SAVE THE PEOPLE!
stop human extinction
By Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Nicole Miles
Some say the world will end in flames. Some say on ice. Others bet on a nuclear war or a supervolcano. There are even those who contemplate the idea of an alien invasion. Or so I deduced from “Save the People!” by Stacy McAnulty, a light-hearted look at global catastrophe. (Think “The Uninhabitable Earth” meets “Captain Underpants”).
Mechanical engineer turned children’s book writer, McAnulty begins with a tour of Earth’s major mass extinctions, beginning with the Late Ordovician, the first of the so-called Big Five, which took place about 445 million years ago. At that time, life was almost entirely confined to water. The sun was dimmer, the Earth was spinning faster (a day lasted about 20 hours), and, notes McAnulty, “there was no Wi-Fi.”
After the mass extinctions, “like any scary story, they’re fun to hear, but would suck to participate in,” come asteroid encounters. The impact of a mile-wide asteroid could, McAnulty writes, create shock waves strong enough to “rupture your organs.” Yuck!Additional threats from space include coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The first are plasma explosions from the sun that generate powerful magnetic fields. A CME could cut off power to North America, shutting down banks, supermarkets, and water treatment plants, causing widespread chaos. GRBs are thought to occur during the formation of black holes. A particularly well-targeted one could destroy Earth’s ozone layer, leading to crop failures, not to mention widespread blindness. Viruses could also wipe us out, though, as McAnulty gleefully notes, “we don’t currently 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 argues. “We have to stop farting and get it under control.” This section is peppered with “fun and scary facts,” such as “The US fire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago” and “The Earth is warming faster now than it has in millions of years.” “. In Paris in 2015, the leaders of almost every nation in the world met and pledged to reduce their countries’ emissions. But his agreement does not include penalties for not complying with its terms. As McAnulty puts it, this is like “a giant group project where everyone is expected to do their part, but no one gets in trouble with the teacher if he doesn’t.” Meanwhile, time is running out to avoid the worst effects of warming: “It’s like wanting a big old pumpkin for Halloween. You can’t just plant the seeds the week before and expect a prize pumpkin.”