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Some purple person, somewhere, collected the Eternity Baubles, clicked their heels and suddenly, half of all living beings in the universe just go poof.1

The effect isn't restricted to sentient beings, but to literally every living being: half of the plants producing oxygen just vanish, theoretically. Barring the potentially grim effect of that (which would be hard to analyze), let's use the premise that half as many consumers can survive on half as many living resources (probably not correct, but no need to over-complicate).

So tomorrow, half of the humans vanish. We assume equiprobability for everyone, since our purple giant thought it would be only fair.

On average, half of farmers die. Half of politicians die. Half of airline pilots (including those in flight) die. Half of nuclear plant workers die. We assume the distribution roughly even out in the end, given the scale.

I'm really curious to know if, theoretically, assuming we suddenly lose half of the workforce, society itself can survive the aftermath and adapt to function roughly as it does now? (Of course, half as many people doesn't mean half as much work, because handling the half-pocalyspe will require a fair bit of extra-hours. Firefighters will probably have some busy days) Do we have enough redundancy to keep society going, or do we just mostly die as a species, with only a fraction of the surviving 50% making it into the wild?

1: Any resemblance to a current blockbuster movie is incidental


EDIT (META DISCLAIMER):

There is currently a meta debate regarding questions overlapping with third party world. While this one has obviously been sparked by the viewing of a recent movie, I'd like to ask from a high-concept question point of view, which is in accordance to WB.SE rules.

The question use no mechanisms from the MCU, nor do the answers. No super-heroes, no space civilization visiting us, just plain old Earth humans and their society. The premise is only easier to explain with a visual example at hand.

I suppose the VTC come from the legal debate currently on meta. I'd appreciate if the close-voters could clarify why they do so, if their reason is different from the one counter-argumented above.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Renan, Morris The Cat, Measure of despare., Alex2006, Frostfyre May 13 at 18:42

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Knowing nothing about how any society except ours works: Magic 8 ball says unclear. Unless you’re explicitly discussing human society? $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs May 13 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ "So tomorrow, half of the humans vanish. [...] On average, half of farmers die. Half of politicians die. Half of airline pilots (including those in flight) die. Half of nuclear plant workers die." "Do we have enough redundancy to keep society going, or do we just mostly die as a species..." Yes, I'm asking about human society. It's also in the tags. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 13 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ If we can't find a means of dealing with 3.5 billion corpses, then, no. Beyond that, it does depend on which half dies. Not everyone is equal. There is a handful of very skilled people, whose loss would be devastating to modern society if they all died at once. On the other hand, there's a vastly larger number of useless politicians... $\endgroup$ – nzaman May 13 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "half-pocalypse" $\endgroup$ – Steve-O May 13 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s Yup each of them has a 50/50 shot of being taken out. Hmm that raises the question of clones more generally though, is a clone actually a separate being or are genetically identical individuals considered one organism? If it's the latter then there are some large commercial forests that are going to die outright particularly pinus radiata plantations. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 18:05

11 Answers 11

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Alright, let's start with a basic premise; if half the humans disappear, more than half the population dies. Like you said, some people are in charge of planes, you only have half the firefighters on duty when half the food being cooked catches fire because there's no-one to take it out...

You get the idea.

Just to be clear, the first week is going to be pure hell. You're going through massive emotional trauma because you're missing your son Mike and your Aunt Mabel, but on top of that stores are shut, supplies are running low and everyone around you is freaking out. The hospitals are packed, ambulances and fire brigades are under immense pressure and generally speaking you're not turning up to work either because with everyone freaking out around you it's easier to just go with the flow.

The second week is worse, especially now the looting has started, the radio stations and TV channels are down leaving so many idle and desperate hands to be the devil's playground...

But, things get better. I'm not saying it won't be tough, especially for the cities. We've dealt with those apocalyptic questions like zombie outbreak before and I'm the first to tell you the cities are gone in those scenarios, but this is a little different. There still are police, emergency services, government officials, businesses, etc.

Also, we're not dealing with something contagious. It's a one-off event that's going to cause massive emotional trauma and then some definite emergency and supply issues, to be sure. No-one's going to be happy for a very long time. But, if you survive the first month and have a good government response happening around you, society survives.

Some people will do it tougher than others and to be sure, there will be a lot of suicides and the like due to the people who just can't cope. But, with the exception of some perishable goods, there's literally now double all the stuff just lying around. So, there's a very good chance you'll survive even if you raid the neighbour's pantry to do it. Eventually, you'll get back into work as well (the government will really want you to do that) and society will survive. It'll be a bit dysfunctional at first and to be blunt, economies don't like the kind of sudden change it's going to experience - expect a flat couple of years first up, but given the even distribution, we won't lose any really critical knowledge and experience will be gathered by all the 'next in lines' that have been gathering experience already beside their mentors. They just won't have the buffer they'd relied on in previous years is all.

In the country, it will be tough but then so is drought, cyclone season and many other issues faced in agricultural lands. People will get through it with little disruption past the initial shock. The cities will fare far worse in the short term and to be sure, there'll be some looting and violent activities, but there is still authority in place, and hopefully they'll rise to the occasion.

But society will survive and will adapt to the new conditions.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess, for security authorities, we have some "redundant" buffer already in place. If half of the police force is gone, there's still half of a full army on stand-by who will have to interrupt training and support police, fire fighters, medical staff. There are hundreds of thousands troops available, or half of that, so many places (like, the 50-100 biggest cities in the country) could be ok. $\endgroup$ – JimmyB May 13 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ Inflation would be a problem for awhile - suddenly half the people have the same amount of money as before, and while I don't know what type of monetary jump would occur, it's safe to guess inflation would occur - along with quite a bit of deflation in high-priced goods, namely real estate $\endgroup$ – Selkie May 13 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Selkie If anything, I would see a massive deflation of everything since demand of everything will drop insanely. I can see a massive raise on salaries and a massive drop on prices all around. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar May 13 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @E.D. ...maybe. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar May 13 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @JasonClyde paradigm changing perhaps, but especially one that leaves fewer consumers. Plague, war and the like are always bad for business for a while when you get out the other side because demand slows, meaning those who can produce more don't have anyone to sell to for a while. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II May 13 at 20:40
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What does history teach us?

  • During the Thirty Years' War the Germanies lost almost half of their population in the 17th century. As we all know, the Germanies eventually recovered and became mighty Germany.

  • Justinian's Plague killed almost half of the people living in the (Eastern) Roman Empire in the 6th century. As we all know, the countries of the eastern Mediterranean eventually recovered.

In both cases, after recovery the countries were profoundly different from what they were before the disaster struck. So the conclusion is that yes, we can and will keep the society going; but what will emerge will be a new society.

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    $\begingroup$ There is some upper limit on deaths before society collapses. When the various plagues struck the New World after 1492; the Mississippian culture as it existed when Ponce de Leon and Narvaez visited in the 1540s was extinguished by plague (and not conquistadors) before de la Salle visited in the 1680s. So, a significant enough plague has been historically demonstrated to destroy an (admittedly primitive) agricultural society. $\endgroup$ – kingledion May 13 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion I've seen a lot of research suggesting that "primitive" agrarian cultures are in many ways more resilient to large scale loss of life than highly specialised mechanised societies. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash Primitive in this case applies to agricultural technology relative to other agrarian cultures. Indeed, the Spanish who visited in the 16th century were themselves a primarily agrarian society, though one much more advanced. The Mississippian culture lacked such agricultural tools as traction animals and metal. Agricultural technique would have been technologically close to the Sumerians and Egyptians who built the pyramids; but significantly behind the agricultural capabilities of Rome or Han China, and far behind where the Old World was at the dawn of the Age of Discovery. $\endgroup$ – kingledion May 13 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash More specifically, the Mississippian culture was technologically far behind Justinian's Empire, Europe of the Black Death, or Germany in the Early Modern Era; examples pointed out by AlexP and other posters. $\endgroup$ – kingledion May 13 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion True, I guess the real factor is how close to it's own margin of survival a culture is given it's level of technology and the inherent complexity it needs to maintain it's existing material culture. More complex cultures sometimes have more points of vulnerability even if the margin looks wider. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 13:58
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There is absolutely no problem for the society to survive in your scenario. Killing half of plants and animals will barely be noticed. We kill more than that all the time. Most species will recover within a generation or two. It may take a while for long living species like Oaktree or Blue Whale, but that's not a serious concern.

As for human, yes, there will be no problem either. Relatively speaking. According to different estimates, between 20 and 80% of jobs are unnecessary anyway. Many companies will struggle in the new situation and may collapse when their services are no longer a priority (e.g. producer of reality TV?), but their more productive employees will find jobs in essential businesses.

Fewer people means lower demand for services as well. Population has doubled in last 50 years. As you may imagine there was a society 50 years ago. As in the other answer, we had large scale depopulating events before. It's not unheard of for a country to lose 20% population in a war, even in recent times, for example Poland in World war 2. They not only lost a fifth of their population, including most of the educated elites, but were also physically devastated by war. Warsaw was nearly obliterated with around 90% of buildings destroyed. After the war they were trapped behind the iron curtain and cut off from international trade or cultural exchange and yet managed to survive as civilized societies and rebuild from ruins. In your scenario most of infrastructure is intact, at least initially, so your society can absorb much higher loses.

The sudden drop will be drastic but will not destroy our civilization. The old, inefficient power plants will just be closed as the demand for electricity halves. The good nuclear plants that lose half of their staff will halve the holidays for the survivors for few years and recruit some staff from closed plants and recent graduates to fill the gaps. At the moment half of STEM graduates work in unrelated jobs. Instead of joining investment banks they will get productive and fulfilling jobs in their field. No problem at all.

TL,DR Apart from initial panic, there won't be a long term danger to the society if half of the population disappear. On the contrary, if you're one of the survivors and don't die in some riots in the immediate result of the event you may even be better off than before.

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  • $\begingroup$ First answer to directly adress the redundancy problem. Have my +1 $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 13 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ Those under employed STEM graduates might actually be our saving grace in the west. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer. Minor nitpick: your answer suggests that jobs (and the people who fill them) are strictly useful or useless. In practice, there is a continuum. Survivors will shift to more useful jobs, to fill what is needed the most. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon May 13 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon of course. Each job is useful at least to the person doing it and the person paying them. I didn't want to quote it in open text in my answer, but even serious economists use the term "bullshit jobs" now. There's little agreement on which jobs are BS, because as you say it's a continuum and largely subjective opinion anyway. Many people would argue it's the economics that is BS ;) $\endgroup$ – Milo Bem May 13 at 16:35
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Microbe populations will bounce back within days, fungi at a similar rate and plants over the course of weeks to years depending on the size of the organism. That's assuming that their ecosystem still exists and they still have a viable population. Some species will go extinct because the 50% of their population that dies happens to be disproportionately either male or female and they lose too much genetic material.

When it comes to societies though we're talking about human causalities and social complexity becomes a major issue.

"As little as a 2% lose in critical infrastructure workers could cause the collapse of any first world nation you care to name." - Scientific American on the impact of epidemics on complex societies.

The biggest issue isn't actually the people themselves being off sick, or in this case dying, it's the lose of institutional memory that those people represent. The biggest problems occur where you have a small group, possibly even single people, who know things about their workplace that no-one else knows, and they happen to work in power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, water pumping stations, and transport hubs.

Nuclear plants may be a major threat to their immediate surroundings and the wider world, some have suggested that in the event of human extinction they could in fact sterilise the whole planet in the end. But even small plants making fertiliser, pesticide or refining crude oil are a threat to the people around them if they lose key staff who know how everything works.

Even if the farms weren't effected by the die-off, costing at least half the year's harvest, if you don't have truckers and enough diesel to keep their vehicles moving people are going to starve en masse in cities all over the world. That will happen even before the short harvest, failure to adequately distribute the existing food stocks in storage could kill millions. Subsistence farmers are better off since they live off the land they live on but even they buy in some of their goods so they're still going to suffer some damage.

Also lets be very clear that an initial 50% kill is going to cause massive secondary casualties given the proportion of critical staff in certain environments:

  • Cruise ships, and super cargoes, are likely to end up adrift with no surviving bridge crew.

  • Trains are likely to crash all over the world without drivers, or with drivers but no remote switching staff realigning tracks.

  • Planes may fall from the sky with no pilots at the controls, some cities will be burned to the ground due to multiple near simultaneous airliner crashes. Firefighters may be further hampered by lack of staff at pumping stations etc... leading to a breakdown in water supply.

  • Some isolated communities that lose medical or infrastructure staff, are eventually going to die off due to some normally small defect, or a breakdown that wouldn't have happened with someone watching the dials.

  • Some isolated farming families will lose both parents and the kids will burn down the house or starve before anyone thinks to check on them. Odds are that a lot of farms will suffer catastrophic damage due to neglected chemicals or livestock in the weeks and months after the disaster.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems a little gloom-and-doom. Both parents (25% chance) and they'll die because no one checks on them? The surviving 50% will know there's a 25% chance of both parents dying, and will make a point to check on every house. Cities occupy a tiny fraction of total planet surface, the chance of a crashing jetliner hitting them is close to nil, and it wouldn't cause firestorms. Your point about key people is correct, but I expect that to weigh heavily on innovators e.g. private companies, not basic infrastructure lots of people know how to do. $\endgroup$ – Harper May 13 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Harper Yes the survivors will know that some households are going to be without parents but a lot more of those households will be urban than rural in the west people will have enough to deal with closer to home. Actually the research suggested that the more established the plant/system, as in the longer it had been in service, the more likely it became that individuals with vital and unique knowledge of it would exist, the public/private split wasn't mentioned as I recall. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Harper How would the survivors know there's a 25% chance of both parents dying? I think it would take years for anyone to figure out what happened, if ever. As popular as the movie has become, I think it would be very hard for anyone to accept that the scenario described in a sci fi super hero film has actually occurred in real life. $\endgroup$ – F-Gamma May 13 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @F-Gamma because out of the 9 families they directly checked with, 3 kept both parents, 4 lost a parent and 2 lost both parents. 911 will figure this out in minutes, but their stats will be biased toward loss, since survivors won't call in. You don't need to know all the information to act. $\endgroup$ – Harper May 13 at 17:40
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The actual losses will be much higher than 50%. Equiprobable distribution of losses means that some passenger planes won't loose either pilot but some will loose both. Planes falling out of the sky not only kill off their passengers but also any unlucky ground dwellers under them.

High speed Freeways are going to be deathtraps!

Critical tasks such as surgeries, which are going on at the moment of the disappearance will probably go bad, not because key people will disappear, but just because having anyone in the surgical room disappear will leave the survivors so distracted and disturbed that mistakes are bound to happen.

There is a 50/50 chance that the secret service agent holding the football will disappear, taking the nuclear trigger with them. Does that thing have a deadman switch wired up to it? I don't know but it might. If the trigger survives, what are the chances that someone will use it, mistaking the disappearances as a foreign attack?

Half of the passwords in the world will be gone, so half of the securely stored information is gone forever. Complex computer systems often have only one or two people who understand their most critical parts, so expect a lot of service failures.

Half of the money in the world will be out of circulation for a while. The government departments which issue death certificates and handle probate are going to be under staffed and a little busy for a while. If one of the deceased was your boss and she was the only one who could sign paychecks...

Now factor in the emotional responses of the survivors. Without warning or explanation, many will have lost their reasons to live in the form of fallen partners and children. Under-informed, bereaved and armed is a really bad mix. The WTF-Killings rate will skyrocket.

With half the police and military gone, and economic chaos, expect the crime rates to rise as well.

My point is that the actual losses could nearly match the initial losses, so our society's ability to survive is uncertain. At the very least, expect our modern society to perish. Our tower of technology is very brittle and would definitely not survive losses of that level.

So ultimately, it depends on your definition of "Society". If by that you mean your ability to use your phone to pre-order a starbucks coffee which you will pay for with plastic using money you haven't earned yet... then "no".
If you mean some surviving humans working together to feed themselves using manual farming techniques which they mostly have to re-invent the hard way... then "yes".

Given what would be coming afterwards, the lucky ones would be those who died in the snap.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't thought about vehicles travelling at speed, that'll be messy. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, don't wildly gesticulate like that. You were right on about the freeways, but as soon as you went into "nuclear football" and "deadman switch" this jumped the shark. Or the cloud of dust in the water, 50/50 chance. $\endgroup$ – Harper May 13 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ So... Good News is the Nuclear Football does not have a deadman switch, so if it leaves the military (not USSS) officer's side, we're not genre shifting from worrying about the Unlimited Oven-Mitt to Worrying about Austrian AssassinBots from the future. Even then, the U.S. football requires a two step authorization (POTUS orders the attack, SECDEF confirms it is the President). Russia does have a Deadman Switch, but it's not tied to the couterpart football, but intended for a decapitation strike... the system has multiple different signal stations simultaneously going dead. $\endgroup$ – hszmv May 13 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ There is a LOT of redundancy with many of the things you mention. Many companies won't allow too many important people fly on the same flight at the same time to prevent some of the things you're talking about. People think about these things, it won't be that bad. $\endgroup$ – Muuski May 13 at 20:02
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Society where?

Blue whale society might struggle. If you kill off one krill in every two, you're significantly reducing the density of the food supply. It takes so much energy for a blue whale to feed that they don't bother opening their mouths unless the krill achieves a certain minimum density. Though this has as much to do with krill behaviour patterns, so they could be ok in the long run.

Unstable governments might go either way. You're tossing a coin about some governments, one could estimate that 50% of dictators would go. If the country is based on a solid chain of command and social order then they'll simply be replaced. If they're strongman types then it's time for a good old fashioned revolution. However if there's a country under pressure from something simpler, like a shortage of water, you've suddenly reduced the pressure on the limiting factor by a significant percentage. You could bring an unstable country back from the brink.

In summary, countries with good infrastructure and a solid social order will suffer, but they will survive. Unstable nations could go either way, but then they were unstable in the first place.

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  • $\begingroup$ The more modern infrastructure you have the more specialists you need to maintain it, modern infrastructure might slow down the crash but it may also make it inevitable in the long run. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 12:32
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A lot of folks have covered a lot of great ground by treating each country as a closed system. However, we also need to consider that warfare at a distance is a relatively new phenomenon and historical precedence doesn't tell us a lot about this.

I would expect a number of countries to take advantage of the situation and perform some sort of first strike against neighboring countries or distant enemies. There are many simmering tensions in the global landscape and a drastic shift like this could be enough to tip them over into full-on boiling.

Your question was phrased:

Do we have enough redundancy to keep society going, or do we just mostly die as a species, with only a fraction of the surviving 50% making it into the wild?

While societies may keep going, the instability caused by opportunistic nations (or, indeed, rogue elements within nations) may be enough to destroy our species as they wage war to gain dominance.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how this answers OP's question. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 13 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ This may be the start of a good answer but it isn't useful in it's current form. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 16:42
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The Black Death killed 25% of the population of Europe (approximate). This is only twice that, the conclusion is obvious. Initial confusion and dislocation, followed by rapid promotion to fill the gaps, and eventually everything will go on as normal.

Conclusion: society will survive.

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    $\begingroup$ Given the modern proportion of specialists, most of whom take years to train, I don't think the comparison is fair. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 13 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ If surviving twice the black death is obvious, surely we could handle four times the black death. $\endgroup$ – Hoog May 13 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ The 25% figure is the low estimate. Some estimates put the number at 60%. And it definitely differed regionally - tightly packed urban environments were a hotbed for the disease and so estimates put the death toll in some places at even higher than the average for Europe. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ May 13 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ Combining your logic and Hoog's with a4android's: The Black Death killed 60%. This is only twice that, the conclusion is obvious. Society can survive a 120% death rate, and surely we could handle a 240% loss. ;) $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk May 13 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Aaron perhaps we already survived worse. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ May 13 at 16:30
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Many other answers have addressed the immediate issues around losing half of all living things at once...mass chaos and conflict followed by something of a equalizing period whereby life gets on with the business of...well...living.

I'd like to offer that life would actually THRIVE under this circumstance.

Plant life: The red in tooth or claw can also be categorized as green in root and stem.... plant life is as competitive, if not more, than animal life. The sudden loss of half of the vegetation would cause an eruption of competition from the surrounding plants. Unlike areas where the forests have been cross-cut and ALL mature life removed we would have plants of various stages of life ready to consume the space that is now suddenly available to them. Plants that might have been struggling can expand and thrive in the new environment. Additionally they will be competing less with human and animal competition (if only for a little while) allowing greater ability to spread unmolested.

Animal life: The sudden shock to the food chain would cause distress in a number of species. However, with less competition from humans and fewer competitors for resources in general, many animals could experience a sudden surge, or resurgence in their populations. The sudden void would allow for many species to reclaim spaces they once might have inhabited. This can have an incredible impact, not only on those species but the landscape itself.

Humans: The most adaptable of all species would be forced, as we have at other times in our history, to adapt to a sudden change. While our forebears were forced to cultivate fire, adapt bronze, iron, and steam to survive, we would be given an opportunity to also adapt to an entirely new set of mores. We saw this after the plague ravaged Europe. The (more or less) sudden loss of life during this period gave way to worker shortages among the worker strata. This coupled with the greater availability of land allowed for a greater capability of upward mobility among the lower class which in turn sewed many of the seeds for the Renaissance. The new period of stress post "Purple Man Heel Click" coupled with the relative abundance of resources would create the crucible for expansion and change once again.

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Going "poof", i.e. complete removal without corpses, will take away a lot of biomass from the Earth's ecosystems. This will deplete the sources of nutrients, even bacteria will have difficulties to recover, not counting plants and animals. Since the soil consists to a great part of living organisms, the surface of the soil will lower (depending on the amount of biomass inside).

The survivors will find themselves in harsh and degraded environment with the need of refertilisation, not counting the social and economic effects of the half-pocalypse.

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  • $\begingroup$ "let's use the premise that half as many consumers can survive on half as many living resources (probably not correct, but no need to over-complicate)." Direct excerpt from the question. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 13 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ For short term consumption this will work, but recovery is impossible with degraded soils. The type of the ecosystem will also change drastically, as examples from the mediterranean countries in antiquity show. $\endgroup$ – jknappen May 13 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ True, but the question focuses on the societal aspect, to avoid being too broad. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 13 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ A plant covers a certain area of soil, which would have half the nutrient density. This isn't half the consumers having half the food. There are some things that rely on food density to survive. Which is VERY significant. $\endgroup$ – Muuski May 13 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer. We'd be headed for environmental disaster where "half as many living resources" simply did not hold true. Halve the CO2->O2 production, and the water evaporation from plants, and you're making climate change. Rapid desertification, runaway global warming. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan May 13 at 21:54
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So from a food perspective, it shouldn't worry. Generally, apex predators represent 1/10 of the biomass of it's prey species. If it takes 10 sheep to feed one wolf, and Purple dude uses the Eternity Baubles and the Unlimited Oven-Mitt and claps his hands, you now have 10 sheep for every wolf. There are less wolves on earth than sheep, but the ratio still holds (5 sheep feed 0.5 wolves).

There was a documentary on either National Geographic or Discovery Channel called "Life After Humans" which assumed the tragedy was much higher... all human life was wiped out of existence. The first thing they cover was Nuclear Power plants, however, Nuclear Power will go into an emergency scram (read shut down) mode without direct input from humans within a fixed time period, so assuming the Clap doesn't cause infrastructure damage, there shouldn't be any significant accidents. It also won't trigger an accidental firing of missiles because of unattended launch equipment. (The Nuclear Football and the President have been separated before without incident.

As discussed on Mythbusters, it's entirely possible for an untrained passenger on the plane to land a plane with guidance from a ground control... though in a pinch, you can land at an airport by an autopilot like system on most modern planes. For those of you who recall 9/11, all airliners in the United States were landed safely without any losses in an emergency shutdown of airspace. There are no procedures for this, which actually allows for more flexibility in achieving this goal. Given the case of nearly all emergencies declared and the weakening of on duty personnel, there will probably be some additional loss of life, but not nearly as many... and some planes will lose no pilots but some stewards. International flights would be the hardest hit as well as planes in take off and landing at the time of the incident. Most militaries, police forces, and government leaderships have redundancies built in so that if one person cannot perform duties, the next in the chain of command will be able to.

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  • $\begingroup$ Life After Humans missed an important point about the nuke plants--yes, they will shut down on their own. That's not the end of the story, though--we have already seen what happens. Fukushima. It won't be a big deal overall, though. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Aug 28 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ A plane talkdown is certainly feasible--if someone on board breaks into the cockpit and figures out how to use the radio. Then you need a type-rated pilot (ATC people aren't pilots) to actually do the talking. This while ATC is swamped--they are at half staff but their workload is likely a lot worse. (Any aircraft on final has a 25% to smash into the runway.) Getting the planes under control down before they run out of fuel will be a major task, let alone the unmanned ones. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Aug 28 at 4:04

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