When Humans Become Extinct

by Gillian McRitchie

child holding seedling with careBack in second grade our class planted beans, our teacher’s way of showing us how plants grow. We each had a clear plastic cup that we filled halfway with potting soil. Our teacher then vary carefully handed each one of us a little white seed and told us that if we are very careful and gentle, and if we gave it the care that it needs, we will see the bean start to grow. Each of us students carefully dug a hole into the middle of the potting soil so that our bean had a nice and cozy place to stay. We made sure that the top of the bean was not exposed as we poured a little bit of water into the plastic cup. The cups were then placed in perfect little rows along the windowsill so that the beans would receive maximum sunlight.

Every morning when I arrived to school, the first thing that I did was run straight to the plastic cup with my name on it. I was eager to see if anything different occurred to my little bean while I was away at home. I grew bored waiting day after day for something to happen. It did not seem to change at all. I felt as if I had done something wrong until I realized that the surrounding beans were not growing either. I decided to forget about my bean, until a couple weeks later when our teacher had told us that some of the beans were starting to sprout. I was excited when I found out that my bean was one of the beans that decided to come to life!

A week passed and our teacher let us take home our sprouted beans. By then all of the beans had popped through the soil so no one was disappointed. At home, I placed my plastic bean cup on a side table in my room right next to the window. I was positive that it would last forever if I made sure to give it plenty of water and sunlight. Time went on, and my bean sprout grew nice and tall. I was very proud of my bean and kept my friends updated on what my bean looked like (some of them forgot to water theirs so the bean ended up not growing much at all). I cherished that bean and made sure that it was never neglected. As I continued to tend to my little plant, it started to change. The color started to fade away and it started to wilt; it looked sad. I became very worried. I did not want my little plant to die, after all I did water it and make sure that it was always in the sunlight. Within a few days, my plant was no longer alive. I did not know what was wrong, I did everything right.

I talked to my mom about how upset I was about my bean plant dying (I was rather distraught to be honest). She told me that death is inevitable. No matter how hard someone or something tries to escape it, death will always win in the end. She told me that I did not do anything wrong with the little plant, it was just its time to go. I sat and pondered that idea for a while; death is inevitable.

My mind went crazy. I began to think of all the things around me that were eventually going to die like my little bean had just moments before. The flowers in the garden that bloomed spring after spring, the leaves on my big oak tree that I watched float to the ground every autumn, and the birds that woke me up every morning with their songs of joy would eventually disappear. And then my mind wandered to myself. There would come a time where I would not get to enjoy the flowers, trees and birds anymore because I too would disappear. That thought left me feeling rather uneasy. Death in inevitable. It is something even us humans cannot escape. Humans; just like the little bean that grew in my plastic cup, humans too would eventually face death. It is part of the life cycle, death. But what if we were to all die, and not a single person would be alive anymore? Who would enjoy the flowers as they bloomed in the spring, or the leaves as they floated down to the ground? Who would be around to water all the little bean sprouts as they began to grow in plastic cups? What would happen to the Earth if humans did not walk on her anymore?

This notion of human extinction has always been of interest to me since that day when my bean sprout died. Although I will admit that over the years it drifted away from the curiosity that I had when I was younger about who would water the growing beans, it is still a topic that I have many unsolved questions about. It is hard to put into words, but I know deep down inside me that human beings will become extinct at some point. It just makes sense. Animals from all over the world have become extinct so why not us? After all, there was a time where we did not walk this planet at all, so why could it not happen again?

Death is an idea that many people do not enjoy talking or thinking about, and the idea of human extinction turns many people away. The idea of death may bring up memories of past family members and friends that were taken too soon, or of the tragedies that we hear about day after day on the news. Death is feared. It is something that is not really welcomed, in fact it is something that many people try to ignore. So the thought of us, humans, becoming extinct, causes people to change subjects in conversations instead of asking each other questions that many of us have deep inside us. I have always been curious about what happens when people die. Do they go onto an afterlife? Do they see nothing but black? Do they reincarnate into someone or something else? These questions may never be answered, but the question that I have been most curious about is: What will happen once the last human dies?

Some people say that there will be another animal that will come into existence and take on the role that we have left behind. Others believe that instead of dying out, we will evolve into a different animal (causing humans to technically become extinct) and continue to live the lives that we were living, but with more advances. I believe in something quite different. I believe that once we are gone, and there are no more humans roaming the plant, that the Earth will be happy again.

Before humans came into existence, the land was covered with luscious trees and fast flowing waters. There were birds in the sky that did not have to worry about being shot, and there were animals that walked the grounds as if nothing could ever harm them. There were thousands of flowers growing all over, and plants that we have never even heard of today. I like to imagine that the skies were a bright blue because there was not any pollution to dim its brightness and the waters were crystal clear so that the bottom was clearly visible. When I think of the land that existed before humans, I cannot help but to smile. The landscape seemed so bright, cheerful and happy because everything that existed was untouched, natural and pure. It was not until humans came into existence that the world started to change.

Humans began to take over the pure landscapes and taint their natural beauties. Selfishly, trees were destroyed and cut down for our benefit. Trees became tools, boats, and protection for humans. We did not care to think of the damage that the loss of one single tree caused, let alone millions. Not only did the amount of oxygen that was released change, but nature itself changed. Animals had to find different places to live because their shelters were gone. The food that was once provided by the trees (berries, leaves, bugs etc.) did not exist anymore so the animals that relied on these things for survival had to find another source of food or they would die. But it was “okay”. We needed to build houses so that we could be protected from harsh winds and the wild animals that lived outside. We needed to make sure that we had enough boats so that we could go fishing and have enough to eat so that we would not die. We were perfectly content with making sure that we would survive that we did not worry about whether or not it would lead others (plants and animals) to die in our place.

When we started constructing buildings and roads, we cleared out a lot of land. We believed the land belonged to us, so we tore it apart to create places that helped us to stay alive. But the land never has belonged to us. I believe that the land belongs to the Earth, and although we use it for places to live and to work, it does not truly belong to us. We do not know whether or not the land would like to have its beautiful trees taken away from it so that we could build yet another fast food restaurant three doors down from where one is already built. If I had to place money on it, I would say that the Earth does not want us to destroy it any more than we already have.

We have put nothing but pollution into the air that not only us, but millions of plants and animals breathe in in order to survive. We have taken away the homes of billions of animals just so we can make sure that we have a place to live. We have destroyed the waters that fish and bugs live in because we did not know where we should put all of our waste that we have produced over the years. We have turned what was once a beautiful luscious world into one that is depressed. We have taken the happiness away from the Earth out of greed and fear of our own death. If we were not consumed by the idea of dying, and how we must do anything and everything that we can to prevent death from creeping up on us, we would not have ruined what was once our beautiful planet. Now I am not saying that constructing buildings and roads and things that we need in order to survive is terrible, but what I am saying is that doing what we believed was right for us, turned out to be completely wrong for nature.

Nature does not have a voice that can say whether or not it wants something to happen. It just has to go along with everything that is thrown at it. Even death. Because of our actions, we are responsible for the extinction of many plants and animals that we are never going to be able to get back. We, at the time and maybe even now, still do not fear the death of others (landscapes, plants, animals) as something as tragic as the death of a human. The death of the land, or of plants and animals is quite different from the death of a human being because these things do not have a voice. We are unable to hear as they cry out for help that what we are doing is destroying them. We are unable to hear that they need our help so that they can regain their strength as we continue to pollute the air and the waters that they breathe and drink. We are unable to hear how since our existence, the land has changed into a depressing rotating sphere. We are unable to hear how they too are curious about what will happen once we are no longer alive.

I believe that change does not happen overnight. It takes time. The change that humans have bestowed upon this plant took centuries, and was very slow. When the last human to walk the face of the Earth passes away, I believe the change that we have caused will slowly begin to reverse itself. No, I do not believe that the buildings will just instantly disappear, or that they will ever disappear, but I believe that the land will return.

Trees will begin to sprout up left and right until our forests are full. The wild flowers will return once more and the fields will turn green with the pure sunlight. Animals will begin to feel safe in their homes and the fear of having their shelters taken away from them will be gone. I believe that the sky will return to its brilliant blue while the birds soar up into the sky higher than ever before. The waters that were once polluted by our waste will eventually return to being crystal clear. But most importantly, I believe that the depressed Earth will regain its happiness and joy. Earth will once again be in control of its land, and there will not be any humans to cause any more damage. Nature will once again be happy.

As for now, we need to live one day at a time. It is inevitable that we will all pass away someday and leave this world behind us, but in the process, we need to be aware of the actions that we are taking. The life that we are living does not just effect our friends, family and coworkers, but the others as well. We often forget that our actions effect the plants and animals that we encounter every day, as well as the grounds that we live on. We need to be aware that what we do, while we may be doing it to better ourselves, may be effecting those who do not have a voice to tell us of the damage that we are causing. It will not be until long after we are gone that those silent, hurting voices recover and regain their happiness.

Gillian McRitchie especially enjoys hikes that ultimately lead to waterfalls. “I am able to let my mind wander while being able to let go of any stresses that I might be carrying with me. Lately, I’ve taken a liking to kayaking. I feel like I can truly be myself when I am around water, whether it be a waterfall or a river.”

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