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How to Destroy the Earth (2006) (qntm.org)
293 points by NateEag 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 155 comments



Related: The Centre for Applied Eschatology - https://www.appliedeschatology.com/

We’re working for no tomorrow, today.


I am wondering if this is a satire? Sentences such as the below do not seem serious to me.

"Totalitarian states

Not an extinction scenario or a global catastrophe in the familiar sense, a global takeover by a ruthless totalitarian state could irreversibly mire the world in endless enslavement and crushing brutality. Current disintegration of liberal democracies around the world, as well as the rapid advances in surveillance and data management technologies make this a direction of growing promise."

https://www.appliedeschatology.com/research


It's funny because it's true.


> I am wondering if this is satire?

Yep.


I had to stop trimming my bonzai kitty to come ask the same. Thanks.

BTW anyone interested in Kid Swap?


Cheerful. I wonder when this kind of art project crosses the line into terrorist conspiracy.


A long long long time after the petrochemical industry and the MIC do.


Oh I dunno, seems like it’s an honest platform versus the euphemism and platitudes industrialists use.


I was tempted to see if the Donation links actually worked...


We actually have the technology to destroy life on the planet with one thing, the cobalt bomb: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt_bomb It's a salted nuclear bomb made to throw an enormous cloud of radioactive cobalt into the atmosphere of a planet. It would be as if hundreds of Chernobyl powerplants exploded in the air and the fallout would circle the globe, fall on all the people and plants and slowly kill them over a few years. The ecosystem would be devastated and the planet would become unlivable for some time. Luckily we decided hydrogen and neutron bombs were about as bad a device as we wanted to build and left cobalt bombs on the drawing board.


Obvious clarification: Destroying life on earth isn't the same as destroying the earth.

Edit: Also, please don't bring up Chernobyl like that, without any comparison to modern nuclear tech. Modern safe nuclear power is necessary for avoiding dramatic climate change, which would hurt a lot of humans (but not earth).


While I agree that nuclear power is important, I also think that trying to get people to include tangentially relevant opinions as context is a bad idea. While pushing your opinion on Chernobyl every time you mention Chernobyl might help to push that opinion, it decreases the signal to noise ratio of what you're trying to primarily convey. Additionally, it can introduce unnecessary opinions into otherwise neutral or slightly opinionated comments.


It is the same. Otherwise you would could live on Mars, where the atmosphere is gone, radiation strikes directly through, no life is possible.

Modern nuclear tech obviously also could lead to such an outcome, that's why we banned them. But the biggest problem is politics, the assured strike-back policy, which almost destroyed earth a couple of times already. Plus corruption which led to the current climate crisis, leading to the destruction of the atmosphere. See Mars. Mars is dead, Earth just not yet.


Why do you think nuclear is necessary? Nuclear is stagnating at just 10% of global electricity and renewables are rapidly growing

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_generation


There is no remotely efficent way to store very large volumes of electricity.

Wind power works great sometimes, but we need electricity that works all of the the time.

> Nuclear is stagnating at just 10% of global electricity

At the moment the slack is increasingly being picked up by burning coal or oil. That's bad.


There is, at that's exactly how we do it for that last 100 years. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity.

About 80% efficiency, and 95% of electricity is stored this way. Burning fossils is of course stupid.

> Pumped storage is by far the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2020, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for around 95% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide, with a total installed throughput capacity of over 181 GW.

Wikipedia


(Sorry, quite late reply.)

Pumped storage requires:

a) quite large height differentials

b) a sizeable lake of water to be filled/emptied when needed.

For most places this simply isn't practical.


I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed, but I'm skeptical this would end all life on Earth, or even wipe out humanity. For one, it won't circulate evenly. Some places will be irradiated an order of magnitude more than average, but some places won't be irradiated at all. Simply adding more bombs and bigger bombs doesn't help here: you've got to point them at all the safe spots.

Even ignoring those safe spots, some forms of life can probably exist in irradiated areas: Chernobyl's dead zone isn't by any means devoid of life.

There are probably shelters that could provide a safe harbor, though I don't trust them functioning for more than a half life or two.


More interesting to me is, given that people (I'm not sure who) say that in principle a thermonuclear bomb can have unlimited stages and size, would it be practical to build a "regular" bomb several orders of magnitude bigger than Tsar Bomba that would essentially blow up the whole planet. Let's say > 10x the dinosaur killing projectile.


If you read the article, you'll find that the Earth is extremely hard to blow up. It's an enormous ball of iron, and almost any explosion at the surface is unlikely to affect it much. You'd have to detonate a bomb close to its centre, and that bomb would have to be astronomically large. Remember that the Earth got hit with a presumed Mars-sized object in the past, yet Earth is still around (the debris formed the Moon). Such a collision might eradicate all life, but it wouldn't "blow up the planet".


Well, yeah, I would consider making the top mile or two of crust molten "close enough for government work". I didn't mean dispersing a cloud of debris to infinity.

After the collision that created the Moon, I believe some research suggests that the Earth was literally as hot as the surface of the Sun, deduced from evidence of the effect of "earthshine" on the Moon.

If the Chicxulub impactor resulted in a global rain of molten rock, I'd also consider that scale of explosion to be "enough" even though some living things survived.


It would need to be many, many orders of magnitude bigger. Chicxulub was approximately 10E6 more energetic than Tsar Bomba, and it didn't even manage to kill off all life. And that barely left a dent in the surface of the planet.

Also worth noting is that bigger bombs don't scale particularly well in terms of damage. Double a bomb's size, and much of it immediately just goes to outer space. Another large part of it is reflected from the surface of the planet to go, again, to outer space. Damage at radius r ~ E^(1/5).



> Chernobyl's dead zone isn't by any means devoid of life.

Is that because of immigration or is it actually capable of sustaining (multi-cellular) life?


The latter:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/060418-ch...

I also have heard (from "a reliable source") that one of the best nature preserves in the US is not labeled a nature preserve. It's off limits because it's the area around a nuclear plant.

With no people around, other life forms tend to thrive. Humans are lousy stewards of planet earth more often than not.


Turns out the radiation level is less harmful to life than human presence. Who would have guessed.


It's absolutely habitable, there were even some people who refused to leave / came back. You are much more likely to get cancer, but it certainly is habitable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaUNhqnpiOE


This is why I'm skeptical the cobalt bomb would even do it.

We'd have huge cancer rates and a drop in life expectancy, and a massive rise in birth defects, but eliminating the human race? Even substantially wiping out society?

I'm kind of doubtful. We've kept having babies in conditions objectively far worse for our entire history.


I think most of us would just be satisfied with rendering the Earth a lifeless husk.

If gntm thinks that inadequate I submit they may be letting the worst become the enemy of the bad.

on edit: changed he to they.


If we start a little smaller, setting our sights on just wiping out most current terrestrial animal life including humans, look to what happened with the pesticide DDT. DDT did not come anywhere near wiping out more than at most a few species, but it illustrates what could happen if we got unlucky (or someone deliberately set out to do maximal damage).

The problems with DDT were that (1) it could last a long time before breaking down, (2) it spread much more widely in the environment than was intended, and (3) it was not narrowly targeted to only affect pests.

When you are making a pesticide that is not narrowly targeted [1], you really want it to break down fast and to not spread much beyond where you specifically apply it.

Just make a pesticide that like DDT spreads far and wide and persists, but unlike DDT make it so one of the things it kills is nitrogen fixing bacteria. That would wipe out almost all of the base of terrestrial animal food chain.

[1] You make a narrowly targeted pesticide by basing it on the hormones that control the target's life cycle. You find some specific behavior of the target, such as its "mate and die" behavior, that is triggered by a specific hormone, and make your pesticide trigger that. Then all you need to do is apply the pesticide when the insect isn't yet sexually mature or when the weather is too cold for eggs to survive, and the insects mate and die, with no offspring produced.


There's an old science fiction story, where the aliens invade, not with flying saucers and ray guns, or hypervelocity near-C projectiles but by spreading what is essentially a pesticide globally that is tailored to affect human behavior and so nobody realizes what is really happening. There's no spaceship hanging around to hack into like in Independence day, there isn't even anyone willing to consider the idea that what is happening might be extrinsic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Screwfly_Solution

Same author wrote a short story about a scientist who developed a tailored virus to save the earth from ecological destruction:

https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/last-flight-docto...

"The tape recorder they put by his bed functioned right on through, but if anybody had been around to replay it they would have found little but babbling. “Gaea Gloriatrix,” he crooned, “Gaea girl, queen . . .” At times, he was grandiose and tormented. “Our life, your death!” he yelled. “Our death would have been your death, too, no need for that, no need.”

At other times, he was accusing. “What did you do about the dinosaurs?” he demanded. “Did they annoy you? How did you fix them? Cold. Queen, you’re too cold! You came close to it this time, my girl,” he raved. And then he wept and caressed the bedclothes and was maudlin."


Probably easier than you think, just add a few more ATM of CO2 and it will work out to be just like Venus.

Though -- it's actually a lot of CO2, for starters burning absolute every last bit of fossil fuel would probably contribute to ~0.1% of the amount needed for a runaway greenhouse event.


You do understand that even burning all of the oxygen in the atmosphere currently to produce CO2 would yield less than an ATM


Yes. That's why someone need to break down all the carbonate rocks and release all the CO2, that will probably work out to a few more ATM.. Easier said than done.


Well, presumably something happened on Venus to convert large amounts of carbonate rocks to CO2? How would we rule out the possibility of that happening here?


Only 70 more though and you're right there at Venus' pressure.


Burning all the fossil fuel reserves we have (know about), would add over 200 ppm CO2 to the atmosphere (mostly from 1 trillion tons of coal). The additions from oil and gas are smaller. We'd then have over 500 ppm CO2.

"Recoverable" coal is about 20 times proven reserves, so burning all that would add 4000 ppm CO2. Now the total would be 4500 ppm CO2, or almost 0.5 percent! Likely to be quite unhealthy.

https://knoema.com/infographics/smsfgud/bp-world-reserves-of...

https://inspectapedia.com/hazmat/Carbon_Dioxide_Hazards.php


All the while you’re doing that, plant life would be booming, and after a sufficient period of time would capture enough of that CO2 again to make it possible for non-plant life to once again flourish.


"A sufficient period of time" is underselling it a little. Coal is only formed if wood is buried without rotting first. If we burned all the coal we can find, it would take tens of millions of years to be replaced.


I had a vague impression that the processes that produced fossil fuels would probably not renew in due time, because the existing layers have something to do with the inability of microbes to break down lignin long ago. Once the capability evolved, the same process can't repeat even if one waits a long time?


This paper has an interesting take on the history: https://www.pnas.org/content/113/9/2442


I have been wondering about that. Hasn't all of the carbon now in fossil-fuels been in atmosphere at some point? Or has more of it been freed from earth's crust or arrived as meteors since formation of the fossil-fuels? So in the end wouldn't worst case scenario be of around time when they formed?


> So in the end wouldn't worst case scenario be of around time when they formed?

It's worth noting that the Earth's atmosphere would be incompatible with current life at various past levels of atmospheric carbon.

In the past, Earth's atmosphere was almost entirely nitrogen and carbon dioxide[1], but at some point some plucky cyanobacteria learned how to photosynthesize and convert CO2 into O2, hugely changing the contents of the atmosphere [2] and killing a large amount of life that couldn't tolerate the new order.

So if we were to burn all the fossil fuels, it's quite possible that this would cause a climate catastrophe that would kill a large majority of life on earth. But there's a decent chance that the cyanobacteria and friends would survive and, after hundreds of millions of years, restart the evolutionary process.

Note that climate catastrophes take many forms, and the "greenhouse effect" does not even necessarily have to be involved. Take ocean acidification for instance. Atmospheric carbon raises the pH level of the ocean, which can cause cascading ecological collapse.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleoclimatology

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxidation_Event

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification


>But there's a decent chance that the cyanobacteria and friends would survive and, after hundreds of millions of years, restart the evolutionary process.

I think it's worth noting that on this timescale, we don't have forever:

"In about one billion years, the solar luminosity will be 10% higher than at present. This will cause the atmosphere to become a "moist greenhouse", resulting in a runaway evaporation of the oceans. As a likely consequence, plate tectonics will come to an end, and with them the entire carbon cycle... Four billion years from now, the increase in the Earth's surface temperature will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, heating the surface enough to melt it. By that point, all life on the Earth will be extinct." - from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_Earth

I submit that this is probably Earth's only chance at a spacefaring civilization, and therefore Earth life's only chance at escaping the planet (and thus surviving the death of the planet). If we flub it and cause a mass extinction without anything to show for it, it is the beginning of the end of Earth's story.


This seems to be a weird misconception about climate change, that the earth getting hotter will somehow end all life. That’s very doubtful. All the plants will love the new greenhouse, lots of energy in the atmosphere, rain every day, the whole planet a tropical paradise. It’s the humans and some other species who’ll be heavily inconvenienced. Solving climate change is mostly so we can stay comfortable and not have to deal with more ecological crises and refugees.


Not necessarily a tropical paradise, if it goes the way of the end-permian mass extinction:

http://burro.case.edu/Academics/USNA229/impactfromthedeep.pd...


Only if it get just a little warmer. Photosynthesis is temperature dependent however and its maximum is at a modest 20 degree C, above 40 degree C its efficiency falls rapidly [1]. If it gets much warmer than that, and a run-away greenhouse effect would ensure that, only algae and some bacteria survive a while longer. Once the oceans are boiling, it's hard to imagine any life surviving though.

There doesn't seem consensus on whether Earth could truly reach a runaway greenhouse state or would rather just settle at a higher temperature. In any case, only the ecological (and consequently economic) crises and refugees problem are the ones currently living people will be affected by, but that ought to be enough to take action.

[1] https://sciencing.com/effect-temperature-rate-photosynthesis...


I for one am ready to bow down to our giant insect overlords (once the plants get happy they will make more O2 and enable surface diffusion breathers to become giant again)


Yes, that was the case about 500 million years ago. [0] The climate and planet was very different back then, and it took a long time for the CO2 to go down that much and for life to cause this/adapt to the changes. The life back then wouldn't be very happy if it was transported to today's planet either.

In addition to the greenhouse effect, the location of the continents can also have a major influence on the climate due to the influence on ocean and air currents, the albedo, weathering speed of exposed rock in the tropics and different plant cover at different latitudes etc, thus it is hard draw good comparisons (only modelling is possible, and verification is hard).

To be fair, I do not believe we are capable of life extinction on Earth. We are also not able to make the conditions on this planet worse than it is on any other planet we can reach so far. But we can cause a mass extinction easily and make life for ourselves much much harder. Our situation is so optimized for the current conditions that changes will cause great pain. (Just look at the locations of cities, or how agriculture is run.) If we developed with the climate of 500 million years ago we would be just fine with that. The problem is the fast and large change.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_at...

PS: One more point: CO2 causes some cognitive issues in humans in concentrations above 1000 ppm, which often occurs in meeting rooms and means the windows need to be opened regularly. It's not bad, you just get a little tired and dumber... so you take a break and open the windows. Now imagine the CO2 concentration outside is 5000 ppm (currently at ~415 ppm). We did not evolve for this.


There used to be trees in Antarctica just 15 million years ago, you know.


Shhh. Some of us are trying to make a living selling green energy.


Venus is ~100 million kilometers from the sun, Earth about 150 million km. No matter of greenhouse gases is going to compensate for that difference in radiation heating.

Because radiation dissipates to the distance squared, we get around 40-50% of the heating Venus does.


You may be right in your conclusion, but your logic seems like it would imply Venus can't be hotter than Mercury, either?


We would do better with methane (100-year GWP 25), or even better with nitrous oxide - with added bonus that both N2 and O2 to produce it can be taken straight out of atmosphere (100-year GWP 298), though they would not last very long.


The Earth doesn't receive enough radiant energy from the sun to enter a Venus-like state from increased atmospheric CO2. At least not without waiting hundreds of millions of years for the sun's energy output to increase, in which case you might as well just choose one of the high-patience destruction options.

As a much nearer term goal, the Earth could be rendered all but sterile by removing and permanently sequestering carbon from the atmosphere to break the carbon cycle [0].

1) Direct air capture of CO2 from the atmosphere.

2) Conversion of CO2 to carbon with electrolytic hydrogen [1].

3) Reaction of carbon with silicon dioxide in an electrical furnace to form silicon carbide [2].

4) Surface storage of ever-increasing quantities of silicon carbide to end the Earth's carbon cycle and life itself.

Bulk silicon carbide is effectively inert to biological or geological decomposition under surface conditions on Earth. It can break down if subducted into high temperature regions of the mantle, so it will need a watchful eye to keep geology at bay until the sun's expansion destroys the Earth completely.

You'll need some basic clanking replicators (e.g. strictly earthbound von Neumann machines) to accomplish this. 99% of the life-elimination process can be finished in mere thousands of years. Either nuclear breeder reactors or paving the world's great deserts with solar panels can provide enough energy for the project.

Silicon carbide can also oxidize in a furnace, so human civilization must be neutralized. But if you have a fleet of von Neumann machines dedicated to eliminating life that's one of the first problems to solve anyway.

"Won't falling atmospheric CO2 trigger a new glacial maximum and greatly retard the rate at which environments can be decarbonized/sterilized, once ice cover impairs carbon cycling to the atmosphere?"

Great question!

You don't want a lot of frozen water on Earth because that will make it harder for CO2 to circulate through the atmosphere where it's easy to capture. It takes thousands of years for the ocean to fully overturn and exchange with the atmosphere under present climate conditions; there's no sense in making it even slower with sea ice. Nor is hiding soil under glacier cover a sustainable solution to the life problem. But you also don't want to leave CO2 in the atmosphere just to keep things warm and freely circulating.

Some small portion of the replicators' effort can go toward manufacturing potent non-carbon-bearing greenhouse gases such as nitrogen trifluoride or sulfur hexafluoride. They are so much more potent than CO2 that just a bit added to the atmosphere should keep the Earth comfortably warm even as CO2 becomes too scarce to support photosynthetic life.

In only 10,000 years most multicellular life can be eliminated by carbon starvation. Some remnants of life will remain deep underground and near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. The machines must continue to eliminate CO2 as it is emitted by natural geological processes and maintain the mountains of silicon carbide so that they remain intact into deep time. Otherwise there could be another large scale outbreak of life before the sun finishes Earth.

[0] https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Carbon+Cycle

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosch_reaction

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_carbide#Production


> I think most of us would just be satisfied with rendering the Earth a lifeless husk.

You're probably right. I mean, have you seen Factorio?


Agreed. That is what most of us are aiming to do.


the mere annihilation of all life is not very ambitious. It is achievable with todays technology. There is only excitement in originality, wiping out humanity may not give the same level of satisfaction.


I didn’t see this one:

Death by planetary obesity.

Kind of the opposite of meticulously deconstructing the planet, instead bring more and more mass to Earth - souvenirs, visitors, imports, a few hundred trillion quadrillion kilograms of precious metals... doesn’t matter what, just keep hoarding more and more stuff.

Eventually Earth will either change orbit and sink into the sun, or it will become a sun itself, or it will become a black hole.


A piece of extraplanetary mass being brought to Earth only changes the planet's orbit insofar as its orbit on entry to Earth mismatches that of rest of the planet. Furthermore, it will only slow down Earth's orbit if it was initially slower in the orbital direction, which means it would have to originate from the inner solar system.

Now, the retrieval of such mass to earth is (physically) an inslastic collision. Inellastic collisions usually dissipate energy, so the thermodynamic problem of overheating the Earth's atmosphere will be an issue before orbital changes or spontaneous nuclear fusion.


> A piece of extraplanetary mass being brought to Earth only changes the planet's orbit insofar as its orbit on entry to Earth mismatches that of rest of the planet.

No, the Earth’s orbit would also be affected over time by the altered gravitational relationship with other bodies as a result of its increased mass.


Good point. That's a second-order effect I had not considered. However, orbital mechanics being what it is, that would not result in the Earth "sinking into the sun," which is the claim I was responding to.


At that point it would cease to be a recognizable “Earth” and be more of a sort of protostar.


J6 floated an idea like that above, but a less drastic outcome where the earth takes on some very small fraction of one percent of additional mass, and the shape of its orbit merely changes a tiny bit, is also a possibility.


Is this actually possible? We're already dwarfed by other planets that are fine?


Well, in principle. It wouldn't sink into the sun, unless you use a interstellar lithobraking for all your souvenirs to deliberately do it, but you could perfectly well turn Earth into a black hole that way.

Of course it's not very practical, and also it'd turn into a star much earlier in the process, at which point it arguably isn't a planet anymore anyway.


Are there any nearer-term concerns? Imagine we have large scale asteroid mining within the next century. Is there a point where the extra-mass matters on any reasonable timescale (hundreds of years) similar to the impact of industrialization with Co2 and climate change? Other odd side effects from landing the material?


No, no near term concerns at all. It’s a very silly sci-fi scenario. You could smash the mass of Mount Everest into Earth a hundred times a day for a thousand years and it wouldn’t even increase the planet’s mass by 1%.


This is such a great read.

It’s fun to think about on a humankind scale how hard it is to destroy (as in obliterate entirely) the earth, while at the same time pretty trivial on a universal scale.

We’d have a pretty hard time blowing this entire rock up ourselves, but the universe sure wouldn’t.

Then again, maybe in 100ish years it becomes trivial for us too. I’d bet someone in the 1800s had a hard time imagining one bomb being able to wipe an entire city off the map.


It's fun to really think about these scales. Earth has been around quite a while since big bang. Actually a one-third is pretty amazing number when you start to think about that. That is age of Earth is about third of age of Universe... And then Universe will be around for a very very long time after the planet is unrecognisable.

On other hand Earth is just tiny thing in solar system, which is tiny thing in galaxy which is small thing around general area which is tiny thing in great scale of things...


> On other hand Earth is just tiny thing in solar system, which is tiny thing in galaxy which is small thing around general area which is tiny thing in great scale of things...

Don't go down that route - down that route lies the Total Perspective Vortex, and that is something you don't come back from.


Yeah. Some roads you just don't go down.


Sounds like tourist brochure for Detroit.


The universe has been trying for 5 billion years. No luck so far.


There's an anthology that Douglas Hofstadter put together that is chock full of stories like this. When I started reading this story I knew basically where it was going.... Give DH's thing a read, it's called "The Mind's I"


> At a million tonnes of mass driven out of the Earth's gravity well per second, this would take 189,000,000 years.

I love how this takes an incomprehensibly large number (mass of the earth) and decomposes it into 3 exceptionally large but kind of comprehensible numbers (million tones / second, 30 million seconds / year, 189 million years). The earth is _big_.


As an aside, one of my favorite phrases to use when making fun of someone's idea is 'all-surpassing patience.' I've forgotten where I've first read that phrase.

When I saw the the headline I immediately remember that I read this when I was in high school (2002-5) and that the phrase came from here. Thank you for making me remember again.


Create the intergalactic equivalent of a superpopular sitcom, like Friends.

Make random reference to Earth (and its location) in conversation between Ross and Phoebe.

Earth suddenly has massive value to fans of the show. Rabid alien fans swarm in and steal Earth away in flyingsaucer-portable chunks.


This is the kind of internet I like, and the reason why I visit this website. Thanks for sharing


Oldie but goodie! I remember submitting this to very early Reddit, getting seven upvotes, and this keeping it at the #1 spot on the page for multiple days. I'm a credited contributor and sometimes I list this on résumés as a gag.


That's a good idea. I should start doing that.


"How to destoy living things" is the current show we are attending.

Honestly, each season is getting better.

The villains of that show are just disgusting selfish assholes!!! George Martin to the next level.

Plus IT'S REAL!!!


> on September 10, 2008, the Earth has been destroyed

https://qntm.org/board

Did I miss something there?


Yes, we had to restore you from a backup. That's why you missed it. But no worries, it looks like you were restored ok. Probably.


Aside from my memories of how to spell certain children's book authors' name yeah


If curious, past threads:

How to destroy the Earth (2006) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11808723 - May 2016 (44 comments)

How to destroy the Earth (completely) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1446612 - June 2010 (73 comments)

How to destroy the earth - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=998734 - Dec 2009 (35 comments)

Destroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=121624 - Feb 2008 (3 comments)


Can we be even sure that earth (and everything else from universes to ourselves) exists in the first place? Maybe we are just very complicated simulation faking it? Is or can we possibly have any strong proof for it? Stronger than Occam’s razor for example.


This is the "brain in a vat" thought experiment in philosophy. Also the simulation hypothesis.

In short, I don't believe it's falsifiable or testable. We can just reason about likelihoods.

Relevant to this is solipsism. We also don't have and can't have specific evidence that another being is conscious. At best we can just say that it's likely that they are.


Another story by the same author on the topic: https://qntm.org/responsibility


Yep, just saw it also. This speculates that we are fake. My curiosity is whether it is possible to prove or falsify it. Descartes had quite strong proof that we do exist (cogito...), but also he was not able to say are we real, or what we really are.


> Descartes had quite strong proof that we do exist (cogito...)

Well, no, Descartes’ argument only applies in the first-person-singular of the person evaluating the argument, not the first-person-plural.


We better not... do not want The Operator to destroy our Earth.


The sequel to this, "To destroy the Earth"[0], is also very good.

0: https://qntm.org/destro


This is just wonderful. If the internet were filled with articles and posts of this kind the world would be a wonderful place. I love how the author took the thing from the movies just to the next logical step, that itself is something most won’t think about. I mean most people jod just take the destruction of all life forms as the end and stop thinking there.


Also, this classic 2001 website, for your entertainment:

Exit Mundi ... A collection of end-of-world scenarios [0]

[0] https://web.archive.org/web/20120918050149/http://www.exitmu...


I read of a scifi tech that rotated a photon through the hoopajoo dimension, thus converting a 1.0c massless particle into a 0.9c particle that weighs a couple grams.

So we set up such a converting lens between the sun and earth and let our downshifted photons blast it to bits over a couple months.


Most photons don’t have nearly that much energy.


Not to mention that the hoopajoo dimension requires an antiquark harmonic balancer to access. And the Klingons refuse to sell.


I will link this the next time someone says "we're destroying Earth", when they mean "life on Earth".

Earth is 4.5B years old, and will likely continue to exist for quite some time. That's called the "Lindy effect" (old things will likely continue to exist).


We probably can’t destroy all life on earth either, because of the adaptations of microbes to the most inhospitable conditions. You’d have to remove the atmosphere and the oceans probably, or turn the earth into Venus.

Likewise when people remark on the fragility of earth when looking at a whole earth image - no, it is we who are fragile, particularly when, as tiny as we are, we could make the earth inhospitable to us.


If somebody says they destroyed their car in an accident do you also point out that the car is fine and mostly in one piece, it's just totally unusable for human transportation?

Everybody knows what is meant when people say this.


The car crash disfigured the car into something people wouldn't really call it a car anymore. However, even if earth stops supporting human life (or, more likely, greatly reduce the number of places on earth that humans can live on), no one would argue it is still a planet.


I think that assertion is disproven by thinking about what junkyards are full of: cars. It doesn't matter that they can't drive anymore, or even that they may be totally missing significant parts. People still generally think of them as cars.


Carlin had something to say about that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdSi9NW5u3E


What do you hope to accomplish responding to a life-on-earth concern with an article exploring how to destroy the celestial body?


That people say "life on earth", and not "earth".

I'm a bit autistic when it comes to language.


I think the term is pedantic.


This only thing this accomplishes is making you look like a jerk, with maybe a 10% chance of getting a chuckle out of the right person.


With the extreme environments that some animal species live in, I'm not even considered about destroying the life on Earth. It doesn't seem like an easy thing to pull off.


I'm not saying it isn't, but these organisms evolved over millions of years to adapt to these environments, whereas the extreme conditions caused by human activity are happening on a much shorter time scale, probably too short for organisms to be able to adapt.


It is pretty hard to imagine any particular set of conditions short of total planetary surface destruction that would make all extremophiles go extinct - and as long there is enough of them, they will start spreading again.

Any particular species, including humans that lives on Earth is unlikely to survive catastrophic changes - but life will come back and spread into the newly freed and opened niches, just as it did before multiple times.


Why did nobody tell the dinosaurs about the Lindy effect?


Maybe someone did, who's to say...


More specifically they mean human life. Almost nobody cares about an Earth incapable of supporting human life.


Are they? Some people I saw seem to be more considered about animals than humans.


Some but that’s what I mean by almost nobody. Even within that group I would say their concern about animals most likely takes human existence for granted.


Flinging earth into space would qualify (it no longer orbits a star) and seems to be among the easiest options. Just get Jupiter to do it somehow. It would require less energy than most of the other options i guess.


That actually wouldn't destroy the earth. There's plenty of heat near the bottom of the ocean; life would survive down there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rltpH6ck2Kc&ab_channel=Vsauc...


Author forgot an easy one: death by strangelet catalyzation

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangelet#Dangers


It's #2 on the honorable mentions list


You're right. Shame on me.


Easy to miss too :)


Requires strange matter to exist in the first place, and currently the evidence does not support the hypothesis.



he had me going until "...that made us a species with amnesia and wiped out almost all traces of a former high civilisation of prehistoric antiquity"

This summarizes the evidence nicely: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas_impact_hypothesi...


I like this, but there’s an important component missing:

(Assuming you had the resources in-hand) how much time would each one take?

Like, the micro singularity: are we talking minutes, hours, millennia? Longer?


Why would you need to create an equivalent size amount of antimatter to destroy the planet, when you would need a lot less since it releases so much energy?


If you scroll down there is a section about blowing Earth up with an antimatter bomb made of a lot less antimatter.


Fans of the Xeelee Sequence are probably thinking, Meh, just go find a Starbreaker, and take out all of the system!


Black hole, or collide with something much bigger. Simple.


Shouldn't the title read (2003) not (2006)?


Just remove like half the electrons in your body at once. Honestly, that’s probably overkill.


It’s like XKCD, but without the lightness, humor, and general affection for humankind.


I thought it was hilarious.

Opinions will vary, I suppose.


Well that may be Ot an emotional driven but... somehow related comic://i.ibb.co/Kzrkg97/23243-en-CONCLUSION-FINAL-Mail.png (-;


"Cooked in a solar oven You will need: Means for focusing a good few percent of the Sun's energy output directly on the Earth."

Mirrors don't work that way. Mirrors can't focus to a black body temperature higher than that of the the light source.


So you say the max temp on earth by this method is the sun's temperature. Why wouldn't this be enough?


It may, but source says "You will need: Means for focusing a good few percent of the Sun's energy output directly on the Earth.", then posits using mirrors to do this. Mirrors could get Earth to something approaching 5800 kelvin, but that is nowhere near "a few good percent of the sun's energy output."


How much energy is a good few percent?


The sun has surface area of 6 x 10^18 m^2. Earth has surface area of 5 x 10^14 m^2. Earth can not be bombarded by more than the ratio of these to numbers with solar radiation using only mirrors. <<1 percent.


I see what you mean, but it seems like a self-correcting problem. Focus enough of the sun's energy on Earth, and it will be shrouded with a rapidly expanding ball of hot plasma, at which point its surface area would be much greater. Now you can focus even more of the sun's energy on it without conjuring Maxwell's demons.


I don’t think that is true. Energy can be focused to a smaller volume with a higher temp and you can keep adding energy. This is how laser fusion works.


Author doesn't speak of lasers. Author says to use mirrors. The sun takes up about 1/2 degree width as seen from Earth. This limits the focus you can get using mirrors. (see 2nd law of thermodynamics) You could put solar panels on every surface of a Dyson swarm, convert to laser light, and aim it all at Earth, but that is not what author proposes.


The degrees dont matter and you dont need to convert to laser light. You can have a dyson sphere of mirrors to reflect the entire energy output of the sun.

As you say, The sun has surface area of 6 x 10^18 m^2. Earth has surface area of 5 x 10^14 m^2 for a ratio of 10^4.

IF you reflect all of this energy to the earth, the incoming energy per meter on the earth will be 10^4 higher than the energy per meter leaving the surface of the sun.

The surface of the sun is 5,700K and can use the Stefan–Boltzmann law to describe how hot the earth would have to be to radiate the same amount of energy. Earth would need 57,000K to match the the same output.


You can't reflect all the energy of the sun onto the earth with a mirror or a lens. Put a one million mile wide source 93 million miles from the earth. The photons from the left side of the sun will reflect off the mirror about 1/2 degree from those from the right side of the sun. Get more than about 1 million miles from earth, and the size of the reflection of sunlight off the mirror is already larger than the earth, i.e. many of those photons will miss the earth entirely. Optics obeys the 2nd law of thermodynamics like all other heat transfer mechanisms. The target must be cooler than the source.


One of the main reasons why optics obeys the 2nd law of thermodynamics is because as the temperature of the earth approaches that of the sun, the earth starts emitting radiation approaching the same intensity, and the net influx of energy goes down towards zero.

That temperature should still be enough to make a fair dent though.


I think that helps. You’re saying that because the sun is not a Point Source and the rays aren’t parallel.

Following that logic, couldn’t you still put a dyson mirror around thesis and earth raising the sun and earth temp above 5700? This would raise the temp of both above 5700.


Interesting idea. I think if you put perfectly reflective mirrors inside a Dyson sphere larger in radius than Earth's orbit, the photons would bounce around until they hit the Sun, Earth, the Moon, Venus or Mercury. It seems before too long, (a few reflections), the radiation would be uniform from all directions throughout the volume of the sphere. The mirror would get as warm as all the planets, and would fail at some not too extreme temperature. Unless I'm missing something.


I Im not sure that the mirror has to be at the same temperature as a heat source. The area of a dyson sphere at earths orbit would be 2.810^23 m^2 The area of the sun is 610^18 m^2.

This is where my understanding of optics and reflections breaks down. How much heat/kinetic energy is transferred to a mirror when it reflects a photon?

From a heat transfer perspective. the dyson sphere has 100,000X the surface area of the sun to radiate heat and 1/100,000 the photon flux hitting it's surface. Based on this I would expect it to be cooler.


2nd law says heat flows from hot to cold. Mirrors are passive, temperature of target, (Earth), must be lower than surface temperature of source (Sun).


As a second point, even if mirros can't make the earth hotter than the sun, Why isnt the suns temperature enough to vaporize the the earth?

The sun is a plasma bound together by gravity and earth does not have enough gravity to retain it's mass?


The easiest way to destroy the Earth is to create a religion based on this:

    God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and
    multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over
    the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every 
    creature that crawls upon the earth."

    Genesis 1:28
It basically tells you:

- Multiply without limits.

- You are more important than the environment and other species.

- Every species of plants and animals exist for your benefit.

These are profoundly destructive beliefs, and the root cause of how we arrived to our current mess, the Anthropocene extinction event.

There was a time when the Americas were populated by people that believed in living in harmony with the environment, but unfortunately they were all murdered and the ones that remained were forced to convert. 500 years later, a significant portion of what was carefully preserved for 10,000 years is gone.

If humanity is going to survive, you have to abandon such beliefs. You are not here to multiply without limits and, quite honestly, you are not more important than the environment. Stop with the overconsumption, the excessive travelling and all that nonsense. You are not as important as you think.


Article is about destroying the planet itself, as in, making it cease to be as a planet, not merely destroying all life.


Sometimes I wonder how the world would look if that wasn't in the bible. Would people have behaved differently?


Likely, I would be posting this from a flying car on Mars if it wasn't for the church.

This now defunct website put it beautifully:

https://web.archive.org/web/20050314130905/http://www.supers...

The church forced people to believe in the Geocentric model, they murdered Hypatia of Alexandria, they harassed the fuck out of Galileo, Kepler's family, and countless other scientists. Now they're all about preaching about forgiveness and altruism, but before they ruled people's lives with an iron fist.

You cannot discover gravity if you believe in Geocentrism. Without gravity it's harder to get to the laws of motion. Without laws of motion you have no physics. And so on, so forth.




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