SAVE THE PEOPLE!
Stop the extinction of humans
By Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Nicole Miles
Some say the world will end on fire. Some say in ice. Others bet on nuclear war or a super volcano. There are even those who cherish the idea of an alien invasion. At least, that’s what I gathered from Stacy McAnulty’s ‘Save the People!’, a light-hearted look at global catastrophe. (Think “The Uninhabitable Earth” and “Captain Underpants”.)
McAnulty, a mechanical engineer turned children’s author, begins a romp through Earth’s great mass extinctions, beginning with the End-Ordovician—the first of the so-called Big Five—which occurred some 445 million years ago. At that time, life was almost completely confined to the water. The sun was weaker, the Earth was spinning faster (a day lasted about 20 hours), and, McAnulty notes, “there was no Wi-Fi.”
After mass extinctions — “like all terrifying stories, they’re fun to hear about, but would stink to participate in them” — come asteroid encounters. The impact of an asteroid a mile in diameter could, McAnulty writes, set off shock waves strong enough to “rupture your organs.” I!Additional threats from space include coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The first are explosions of plasma from the sun that generate powerful magnetic fields. A CME could shut off power across North America, forcing banks, supermarkets and water treatment plants to close and causing general chaos. GRBs are believed to occur during the formation of black holes. One that is particularly well targeted could destroy the Earth’s ozone layer, leading to crop failures, not to mention widespread blindness. Viruses can wipe us out, too, although, as McAnulty cheerfully points out, “we don’t currently have an infectious disease that is 100 percent fatal.”
McAnulty devotes the last third of the book to climate change. Our gas emissions are destroying the planet, she says. “We need to stop farting and get them under control.” This section is laced with “fun, scary facts,” for example, “The US fire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago,” and “The Earth is now warming faster than it was millions of years.” In 2015, leaders of virtually every nation in the world gathered in Paris and pledged to curb their country’s emissions. But their agreement does not contain penalties for non-compliance with the terms. As McAnulty puts it, this is like “a giant group project where everyone is expected to do their part, but nobody gets in trouble with the teacher if they don’t.” Meanwhile, time is running out to avoid the worst effects of global warming: “It’s like wanting a big pumpkin for Halloween. You can’t plant the seeds the week before and expect an award-winning gourd.”