Some Context

My story idea is in the likes of Pacific Rim. If you didn't watch it, it's about a crack in the sea that spawns giant monsters called Kaiju, who really like to chew on buildings.

However, my story will start a few years before they ever showed up. For some plot reason, their rise demands an enormous amount of energy which, in turn, is making the planet's axis slowly tilt - and this causes a series of natural catastrophies that strike multiple places in the entire world.

Scientists don't know about the big monsters below just yet, but they have enough technology to, eventually, find out that Earth's axis has tilted.

But they can't seem to explain why this is happening and they blame it on the enviromental damage the humans have dealt to the planet.

The Question

I'd like to know if there's any kind of enviromental damage that would be able to cause the Earth's axis to tilt and bring us to this "end times" scenario.

  • By "enviromental damage" I mean all forms of pollution, exploration of mineral resources and anything that might be harmful for the enviroment;
  • The story takes place on Earth;
  • The maximum technology level allowed is 20 years ahead (so 2038);
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Not a hope — it would require many orders of magnitude more energy than we can produce. And also, scientists would find out within a few seconds that the Earth’s axis had tilted, because their telescopes would be pointing in unexpected directions. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Dec 4, 2018 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the telescope insight. I can't really express how helpful it was for something that's not in the question. $\endgroup$
    – Magus
    Dec 4, 2018 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ I posted the indicated question as a duplicate because the answer is the same as you need here: the energy required to roll the earth mere centimeters would destroy more than half the surface of the planet. It also points out the amount of energy needed to affect the change: which 99.999999% of all environmentally unfriendly events can't provide to any whim of fantasy. Unless aliens began dumping all the manure from their planet onto a single place on ours (one spot, regardless of rotation). Put enough mass in one place and you'll cause the planet to roll. But that's something we can't do. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 4, 2018 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ Scientist would and do know environmental damage caused by humans will not shift the Earth's axis. What they will know is that something they are unaware of is responsible. There is no form of environmental damage that could shift the axis. What it would require is an absolutely massive force, in human terms, to do that. The best humans can do is like if a few bacteria on your skin decided to jump up and down, in the hope you would fall over. It can't & won't work. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Dec 5, 2018 at 0:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just a heads up, if you shifted the tilt by any margin at all you'd screw up GPS readings worldwide. This would be noticeable within thirty seconds, which is the length of a GPS satellite broadcast message. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2018 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


Physics principle: Angular Momentum is conserved in a closed system.

The only way you are going to get a momentum change is by:

  • transferring momentum to/from another body in the system.
  • shifting momentum closer/further away from the center of rotation.
  • shifting the center of rotation.


Your not really going to have much luck here in a universe as we know it sense, by human hands. Our best achievement to date is the Three Gorges Dam which has shifted the mass of the earth out slightly enough to increase the length of a day by about 0.06 microseconds.

If you were to build an even more massive and taller structure slightly off balance from a pole, you might get the Earth to very slowly increase its natural wobble. Currently our poles slightly wobble in a multi-millenia axial precession. Unfortunately our structures don't tend to last the hundreds of thousands of years needed to have a meaningful impact.

Alternately, if the earth's center is not what we thought it was, have the primary mass move off center. As a significant part of earths mass is in the core this will have a non-trivial effect on rotation. How you manage to move so much mass against gravity and pressure though is beyond me.

From Space

You might be able to accelerate the wobble more effectively by looking out into space. The most obvious candidate is the moon. Due to its size and relative proximity, it actual acts to balance out the earth's rotation, keeping it relatively smooth. Otherwise the oceans, and the air on earth could cause day lengths to vary by hours. So go out there and invest a lot of energy in changing the moons elevation, and the inclination of its orbit. Earths rotation and tilt will suffer. Unfortunately while humans may have the technology, they do not have the industry or political will to actually maintain the effort needed for this right now (or even within the next 100 years).

On the other hand, why make the earthlings do all the heavy lifting? Having a moon sized object pass close (moon orbit close) to earth, or a much smaller but still hefty piece of rock hit earth (or the moon) could in theory impart enough energy to change the angular momentum.

If it were to hit earth, it would need to be bigger than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Any humans alive are probably in orbit, and they are contending with millions of little projectiles shot into orbit from the impact. It is possible that the earth is now mostly molten lava.

If it hit the moon, earth is fine (for now), but the space industry will not like the new environment much, and civilisation will live in much greater fear of asteroid impacts (parts of the moon).

If instead it missed, wandering off into space, it may have had enough influence to alter the momentum in the system and cause a tilt. Alternately if it hangs around it will act like another moon. The new planet and two moon system will shift angular momentum around differently making the rotation/tilt more regular/chaotic. With a new moon the tides will change. Either way Weather will be affected in the short term, perhaps even permanently.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ flyby of a large asteroid is the most realistic idea imho. If you want human impact, have some greedy corporation find asteroid full of rare-earth metals, which could be easily nudged into earth orbit (it would be a slow fly-by without a nudge) $\endgroup$
    – Bald Bear
    Dec 5, 2018 at 15:45

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