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Experts Explain How Our Diet Will Transform Following an Asteroid Impact


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The asteroid fell into the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the sea floor about 66 million years ago, causing an explosion more than 6,500 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima.

The collision sent clouds of debris and sulfur into Earth’s atmosphere, blocking out sunlight and heat for about two years. Photosynthesis ceased, which meant the cessation of plant growth, and the dinosaurs became extinct.

But fossil records show that mushrooms subsequently flourished.

According to science journalist and Vox editor Brian Walsh, this makes the mushroom essential to human survival if such an apocalyptic event occurs in the future.

Walsh’s 2019 book The End Times explores how catastrophic events, whether natural or man-made, threaten our existence. He suggests that three types of potential catastrophes — asteroid impacts, supervolcano eruptions, and nuclear war — have one thing in common: they can block the sunlight needed to feed plants.

To survive, he says, people will need to master agriculture without sunlight.

Studies show that the effects of supervolcano eruptions and nuclear bombs could be similar to those of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.

For example, about 74,000 years ago, a massive eruption of Mount Toba sent clouds of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, cutting off sunlight by 90%. According to one analysis, this volcanic winter could have reduced the world population to 3,000 people.

And if enough nuclear bombs go off (thousands), it could also lead to a nuclear winter that will reduce sunlight levels by more than 90%, according to a 1983 paper co-authored by Carl Sagan. In this scenario, global temperatures could drop as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).

“Such a rapid and severe cold snap could have made farming impossible even in areas that had escaped missiles,” writes Walsh.

In other words, without sunlight, our diet will collapse.

The decision to grow mushrooms in Walsh’s book comes from David Dinkenberger, a civil engineer who suggested it in the 2014 post-apocalyptic farming book Feeding Everyone No Matter What.

“Perhaps when humans die, mushrooms will rule the world again,” Dinkenberger said. “Why don’t we just eat mushrooms and die out?”

If clouds of debris or ash block out the sun and rapidly cool the climate, trillions of trees will die.

Walsh said that although we use wood to grow mushrooms, we can also use dead tree leaves.

“The crushed leaves can be made into a tea to provide missing nutrients like vitamin C or fed to ruminants like cows,” Dinkenberger said.

Dead trees can harbor other life forms such as mice and insects.

Mice can digest cellulose, the sugar that makes up 50% of wood. Therefore, Walsh suggests that whatever remains after the fungus can be fed to rats.

What’s more, mice reproduce quickly and probably don’t need sunlight to do so. It takes just six weeks for a rat to reach sexual maturity and then it takes just 70 days to give birth to seven to nine mice. According to Dunkenberger’s calculations, the whole of humanity will be able to eat rats in two years.

Insects can also supply protein, and many of them can survive a solar disaster.

Walsh wrote: “The same qualities that make insects so numerous and resilient will enable many species to survive the biggest climate-changing existential catastrophe. Beetles can eat dead wood, and humans can eat beetles.”

Already considered a staple food in some parts of the world, insects are gaining popularity in others. Walsh describes an insect food fair in Richmond, Virginia, where he tried a pasta dish with ground cricket meatballs called orzo orzo and fried mealworm larvae.

And Walsh’s book debunks another popular idea about what we eat during the end of the world: cannibalism.

He says it won’t help after a disaster that will put people in danger of extinction because others are simply not a sustainable source of food. Walsh points to a 2017 study in which a group of students calculated how long the human race would survive on cannibalism alone. They found that only one person would survive after 1149 days (about three years).

However, he adds that creating a new agricultural system will require collaborative work. He believes that such cooperation would most likely be a catastrophic scenario.

Walsh writes: “For all our fear of what will happen next, and for all our bleak histories, collapse and strife have not yet brought us catastrophe. That is why Homo sapiens lived at the first opportunity with extinction – the Toba superexplosion – and this is the only way survive the next phase.

Source: Science Alert

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