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Imagine a world where hundreds of now-extinct species live in abundance, and many more that are currently on the brink of disappearing are thriving instead. Now imagine you're not part of it.
The website LiveScience asked a group of scientists to hypothesize how Earth would be different if mankind had never existed. Some respondents focused on the abundance of vegetation that the planet would have, while others theorized that there would be far more species of megafauna roaming the Earth, such as cave lions, massive bears, and huge armadillos. In addition to these giant creatures, Neanderthals might still exist, and so might species such as the dodo and the Tasmanian tiger.
The one thing most theories have in common is that Earth would be a better place in many ways without us. "In a world without humans, there would be a much bigger diversity of large mammals, and if you see a larger diversity of large mammals, you tend to see a much more open habitat," said Sören Faurby, a senior lecturer in zoology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. In a 2015 study led by Faurby, it was determined that in a world without humans, much of Earth would resemble today's Serengeti, with much more diversity of life.
People, people, and more people:
- About 93 percent of all humans in history are no longer among the living.
- It is theorized that everyone alive today is descended from a small group of Homo sapiens who migrated out of Africa some 2,000 generations ago.
- The oldest Homo sapiens fossils ever found date back 300,000 years; in comparison, the world is approximately 4.5 billion years old.
Frequently Asked Questions
What would the state of biodiversity be if modern humans had never existed?
Without modern humans, biodiversity would likely be much richer. Many species that have gone extinct or are endangered due to human activity would still thrive. For instance, the passenger pigeon and the thylacine might still roam freely. According to the World Wildlife Fund, since 1970, there has been an average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish, a trend that could have been vastly different without human impact.
How would the landscape and environment differ without human influence?
Without human influence, the landscape would be more wild and less altered. Natural processes like forest growth, river meandering, and animal migrations would occur without human-made barriers or modifications. For example, the Amazon rainforest, currently threatened by deforestation, would likely remain intact, serving as a massive carbon sink and habitat for countless species, as per the data from the World Bank indicating a loss of 1.3 million square kilometers of forest between 1990 and 2016.
Would any other species have evolved to be dominant in the absence of humans?
It's speculative, but in the absence of humans, another species could have potentially evolved to fill the niche of a dominant, tool-using organism. Primates, such as chimpanzees or bonobos, which share a close genetic relationship with humans, might have been candidates for this evolutionary path, given enough time and the right environmental pressures. However, this is purely hypothetical and subject to the unpredictable nature of evolution.
How would the climate have been affected without human activity?
Climate change driven by human activity would be non-existent without humans. The burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes, and deforestation have significantly contributed to global warming. According to NASA, human activities have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Without these factors, the Earth's climate would likely be more stable, with lower concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.
What would the status of natural resources be without human exploitation?
Natural resources such as minerals, oil, and forests would be largely untapped and abundant without human exploitation. For example, the overuse of freshwater resources, which has led to scarcity in many parts of the world, would not be an issue. The World Resources Institute has reported that by 2040, most of the world will face water stress or shortages. Without human demand, ecosystems would naturally regulate these resources, maintaining a balance within the environment.