SAVE THE PEOPLE!
Stopping human extinction
By Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Nicole Miles
Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. Others bet on nuclear war or a supervolcano. There are even those who entertain the idea of an alien invasion. Or so I saw from Stacy McAnulty’s “Save the People!”, A light-hearted look at global catastrophe. (Think “The Uninhabitable Land” meets “Captain Underpants.”)
A mechanical engineer who became a children’s book author, McAnulty begins with a tumult through the Earth’s great mass extinctions, starting with the End-Ordovician – the first of the so-called Big Five – which took place about 445 million years ago. At that time, life was almost exclusively confined to water. The sun was weaker, the Earth rotated faster (one day lasted about 20 hours), and McAnulty notes, “there was no Wi-Fi.”
After mass exterminations – “like all scary stories, they are fun to hear about, but it would stink to participate in them” – come encounters with asteroids. The impact from a one-kilometer-diameter asteroid could, McAnulty writes, create shock waves strong enough to “blow up your organs.” Ick!Additional threats from space include coronal mass emissions (CMEs) and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The former are explosions of plasma from the sun that generate powerful magnetic fields. A CME could knock out power throughout North America, which would shut down banks, supermarkets, and water treatment plants, creating generalized chaos. GRBs occur, it is believed, during the formation of black holes. One that is particularly well-targeted can destroy the Earth’s ozone layer, leading to crop failure, not to mention widespread blindness. Viruses can also wipe us out, though, as McAnulty cheerfully notes, “at the moment, we do not have an infectious disease that is 100 percent deadly.”
McAnulty devotes the last third of the book to climate change. Our gas emissions are destroying the planet, she claims. “We need to stop haggling around and get them in check.” This section is packed with “fun scary facts”, for example: “The American fire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago,” and “The earth is warming faster now than it has for millions of years.” In Paris, in 2015, leaders from virtually every nation on the planet met and promised to limit their countries’ emissions. But their agreement contains no sanctions for not living up to its terms. As McAnulty puts it, this is like “a huge group project where everyone is expected to do their part, but no one gets in trouble with the teacher if they do not.” Meanwhile, time is running out to avoid the worst effects of warming up: “It’s like wishing for a big pumpkin for Halloween. You can not plant the seeds the week before and expect an award-winning pumpkin. ”