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Friday, August 17th, 2007

Time Event
So very far away -- maybe it's only yesterday ...

It's about time for some long-range planning. If you don't agree, come back in about ten minutes and see if it's time then. I'm thinking of really long term, not like those geology folks who think 1,375 million years is a fair stretch. I mean the really long term.

As you go out long enough, the Sun is going to continue shining. Since the costs of constructing the Sun have been nearly completely amortized by now, replacing the Sun with something providing the same services will have a terrible time being economically justified, and besides, zoning regulations are going to make the necessary falsework for a Sun replacement annoying to construct.

Now the thing about the Sun shining is that all that light falling down exerts pressure on the ground. Light hasn't got any mass, being possessed of low self-esteem as a child when it might have formed some, but it does overcompensate by carrying momentum and when it hits the ground and is absorbed or bounces off it pushes the ground down as surely as hitting it with tennis balls would, only without line judges. This is a lot of a push, but it is there all across the daylight half of the globe.

Imagine the Earth to be made of Play-Doh. This is a metaphor: it is actually made of Silly Putty. But if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can and while enjoying the strange polymer smell roll that into a ball and then set it down, you'll see it doesn't stay a round ball forever. Even before other people in the house take it to build their own projects, the continual pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but we have that time. There's probably billions of years of time you haven't scheduled yet.

Earth isn't sitting inactively on a table, which is good, as the temptation to hit it with a giant pool cue would be nearly irresistible. But while the pressure of sunlight is flattening it, it's also rotating, spinning around on the north-south axis. What this means is we have the same effect of rolling a ball of Play-Doh on the ground: it's going to roll out into a long, thin pole. There's no denying this is a long-term fate, but I warned you about that four hundred words ago. As the rolling effect will continue eventually the Earth with be a pole world, just a few inches wide and enormously long swinging around the solar system like a baton. Imagine the size of the matching cheerleader.

What can we expect life on this Pole World Earth to be like? Narrower is the obvious supposition. There will be obvious evolutionary pressures towards plants with very shallow roots, which means we may at last be free of those impossible-to-remove lawn weeds. It will be difficult for trees to grow tall, but those which manage will find to their photosynthetic delight even a modest spread of their branches lets them gather sunlight all day long, as only a few inches to either there will be some sunlight. While burrowing life forms will find life difficult, those which are comfortable living on vines or branches will be in good shape. Two- and three-fingered sloths may find the climate most comfortable except when someone wants to pass.

Humans will need to adjust as well. Those with long experience in grabbing poles, as they may have on buses or subways, will have an advantage, of course; thus we see large-city mass transit systems as evolutionary pre-adaptations to the future Pole World Earth. Subtle foreknowledge of this fate and the privileged position city-dwellers will have may account for the smugness often held against the urbanized. Yet subways will have long since ceased to run by then, and we can expect the economy to be radically different and generally much more cylindrical. Strong but lightweight straps could reasonably be in demand, but on the other hand people may just grow steeper arches in their feet. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future.

Trivia: Silly Putty was initially marketed by toy store owner Ruth Fallgather and catalogue-maker Paul Hodgson as Nutty Putty. Source: The Genie in the Bottle, Joe Schwarcz. No idea why he changed. If he hadn't, then he could have set up for a nice cross-marketing campaign with Nabisco, and we could see people sold another Nutter Butter Nutty Putty peanut butter candy putter, please.

Currently Reading: The People: No Different Flesh, Zenna Henderson.

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