When All the Humans Are Gone
If humanity’s earthly tenure isn’t fated to end with the Mayan calendar, it is certain to end someday. It’s the sort of thing artist and author, Trevor Paglen, thinks about a lot. He knows, for example, that we homo sapiens have occupied the earth a mere .004 percent of its 4.5 billion-year history. He knows the sun will one day expand, torching our planet in the process. And he knows that life on earth is a few million years overdue for its next sweeping extinction event. We may someday build lives on other planets; here, we’re on a fixed-term lease.
Still, as Paglen’s latest multimedia project, “The Last Pictures,” underscores, we humans have created a legacy to outlast us: Billions of years from now, when the earth has erased all trace of our inhabitance, hundreds of dead satellites orbiting the planet will remain, immune to the terrestrial effects of rust, erosion, and decay — the last artifacts left to say “we were here.”