Halting Human Extinction
By Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Nicole Miles

Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. Others bet on nuclear war or a supervolcano. There are even those who entertain the idea of an alien invasion. Or so I gathered from Stacy McAnulty’s “Save the People!,” a lighthearted look at global catastrophe. (Think “The Uninhabitable Earth” meets “Captain Underpants.”)

A mechanical engineer turned children’s book writer, McAnulty begins with a romp through Earth’s major mass extinctions, starting with the End-Ordovician — the first of the so-called Big Five — which took place some 445 million years ago. At that point, life was almost entirely confined to the water. The sun was dimmer, Earth rotated faster (a day lasted about 20 hours) and, McAnulty notes, “there was no Wi-Fi.”

After mass extinctions — “like any terrifying tales, they’re fun to hear about, but it would stink to participate in them” — come encounters with asteroids. The impact from an asteroid a mile in diameter could, McAnulty writes, create shock waves strong enough to “rupture your organs. Ick!” Additional threats from space include coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The former are explosions of plasma from the sun that generate powerful magnetic fields. A CME could knock out power across North America, which would shut down banks, supermarkets and water treatment plants, producing generalized chaos. GRBs occur, it’s believed, during the formation of black holes. One that’s particularly well aimed could destroy Earth’s ozone layer, leading to crop failures, not to mention widespread blindness. Viruses, too, could wipe us out, although, as McAnulty cheerfully observes, “we currently don’t 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 argues. “We need to stop farting around and get them in check.” This section is peppered with “fun frightening facts,” for instance: “The U.S. fire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago,” and “Earth is warming faster now than it has in millions of years.” In Paris, in 2015, leaders from just about every nation on the globe met and pledged to curb their countries’ emissions. But their agreement includes no penalties for not living up to its terms. As McAnulty puts it, this is like “a giant group project where everyone is expected to do their part, but no one gets in trouble with the teacher if they don’t.” Meanwhile, time is running out to avoid the worst effects of warming: “It’s like wanting a big ole pumpkin for Halloween. You can’t plant the seeds the week before and expect a prizewinning gourd.”

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