So Australia’s looking like they’re committed to not asking me to prime ministrate for them. Fine, all right. It’s time for some long-term planning. If you don’t agree it’s time for that, come back in ten minutes and see if it’s time then. If that still doesn’t work, come back in 1,425 years and then we’ll see who’s saying what. No, that’s not me tricking you into long-term planning. I’m thinking of something that’s really long term. Like, longer even than 1,430 years.
If we keep looking forward we find the Sun’s going to keep shining. This just makes sense. The costs of constructing the Sun have been nearly completely amortized. Replacing it with something else that would provide the same services would be fiscally irresponsible. Just complying with the changes in zoning regulations would make the whole project economically dubious. If you disagree I can put you in touch with the Comptroller, but do be warned, he’s a hugger.
The thing about the Sun shining that’s relevant here is that it puts out all sorts of light. A bit of it presses down on our ground. The rest goes off somewhere, we don’t know where. It’s probably harmless. But while light doesn’t have mass, it does carry momentum, as it had the idea that this would make it more popular in middle school. This worked as well as every plan to be more popular in middle school. Nevertheless, when light hits the surface of the Earth, it delivers this momentum, pushing down on the planet just like tennis balls hitting the ground would, only without the benefit of line judges.
Imagine the Earth were made of Play-Doh. This is a simplification for the purpose of planning. It’s really made of a Silly Putty alloy. Nevertheless, if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you’ll quickly get distracted by that weird not-exactly-polymer smell. Push past that, though. Roll the thing into a ball and set it on a table. It doesn’t stay round forever. The pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but that’s all right. You can let this run for billions of years, if that’s what it takes. You don’t have plans that far out, even though you somehow don’t have the time to do anything either.
The Earth isn’t just sitting on a table, which is a relief, since it would probably leave a stain on the tablecloth. But the pressure of that sunlight has a similar effect, except for going the opposite way. As the sunlight presses on the Earth, the planet’s also rotating, which implies we’ll eventually have the planet rolled out into a long and skinny pole, several inches wide and unspeakably long. It’s astounding enough to think of it twirling around the solar system like an enormous baton. But imagine the size of the matching cheerleaders and marching band. All Jupiter would barely be enough material to make the tuba.
What can we expect for life on this Pole World to be like? The obvious supposition is that it will serve very well the descendants of modern large cities. People who’ve gotten very used to standing on crowded buses and subway cars would be great at clinging to a pole for stability. This is too facile an analysis. It overlooks that, obviously, subway service will have stopped long before the Earth becomes a rod only a couple inches across. Bus service can continue a bit longer after subways become impossible, of course. But even that will have to end no later than when the Earth is a cylinder at most ten feet in diameter.
Without subway or bus service most large-city commuting will be impossible. This will require a major restructuring of the economy. But given how much demand there’s likely to be for hooks or straps that could catch onto the Pole World, for stability, this restructuring was probably going to happen anyway.
It’ll also be tough for burrowing animals. But they’ll evolve adjustments to these changes gradually. This means we will most likely not get a great moment where a groundhog shuffles off, confident it’s going to get away from whatever is annoying it, and starts digging, and then accidentally pops out the other side of the planet and looks stymied and confused. Reality does have a way of spoiling the cool stuff like that. But animals that cling to branches or vines seem set to do well. Two- and three-toed sloths may find the geography extremely comfortable except when someone’s trying to pass.
But who really knows? As the city-dwellers example shows, the full reality of something can have weird and counter-intuitive results. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future. Well, we can check back in a couple dozen gabillion years and see how it’s all turned out.