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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Humans: We will survive!

Could people make it through the apocalypse? The fossil record says yes.

THE FUTURE IS LOOKING GRIM. We’re beginning to feel the effects of climate change, as superstorms and megadroughts strike with increasing regularity. Extinctions are ripping through amphibian populations in the Americas, while bees are threatened by colony collapse disorder. Indeed, many environmental scientists believe that we’re in the early stages of a mass extinction, where over 75 percent of all species on Earth may eventually be wiped out. When you look at humans—with our fleshy, vulnerable bodies, need for a 21 percent oxygen atmosphere, and susceptibility to disease—the odds don’t exactly seem to be in our favor.

But the apocalypse is complicated. The planet has already suffered through five mass extinctions in the past half-billion years, and geological history reveals that these catastrophes often take a million years. There is no sudden tipping point or global zombie scourge: Doom usually comes slowly. And through the shocks that Earth has experienced before, some organisms have always found a way to survive.

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