A few days ago, I read on my phone, an article in which several prognosticators in the know gave their predictions for 100 years hence. All-in-all, they were pretty upbeat. Well, if you call a “space elevator” upbeat. It would be an enormous spheroid up in geosynchronous orbit some 24,000 miles up. It would be mounted on a 24,000 mile stalk held in place by guy wires. This stalk would have a bunch of elevators inside — and perhaps some snack bars and way stations for the weary traveler. The centrifugal force of the object atop the stalk would keep it in place. Of course it would have some mechanism to adjust its orbit, if something untoward occurred.
Sounds swell, until you consider what would happen if something untoward did occur. Say a meteoroid or a piece of space junk struck the object and knocked it off its stalk! Zoom, away it would go, hurtling off into space with its cargo of humans, never to be seen again. As for the stalk, relieved of its burden, and thus destabilized, it would fall to the earth, creating a 24,000 mile train of debris.
There were some others. One fellow gushed over the prospect of a human population exceeding 50,000,000,000 souls. Another . . .
Well they all missed the most likely one, didn’t they? Gaea, the mother of the earth, or in some circles, the earth itself, is a spirit who likes to keep herself in good order. When a species overruns its environment and becomes destructive to the earth, Gaea does something about it; usually by unleashing famine or pestilence. Or, sometimes, the eruption of a super volcano. Whatever method she chooses, the offending species is brought back to tolerable levels.
Should we achieve a population of 50,000,000,000 people, the earth will no doubt be ruined and Gaea will, no doubt, be pissed. So what do I think the world will be like in 100 years? Well, it will have a depleted human population, thanks to Gaea’s favorite tools: famine and pestilence.
In the former case, we humans will have come to heavily rely on one particular crop to the virtual exclusion of all others. Then one fine day when all the fields are swollen with grain, something like an incurable and virulent rust or smut will come out of nowhere and wipe out most of it. Billions will die of starvation.
In the latter case, prospectors, land-grabbers and poachers will blunder into an area infested with a bug like Ebola, a virus causing a lethal hemorrhagic fever that kills almost 90% of its victims. It spreads like wildfire and there is no treatment, and no cure. Or perhaps it would be something like the Spanish Flu of the early 20th Century. Whatever it is, billions more will die. Of course the most likely scenario is a perfect storm of both famine and pestilence striking at the same time. Throw in a super volcano who’s ash blots out the sun for a growing season or two, and there you have it. Taken together, these three horsemen should kill off 48-49 billion of our descendants, and kill them quickly. The stench will be unbearable, of course, but in six month’s time the sea of corpses will have dissolved and gone back to the soil.
So then, in 100 years, the human population will be back at sustainable levels. Thanks to a labor shortage, unemployment and poverty will be things of the past. Animal populations will recover and forests will grow again. What of the remaining humans? Well, for one thing, they will be terrified of the earth. They will realize how impotent humans are in the face of Gaea’s wrath. They will have learned the lesson and keep pretty much to their encampments and small cities.
In 100 years, it’ll be a wonderful life, won’t it? The only trouble is getting from here to there.