Culture 6 min read

What if Half of Life in the World Vanished at Once?

PIRO4D / Pixabay

PIRO4D / Pixabay

Thanos did it in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War movie and in the comics before that. Using the Infinity Gauntlet, he snapped half of all lifeforms in the universe out of existence, including those living on Earth.

The consequences of Thanos’ snap and the story’s denouement took another movie, the Endgame, and one last stand for the OG Avengers.

If only Thor has gone for the head.

But let’s scale the idea down and ground it a little bit because there’s more to it than Marvel’s multi-billion one-two punch of films.

Some cataclysmic event of undetermined nature could happen and wipe out half the global population all at once.

Could the remaining half of the human civilization survive after this event?

For starters, we’ll no longer have to deal with global overpopulation, right?

Right After the Decimation: More Decimation

In the Leftovers, both as a novel and HBO TV series, the world deals with a similar predicament, but it lost only 2%, or 140 million people, of the global population. Instead of decimation, they call it the “Sudden Departure” without giving any clues as to how or why it occurred.

In this scenario, the human global civilization will be left on the brink of total collapse after a more massive disappearance event.

As the random mass die-off of 50% of the global population happens instantly, there would be more catastrophic events on a smaller scale that would take out more lives.

At any given time, there are around 10,000 commercial airplanes in the sky over the world, carrying more than 1 million people, and the number doesn’t include all aircraft models.

Because many pilots will be among those who get dusted off, we can assume that hundreds or thousands of planes won’t make it to their destination and will cause devastation spots on the ground. Aircrafts veering into buildings, car crashes, and derailed trains will likely cause the death toll to rise even more right after the event.


Law-enforcement authorities, hospitals, and firefighters will be overwhelmed due to the loss of their personnel.

Then, we’ll have a pretty serious problem on our hands that needs to be addressed quickly: Billions of dead bodies rotting in the open air. The remaining humans will be grieving over the loss of their loved ones and will likely leave their jobs to focus on the cleanup operations in the days following the global catastrophe. The economy will come to a standstill with industries and supply chains breaking because many of the people they rely on and cater to are gone.

On the dark side of potential scenarios, humanity may never come back from this. Governments would fall and those that remain will find a hard time adjusting to a new world.

A form of collective amnesia about our technological past could emerge after the vanishing of many scientists, technicians, and skilled workers. Religious cults zealots would emerge after mainstream religions declined. Warlords could try to take over control of remaining resources with marauding gangs of thieves and bandits, a common trope in dystopian novels.

After the Mass Chaos, Abundance?

If humanity could get itself together quickly and people could set their rivalry spirit aside, there might be a silver lining to this mass tragedy.

You may not believe this, but there was a time where humanity has dealt with a similar situation in the mid-1300s: the Black Death, the plague outbreak across Europe and Asia that peaked in the years 1346 to 1353.

Though a recent study suggests rats to be innocent from spreading the plague bacteria and that humans may be to blame for their own suffering in this case.

According to some estimations, the bubonic plague pandemic killed 50 million people: 60% of Europe’s entire population. Between Asia and Europe, 75 to 200 million lives were lost, and the world population as a whole dropped to 350-375 million.

In medieval Europe, foods that were scarce suddenly became plentiful simply due to there being much less hungry mouths to feed.

Today, around 9 million people die from hunger itself and from its related diseases each year. But as many as 820 million people around the world’s less favorable regions are affected by hunger — in a world where obesity and overnutrition are more prevalent. And there could be also a financial gain from there being less competition over jobs as wages would increase because individuals would charge more for their skills.

Those who are unemployed could fill missing jobs. There’d be no housing crisis as the number of unoccupied houses would rise and costs drop.

The Half-Earth project instigators think that emptying half of the planet would save it and humans and all other creatures within. Rest assured, their concept doesn’t involve eliminating half of the world population.

With 50% fewer people on Earth, the planet will finally find a respite from climate change.

Until our numbers catch up again.

This theoretical global bliss will only be temporarily-lived because it’d be a matter of centuries before we find ourselves back to square one as we overpopulate and overuse the planet again. And this leads us to the gist of our piece: it’s not how many we are as a species that’s the real problem, but our unsustainable way of life and our misuse of the resources available to us.

Even if we are 4 billion less it doesn’t mean there’d be necessary no hungry people in the world. As of this May, there are over 7.7 billion people alive on Earth and counting. The world population was about half of that, 4 billion, in 1974, just 45 years ago. And just like now many, if not most of them, were poor, hungry, and housing-challenged.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, hopefully one that we will never have a real-world example of again. But, it does raise some questions about our way of life and how we use our planet’s resources. Let’s just hope nobody takes inspiration from Thanos’ story any time soon.

Read More: How AI and Clean Energy can Reduce Overpopulation Woes

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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