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JeanPaulSartre's avatar

So total worst case scenario, we off all humans and animals in our race to outdo ourselves. Do you think plants will survive?

Asked by JeanPaulSartre (5779points) March 11th, 2010

I think, personally that they will – albeit maybe only on a microscopic level to begin with. Plants have been on the Earth for somewhere around 430 – 475 million years compared to animal life, which is estimated to have been around for between 300 and 400 million years. (Sadly no comb jelly fossils to give us a better estimate… reptiles however existed 300 million years ago.) So even at the shortest, plants have been around 30 million years longer than other life, and in the CO2 rich environment we would likely leave behind, I think that plants would again hold sway over the Earth for a few million years before animal organisms started sprouting again. What are your thoughts about this scenario?

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54 Answers

CMaz's avatar

The earth will “re-new”.

It is not save the planet, it is save the human.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

No.A ficus can’t even live in my house.LOL!
@ChazMaz-You are absolutely right:)

CharlieGirl's avatar

Yes,plants in the wild are more resilent than we are.

JLeslie's avatar

Plants will survive, but I would guess that there would be a shift in the ratios of what plants are on the planet. Just think…humans are constantly growing grass, killing weeds, killing moss, cutting down trees…the natural balance would probably be much different if no humans are around. Are you killing off all the insects and birds also? All animal life?

Aethelwine's avatar

There is a great series on The History Channel called Life After People that discusses this topic. It is very interesting. Plants will survive.

@ChazMaz My husband gets so upset when he hears people discuss saving the planet. You are right. The planet doesn’t need saving, it will be fine without us.

janbb's avatar

Doesn’t it depend on what offs us? If it’s something like acid rain or total nuclear annihilation, isn’t it possible that the conditions that support plant life will be destroyed too?

CMaz's avatar

Mother Nature is a tough bitch!

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

lol @lucillelucillelucille – but a ficus isn’t supposed to live in your house (or probably even at your latitude. ;)

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@JLeslie Defintiely. Grass and other plants would revert back or cross breed up to their pre-bred states which are much more resilient to all sorts of things… but not as “pretty” to us humans. Also we’ve moved all sorts of plants to places they don’t belong, and they will thrive there while others will not… it’d be interesting to see.

marinelife's avatar

Yes, in the gloomy scenario you postulate, I think plants would survive. It you look at the pictures of Mt. St. Helens after the eruption in 1980, and then in subsequent years, plant life lived on and came back more quickly than scientists anticipated.

TooBlue's avatar

This question is worded strangely. Is there a word or two missing somewhere?

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@jonsblond Yeah – I think it may be based off the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman – which is a pretty good read.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@TooBlue maybe a comma or two.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@janbb True – although I think plants would survive many of those scenarios too…. but if we manage to unlock massive underground CO2 deposits or something accidental like that, we could turn Earth into a Venus like planet. I hope that is unlikely.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@marinelife Good example! Thanks.

Aethelwine's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre I’ll have to look for that book. Thanks!

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@jonsblond if you like that show, you’ll like the book, for sure. You’re welcome!

Ivy's avatar

Kudzu! It’s aliiiiive!

marinelife's avatar

@Dracool The answer to kudzu is to eat it.

Ivy's avatar

@marinelife Good point, but an army of munchers, eating 24/7, couldn’t eradicate the stuff!

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre That is an excellent book!

Yes, they would survive. Probably the only organisms more resilient than plants are microorganisms, and some of these microorganisms even possess the genes and mechanisms for photosynthesis (cyanobacteria). Supposing that the atmosphere was drastically altered in this scenario, the presence of some of these microorganisms could stabilize it to again support plant life.

Furthermore, some plant seeds have been shown to remain viable for more than 2,000 years, which could aid in their surviving a catastrophic event.

Short story: Plants and microorganisms are much more diverse than animals, so they would be very likely to survive in conditions where humans and other animals could not.


davidbetterman's avatar

Yes. The plants don’t need us like we need them. They were here before us and they will be here when all human life ceases to exist.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@jonsblond @ChazMaz I think of save the planet more as “save the current species on the planet from asshole humans” Yes, I realize there have been 5 previous mass extinctions, and this planet always rebuilt and always renewed. It doesnt mean we should just drive it willy nilly into a 6th mass extinction though. So I say, save the planet.

majorrich's avatar

Would a fleet (herd, gaggle, group) of goats eat kudzu down enough to keep an area clear. Perhaps an idea to rent out animals to slowly eat our mistake of bringing it here.

poisonedantidote's avatar

unless we can nuke the bottom of all the oceans too life will go on. i seriously doubt that humans have the capacity to destroy all life on the planet. even if we let the ozone waste away and nuke every living thing on the surface, the amount of life in the ocean is too large and too inaccessible for us to wipe out.

lets face it, its hard enough to get rid of cockroaches much less everything else too. all the sewer rats, all the yeast, all the other things, its just not within out power.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I am daily astonished at the level of pessimism to be found in Fluther, and supposedly by fairly well-educated, moderately well-adjusted and aware (all attributes debatable) individuals.

Not only will humans survive (and probably double in numbers again within an even shorter period than our last doubling), but average lifespans will continue to increase, as well as most measures of literacy, health, wealth and “happiness” (if that can even be put on a scale somehow), but we will also find ways to improve our surroundings (species preservation, increasing green space, improving air and water quality, and so forth) ... while we also use more energy.

Some of you just read too many newspapers and listen only to NPR, PBS… or FOX, I think. Life is pretty good and getting better (for most of us who can and do use the Internet, anyway—and I realize that most of the world still doesn’t—but life can improve for them, too).

Maybe you just need to take a walk.

Even if we deliberately intended and made concerted, purposeful attempts to eradicate all human (and other) life on the planet, we wouldn’t succeed.

lilikoi's avatar

Most plant life would survive, I suppose, although we humans have already knocked out some for good. I absolutely agree with @ChazMaz – “It is not save the planet, it is save the human.”

@CyanoticWasp Population growth simply cannot go on forever; there is a limit although we may not be anywhere close to it. Life is getting better in some ways, but we are sacrificing our health in others. And eew….FOX

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I think it’s actually optimistic in a strange way, that no matter what we do, life of some kind will go on.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre I agree with the “basic” optimism which we apparently share that “life is too tenacious to kill off entirely (on this planet, now)”, but I’m still surprised by how many people still believe in Malthusian limits to human population and economic growth (for example) just because they see no better ways to use or obtain resources than what we now have, can’t imagine that technologies will be discovered and produced (at increasing rates, in fact) to improve our overall existence (also at increasing rates), and are too myopic in their outlook. They also seem to be the same people who project with extreme alarm (for example) that “Europe will be taken over by Muslims within 50 years” because a current rate of increase in the Muslim population there, projected for the next 50 years, would make that a mathematical certainty. (These are the same folks who predicted at one point early in the last century that New York City would be uninhabitable up to the third floor of most buildings because of the amount of horse manure that the city “would have to deal with”.)

There’s also a vocal cadre here (which unfortunately seems discouragingly like a majority) who refuse to believe that our air and water resources are improving as we concurrently increase economic output and population, our food supplies improve in yield (and lower price), and riches of all sorts flow to us almost as a matter of course… and they seem to think it’s terrible, and that life isn’t worth living because of those facts. (It’s amazing that so few here can see that only rich countries can—and do—afford to clean up their environments, and that this is actually a very normal and natural thing for humans to do, even without laws that say “you must”.)

It’s really quite unbelievable at times. I’m one of the old folks on Fluther; if anyone is going to be a pessimist it should be me, but I don’t think I am. Maybe here I’m expressing that I am—that so many people with such wealth at their disposal think that life is so bad. I try to remain optimistic, but sometimes people’s stupidity and willful blindness really does amaze.

There’s just too little sense of proportion evidenced too seldom… and sense in general, I’m afraid.

But even with all of these stupid ideas around—and people promoting them—we’re still doing pretty damn okay as a species, and are likely to continue to do more or less okay, at least until we actually do succumb to some kind of mass hysteria (such as belief in radical action to counter “global climate change”, for one example) and decide that we need to implement a Cambodian solution to make everyone (else) live the way we want (them) to.

Even then, we / they won’t all be killed off.

JLeslie's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre I agree. Life is fascinating really, the way it seems to want to persist. My mother-in-law has the greenest thumb I have ever seen. She clips little pieces of plants, puts them in water, and they live and grow, and it is really unbelievable, I would go as far as miraculous, the athiest that I am. I did not take your question as pessimistic at all, but just a want to ponder the idea type of thought.

shadowofdeath's avatar

Well i think the plants will die. if this power struggle continues we will all be ashes. but undoubtedly the cycle will continue and evolution will take hold again and in another 200 or 300 millennia we will all be asking this exact question once again

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@shadowofdeath Have you read “A Canticle For Lebowitz”? That was pretty much the premise, although the time span was shorter.

shadowofdeath's avatar

@Dr_Dredd Hah we meet again Dredd. to answer no i have not but if the premise is the same then it is something i must take the time to peruse. who wrote it?

deni's avatar

plants will survive. i think, anyhow. i know nothing. but it just seems to me that plants have survived for so long, there isn’t much we could do to bring an end to all of them.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Well I disagree with you on a great many points – but I’m old enough to know that debating those that don’t think climate change is a problem is usually a waste of time for all parties involved. In this case, I’m not sure how you could argue that our water and air is improving, when all of science disagrees, but I’m not sure that convincing you of anything to the contrary is possible.

faye's avatar

I planted beans that had been glued on milk carton bottoms to make a plant holder for mommy some 20 years ago. I just want to see if they will grow.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre “all of our science” ... yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Exactly.

CMaz's avatar

“all of our science”

Every generation basically says the same thing.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@shadowofdeath Walter M. Miller, Jr. wrote the book. I highly recommend it.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

I’m not sure how accepting science is pessimistic.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre let me explain in short words.

Some scientists (maybe even most scientists, if that makes you happier) predict a gradual warming of the planet in coming years. Many of these even believe that mankind is responsible for part of the warming. (Undoubtedly some even believe that mankind is responsible for all of the warming. I don’t think they’re even reasonable, much less responsible.)

In any case, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the conclusions of the more or less reasonable / responsible majority of the pro-warming scientists are true. The consensus seems to be that there will be a gradual warming of “several” degrees Celsius over the next few decades. (If true, then I agree that the effects would be “significant”, and not “what, just a coupla degrees? are you kidding me?”) So… let’s say that the prediction is true, and the effects of even a several-degrees change in average global temperature are significant.

From there, the predictions get wilder and wilder. Species die-off (starting with poor polar bears, of course), and glacial meltdowns all around the globe. Rapidly rising sea levels to swamp much of Florida, South Pacific atoll island communities, and coastlines all around the globe. Ecosystem disruption everywhere, at every latitude and altitude. It sure could be messy. And there could be (would be) some real effects in ecosystems everywhere. (Not all of those would be disastrous, by the way, which is often overlooked.) Maybe some of the wildest predictions are true, and a global ice age would ensue. Could happen, and probably will again someday, with or without help from mankind. (I’m not sure that I agree with the reasoning that gets from “global warming” to “ice age” as a cause and effect thing, but .. say it’s true.)

Not only mankind, but many other top-of-the-food-chain organisms have lived through ice ages before on this planet. There’s no reason to expect that the same couldn’t happen again. Even when the dinosaurs and other major species were wiped out in real planetary catastrophes, bacteria have always survived, and some of the other and more complex organisms have also survived. That will happen again, just as it always has. The process will start over again, for a whole new generation of religious nuts to argue about (assuming that “mankind” or something like it arises again in the future).

Earth abides.

CMaz's avatar

Global warming can’t be good. If your house is on the ocean.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Okay – but I didn’t say “global warming” would be the cause of us being eliminated – nor did I say it was likely. This is a “worst case” question. (That aside, some effects you mentioned are already happening and aren’t theoretical. Species are dying off and the seas are rising.) Climate change will be very bad for life on this planet, although I doubt it would be the cause of it all disappearing. I do think that climate change is a real and serious issue, but in this case I’m mostly pursuing a theory of my own about why humanity seems so suicidal in this post-post-modern era.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre thanks. But I could hardly otherwise interpret your question phrase “our race to outdo ourselves”. What exactly did you have in mind?

Species die off all the time, and more species died off before mankind was even a glint in a chimpanzee’s eye than mankind could be able to kill off even if we utterly destroyed the planet today. Ditto sea level rises and falls; that’s all part of life on a “live” planet.

I don’t see how you can make the leap of logic required to state that “climate change will be very bad for life on this planet”. Sure, it might be bad—even an extinction event—for polar bears and penguins, and it might even be bad for a lot of (or even “most”) humans, dogs, cows, sheep, elephants… you can make your own very long list. But “life” would certainly go on, as it has when the planet was much hotter than it is today, and when the planet was much colder.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@CyanoticWasp If it’s an extinction event, isn’t that very bad for life on this planet? We’ve already (we, humans) caused species to go extinct, through our expansion and consumption of natural resources… and sea level rising is part of the natural cycle, but our causing it is not. Not everything humans do can be considered natural. Again – I agree that life can survive all sorts of things. That’s not really the scope of this question – I’m saying if we manage to end all animal life – will plants continue. We could do this through any number of methods.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JeanPaulSartre you’re a smart guy, so I have to wonder if you’re being deliberately obtuse here.

Let me be so plain as to be impossible to misunderstand: Let’s assume that the worst and most alarmist predictions about global warming are not only true, but understated. And then let’s also assume that all world leaders (and military leaders to take orders from them) go universally stark, raving mad and launch all of our various nuclear weapons at each other simultaneously, and at the same time set fire to our forests, and deliberately pollute, poison and salt the air, ground and water as much as we possibly can. Plutonium would be a good way to do that.

And let’s say that while we’re doing all of this a 5 cubic-mile asteroid slams into Earth. (Crashes into North America, so the Europeans can have at least a few moments of schadenfreude.) And the few people who may be left alive on Earth—for however long—after this are using leaf blowers to clear whatever they regard as “their property”, so that it doesn’t look any more run-down than it already is.

Oh, and the Gulf Steam should have stopped working, too, so that the new Ice Age is upon us even before all of this stuff starts.

So, no shilly-shallying about this, this stuff would probably lead the news that night, if anyone were alive to report it, film it, broadcast it, listen to it… or care. It would be the bad day to end all human bad days, right?

Life would go on. Most likely without humans or anything that had two or four legs, or wings, and maybe not even fishes or kangaroos. But life would go on.

So… this scenario would be bad for “a lot of life” and maybe even for “most life forms”, but “life” is pretty hardy. “Life” would go on. Unless you equate “life” to “life as we know it”. “Life as we know it” dies a little every day.

CMaz's avatar

@CyanoticWasp – But we could still get pizza, right?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@ChazMaz I’d stock up on some frozen ones. In a freezer buried underground. Watch the news (the one with the seasoned veteran reporters) so you have a good idea of how deep to dig that hole.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

@CyanoticWasp That’s exactly my question yes. and I agree – at the least plant life would continue, and probably some bacterial stuff.

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