buildings… since there no longer enough people to mass-produce goods, it would be crazy to destroy things that were useful. If we didn’t do that, there would be a lot of looting and violence, I think. Then we’d have to figure out how to feed ourselves, and we’d eat a lot differently. We’d have to re-think the value of money. So many things.

Coloma's avatar

I almost bought a coffee plantation in Brazil once. Granted, it was a rundown coffee plantation. lol
Seriously, I’d love to live a plantation life. My crops of choice, coffee beans, fruit trees, avacados and of course, happy brownie fields forever. ;-)

Hain_roo's avatar

It would be a lot quieter, for one.

ucme's avatar

Piss poor atmosphere at football games.

wundayatta's avatar

Women would become breeding machines, turning out child after child to try to repopulate the world.

There would have been a horrendous loss of knowledge and capability, and we’d be desperately seeking to save what we could before it disappeared. People would be working 20 hours a day nonstop just to try to keep things together, like keeping nuclear power plants running. Or maybe just trying to turn them off so they didn’t end up as huge nuclear waste dumps, melting out of control.

I have no idea how many other industries there are that require all kinds of special attention, but if they aren’t shut down carefully, we’ll create more and more environmental problems. It would be a disaster, and probably not a disaster we could prevent.

Which means we’d be moving away from the extremely hazardous areas and having to build new communities away from the old ones. We would rapidly sink into poverty. We’d lose most of our technology for decades and maybe even centuries. It would be horrible.

syz's avatar

The author of The World Without Us (which is actually a really depressing review of our current state in the world as well as what would happen without us) seems to indicate that between nuclear, chemical, and biological industries, a sudden disappearance of a significant portion of the human population would have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem.

lemming's avatar

I think finding food would once again be our main priority so it would be similar to how things were thousands of years ago, only this time we would have technology and the knowledge not to make the same mistakes again.

Coloma's avatar


That’s not what I’m getting from the excepts. Sure, as always there would be a healing crisis, but, eventually, yes, a return to the garden. Regardless, I think there is no denying that our planet would benefit from depopulation. Earth as an organism will heal herself, one way or another unless she is nuked into oblivion.

Coloma's avatar

I love the poly-mer eating organism that he says would evolve to eat plastic and rubber. How cool is that!

YoBob's avatar

Hmm.. I’m guessing that we puny humans (or at least what’s left of us) would be spending a lot more time watching our backs for whatever apex predator takes our former place in the food chain.

Coloma's avatar


Fine with me. Better lions and tigers and bears than sociopathic individuals and organizations.
Death by cougar is a much cleaner and quicker kill
I’ll take having my spinal cord severed by a cougar over Ted Bundy any day of the week. lol

Zaku's avatar

How it happened would be massively important.
Assuming it happened in a slow and peaceful way, such as fertility going down and people dying of old age over 70 years, with time for people to adjust, and if we imagine some humane and intelligent governments, then I think it would be a great thing. Greenhouse gas emissions would drop to good levels. No one would need to live in a slum, natural resources would not be a problem, nor would fresh water, power, etc.

Above all, the destruction of wilderness habitat could stop and be reversed, so the other species on the planet could recover, which in the long run is probably the best indicator of planetary health and ultimate survival.

Certainly there would be many changes in where people lived. I think the crappier buildings could be gotten rid of.

6rant6's avatar

I didn’t want to make this question book length so I kind of left it open.

Yeah, you’re right, how they go makes a lot of difference. If you can adapt to it, what I’m picturing is some place along the Mississippi about 70 million people worth. The rest of the world uninhabited and inhospitable.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@6rant6 Good luck getting the remaining 70 million to want to live in one place. Not going to happen.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Coloma there are already micro organisms that will eat plastics and petroleum products. They are used to contain and decontaminate small scale oil spills. When they took out an old leaking storage tank from a neighborhood gas station that had closed 30 years ago, they spread some of the micro organisms after they had dug out the contaminated soil.

6rant6's avatar

The idea that regaining previous population levels would be a social object baffles me. Haven’t people been complaining about over population for hundreds of years?

70 Million would be the population of the world in something around 100 BC. Certainly not hunter gatherers and not tribal.

Why would knowledge be lost? Any medium-sized city has all the information in one library to rebuild. It seems to me the lack of the human capital to rebuild would be the stumbling block.

Brian1946's avatar

My driveway would experience mucho less encroachment from the parking impaired.

There might only be 1 person from the Nineteenfortysix family left on Fluther.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@6rant6 Since presumably the production of computer parts would stop or be very much slowed down, there could be problems in storing information… like the ultimate computer backup. That would take time and effort.

I agree that we would not go “tribal” in the primitive sense, but I think we would certainly break into smaller groups, each with different ideologies and visions for the future. I absolutely don’t think we would aim to increase the population (per @wundayatta‘s breeding farm), especially not quickly. The survivors would have enough problems without having to deal with a huge cohort of new children.

dappled_leaves's avatar

And expect a lot of religious hysteria.

6rant6's avatar

@dappled_leaves With the computers… reduced demand means that there’s hardly any payback for research costs – at least for private companies. Perhaps for computers to evolve would take some kind of government intervention – much like the space program.

6rant6's avatar

@dappled_leaves Wait. You’re saying it’s possible to have more religious hysteria than we do now?

WestRiverrat's avatar

@6rant6 Wtihout people to maintain the libraries and keep out the pests, they would fall into disrepair and most of the knowledge would be lost. It has happened before when civilizations were wiped out that much of their knowledge was lost.

Most leaders of Europe were well educated and literate before the dark ages. As survival became more important than knowledge, most of the leaders didn’t bother to learn to read or write.

And as child mortality rates increased due to lack of available medicine and people knowledgable in their uses, families will have more children to make up for the losses. Also when you live in a labor intensive world, you tend to have more kids as they are labor saving devices to their parents.

6rant6's avatar

@WestRiverrat How many people Does it take to maintain a library? Not everyone in 70 million has to appreciate the value of knowledge capital for it to be maintained. Some of the rabid librophiles on Fluther would put libraries ahead of food production, I’m guessing.

Why would this world be more labor intensive? I don’t get that. I think you’re imposing visions of post-apocalypse that made for good movies. But it’s not necessarily so.

I do agree that one possible response to the variability of child mortality might be an increase in average family size. But other kinds of social evolution are possible, too. I would hope that it might be possible to apply some of the things we know… if you just keep that one library standing.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Who is going to run the power plants and the railroads to haul the fuel for the power plants. Without someone else providing your fuel, most of the year when you are not growing crops you will have to gather fuel to burn.

Without power to run the air conditioners and furnace, it will be nearly impossible to maintain the climate in a library.

Who will produce the gasoline from nothing to power your car so you can drive it? Who will stock the grocery store for you?

How many times has the Great Library at Alexandria been burned? I know of at least 3 instances where it was burned.

You may be able to keep the knowledge alive, like the Monks in the Dark Ages, but if people are too worried about feeding themselves tomorrow, most won’t care about the knowledge of the past.

6rant6's avatar

@WestRiverrat 70 million people still allows for a division of labor. Not all the power plants need to be run. The Mississippi valley has coal, oil, metals, hydroelectric potential, water, lots of arable land. Many things could continue as they are, albeit on a smaller scale.

Zaku's avatar

Well it is very different if the 70 million are confined to a narrow and not very diverse area such as a stretch of the Mississippi. It would depend which people manage to get there and survive, too. But there could be problems for 70 million trying to live along the Mississippi, because it is not that much land, not much diversity, not much existing infrastructure for that many people, and a limited variety of natural resources. Also if the rest of the planet is inhospitable, that probably means the loss of most other species on the planet… but even ignoring that, there would be a huge technological problem because so much of the current technology is built with assumptions of widespread trade. No more ordering parts from Asia… oops, what do we need to build everything here? There would be massive disruptions and needs for reorganizing everything.

WestRiverrat's avatar

If you remove 99% of all the employees, there would be less than 25 people to monitor and run the 6 mainstem dams on the Missouri river, including the hydroelectic plants. A year like last year and the dams would have overtopped and washed away. No hydroelectric power, no flood control, no warning if everyone lived in the lower Mississippi valley.

Just because many things could continue in one area does not mean they will.

You work in a library, I produce food and clothing. What would you give me of value for my produce? I won’t take cash from a no longer existant country, or a check.

People are still people, there will be conflicts and power struggles.

saint's avatar

Less cool stuff to do, to buy, to sell, in fact less of everything that is fun and entertaining about people.
On the other hand, there would be just as much bullshit as there ever was, so why not go for the upside?

HungryGuy's avatar

Our standard of living would go down dramatically! Most of the people in the world contribute to the manufacture of some doo-dad or other than is used in the manufacture of some other doo-dad, which is then used in in the manufacture of some other doo-dad…you see where this is going? Things wouldn’t be dire at 70 million people, but at least we’d revert back to an early industrial civilization.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

ragingloli's avatar

they certainly could not carry on as usual, especially not the survivors in the west, because all the cheap products of chinese slave labour would suddenly be gone
I can tell you how it would be: I would chastise my crew for being so bad at genocide.

YoBob's avatar

I totally agree @Coloma. I didn’t say (or even intend to imply) that having another apex predator take the spot in the food chain that we humans currently enjoy would be a bad thing.

Coloma's avatar

@ragingloli Depends where you are in the “west.”
I live in a major farm trails zone, thousands of acres of grapes, organic farms, orchards, walnuts, farms and ranches. If there were only 400 people left in my county we’d be in a constant state of “crush”, enough food, wine and farm animals to last for a loooong time. :-)

ragingloli's avatar

@Coloma Until the petrol for your farm equipment runs out. And the fertiliser (if you do not use dung as fertiliser, that is).

Coloma's avatar


Nah…as long is there is water, it would be just fine. :-)
Established vineyards and orchards don’t need much care.
Many farms out here utilize solar and generator power to run their wells and hey, the pioneers did it…it could be done. I’m an optimist and humans are resilient as hell. ;-)

6rant6's avatar

@Coloma Yeah, they are resilient and creative. I don’t know how they would handle @WestRiverrat‘s dam problem, but I’m sure someone would consider it and a good chance someone would come up with a solution.

In every generation, the advances made and solutions found have surprised. Look how badly wrong Malthus was. Smart people solve problems.

Just as a point of reference, the 10 states that touch the Mississippi have a combined population of about 68 million.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@6rant6 you give people too much credit, if there is no one here to notice them, then no one would care until the floods reached Kansas City and St Louis and wiped them both off the map.

6rant6's avatar

@WestRiverrat Maybe everybody’s heads down in your neighborhood, but I know some people who think ahead. Just takes one.

Coloma's avatar point was in relation to @ ragingloli’s comment, that humans have been successfully farming waay before the advent of farm machinery, infact, many people still use mules and draft horse for plowing, logging, etc. There is a huge “Mule days” and a draft horse competition in my state. I live next door to 2 mules and a draft horse, with water and the original farm “machines” of horsepower, humans could make a go of farming in the event of some sort of disaster.

gondwanalon's avatar

It would be Road Warrior time. Or someting like it.

filmfann's avatar

I think pollution would be out of control, depending on how sudden the exodus was.
Imagine no one to shut down the factories, which catch fire and result in an uncontrolled burn throughout a metropolitan area. Lots of fumes.
In the book The Stand, when 99% die in a matter of days, the highways are full of abandoned vehicles. You can’t just fly down the highway at 90.
We would have the fruits of past labor for several years, from canned foods and such, but we would have to say goodbye to a lot of things we take for granted, like mail delivery, television, and possibly electricity to the home. After 10 years, we will have used up what isn’t spoiled, and would have to return to farming for our meals.

Coloma's avatar

I just watched a “Donner Party” documentary recently. I live about 50 miles form Donner Lake. Jesus mercy..those peeps cannibalism aside, as a few survivors did NOT partake of their dead comrades survived for 7 MONTHS in 20 feet of snow, clothed in rags, eating hides, their dogs, oxen, mules, bark, pine needles. Jesus!

The worst winter on record in the Sierras in about 165 years, the winter of 1846–47.

I’ve been haunted for days with visions of their ordeal. Where there is a WILL there Is a WAY! ;-)

incendiary_dan's avatar

The Americas alone had more than 70 million at 100 BC.

Standard of living would increase wherever people were smart enough, as egalitarian hunting/gathering/gardening peoples enjoy a higher standard of living and live longer than we do in America.

Coloma's avatar

I want @incendiary_dan on my A team when the shit goes down. lol ;-)

6rant6's avatar

@incendiary_dan DO you have a cite for that?

AshLeigh's avatar

A lot of trates would be lost, with the decrease in population.
Mutation would be more common.
The human race would become something else, because it is now small enough to evolve.

Biology, 101!

YARNLADY's avatar

It would totally depend of the distribution of the remaining population. Assuming a distribution similar to the historic level, that would be similar to around the Christian era of approximately 2,000 years ago. I would suggest a similar standard of living, again depending on the reason for the decline.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Coloma What documentary was that?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@AshLeigh I like the bottleneck idea… we can finally get that third arm we’ve always wanted. :P

Coloma's avatar


It was a PBS doc. “The Donner Party I ordered it off of Netflix

syz's avatar

@AshLeigh Yes, overall genetic diversity would likely decrease, if all the remaining representatives came from the same geographic area. But how do you get that mutation would be more common? Or are you talking about the expression of recessive genes? The theoretical 70 million is a large enough population that genetic drift would be minimal. If the entire 70 million was restricted to a relatively small area, then isolation-related inbreeding would not be as much of a concern. Biologically, I don’t think humans would be very affected.

On a sociological level, I fear that all of our current worst traits would only be emphasized.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Humans have been through at least one major bottleneck before. We didn’t mutate into something entirely new, at least in terms of speciation.

@6rant6 Check out the book 1491. I forget the author’s name. Also, there are a handful of indigenous authors who’ve written about it, so I’ll check through my collection. I’m sure at least one of Ward Churchill’s books covers the topic. It’s now being recognized more readily that traditional estimates of the population levels in pre-conquest Americas have been dramatically understated because a) big time settlement occured mostly after disease wiped out up to 99% of most groups, and b) Euro-centric academia refused to acknowledge evidence to the contrary for a long time to maintain the mythology of America having been basically empty when they showed up.

6rant6's avatar

@incendiary_dan I did a quick look through some of that info. Thanks for the pointer. Interesting. I think probably the proponents of the “high-count” argument would say that in the time frame I named (100 BC) that the aboriginal cultures were not mere wandering barbaric tribes, but sophisticated nations. I suppose that you could even say that “devolving” to civilizations like Mayans wouldn’t be much of a step back at all. So not to worry.

incendiary_dan's avatar

I would challenge any argument that uses the term “mere wandering barbaric tribes” and compared that to “sophisticated nations”. Progressivism is a trope.

6rant6's avatar

@incendiary_dan I don’t get your point.

AshLeigh's avatar

@syz, I was referring to the fact that incest would most likely become more common, with the decrease in population, and that those “odd” trates would be passed on easily.
Kind of like with the Amish. They often have six fingers. Not dissing on the Amish. This is because they only reproduce with other Amish people.
It’s just what I learned in Biology this year. :)

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
mattbrowne's avatar

Misery and poverty. We can’t maintain our present lifestyle with 70 million people. Worldwide division of labor cannot be undone with so few people. Autarky is a thing of the past for most countries and certainly for all developed countries. Just take the example of rare earth elements.

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