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What Would Happen If You Were the Last Person on Earth?

James' main interests are birding (though he enjoys watching all wildlife) and writing.

The inhuman silence would certainly be a shock to our survivor.

The inhuman silence would certainly be a shock to our survivor.

The Last Person on Earth

At some point in our lives, a thought, equally terrifying and fascinating, has crossed our minds: What if I was the last person on Earth? What would it be like?

Of course, logically speaking, the chances of the entire human species, bar one, disappearing entirely over a short space of time is practically zero, unless of course Earth were ever visited again by one of those giant celestial bodies that befell the dinosaurs. If anyone was ever unfortunate enough to gain the mantle of the last person on Earth, it would probably come about as a result of decades, or maybe a century or more, of continuous and steady population decline.

In this article, I want to try to examine not how a person would end up in this situation, but what they would have to do next. Could they find enough to eat and drink? Could they find enough shelter? Most importantly of all, could they tolerate eternal solitude?

An Apocalyptic Scenario?

Let’s imagine that as per normal our person goes to bed at around 10:30 pm, after a long hard day at work. They fully expect to wake tomorrow to the sounds that have greeted them virtually every morning of their life: in particular, the sound of human voices, whether it be the TV, radio or the people they share their house with. Tomorrow will be just another normal day, right? During the night, however, as our little thought experiment commences, every single other person disappears, leaving them totally alone.

The next morning arrives, and they end up waking up late; both their radio and alarm clock has failed to rouse them. Moreover, their customary glance out of the window alerts them to the fact that there is something not quite right. The only sounds they can hear are the gentle rustling of the wind, birdsong from the trees, and maybe a dog barking hereabouts. Their mind quickly registers the absence of ever-present sounds such as the hum of traffic, and the roar of jets coming into land at the nearby airport.

As the day wears on, the stunning reality of being totally alone begins to hit home. They’ve inherited a tainted paradise, a world in which they are King or even God, they can do whatever they want, but they’re a King without a Kingdom, it takes subjects to make a Kingdom.

What happens next, very much depends on the person's personality, if they are of the rugged, individualist mould, they make welcome, perhaps even relish the chance to remake the world in a way they see fit. But we’re in danger of sliding further into the realms of fantasy, so what is the reality? How long would the average, run-of-the-mill person survive alone on the planet?

For the last person on earth, this presents the cleanest, purest water available to them.

For the last person on earth, this presents the cleanest, purest water available to them.

Coming to Terms

Initially, of course, the person would have to come to terms with the total shock and grief of losing loved ones and also the sheer bewilderment of it all. But how would quickly would a 21st Century westerner be able to adapt to a world, where they are responsible for all aspects of their survival.

Survival and Bushcraft experts always talk about three simple basic necessities- water, food and shelter. Finding shelter would be simple; the person would have a wealth of empty buildings to choose from. On average, a human can survive six weeks without any food, but barely a couple of days without water. With everybody else gone, there’s no more electricity, no more maintenance. As a result, pumping stations and treatment works plants that help supply water to our homes would quickly stop working. Our survivor would be able to gain access to considerable amounts of water stored in domestic tanks, but the window of opportunity would be brief, as the water would turn stagnant pretty quickly.

As a matter of fact, our survivor, instead of simply being able to drink freely from any fresh source, would probably have to resort to one of the ultimate symbols of 21st Century decadence, bottled water. If they managed to break into a supermarket, then they could easily utilise thousands of litres of purified water sealed tightly in storage containers in the warehouse. In addition to preserved water, they could gather preserved food; the best option would be to harvest tinned food, some of which can remain perfectly edible for decades. However, fresh food would very quickly disappear from the meal, as most such as fruit and vegetables would begin to spoil within a day or two without preservation. With nothing to power the refrigerators, the same fate will befall frozen foods, in more or the less the same sort of timescale. If our survivor ever wanted to once again savour the taste of fresh food, then they would have to learn how to either grow or gather crops, and also how to fish and hunt. The hunting, in particular, would be a tall order for our survivor, because they would have to track the animal, kill it, and then butcher it properly before finally getting the chance to taste the meat.

Learning New Skills

So, if our survivor wanted to learn how to live off the land, how would they go about it? There are plenty of places that stock fishing rods and other equipment, so obtaining fish would be simple in one way, but of course, catching a fish is more than just casting a tackle into a body of water. It’s about knowing where the best places are? How not to disturb the fish? And which species are the best to catch? With hunting the principles are similar, our survivor would need a good weapon such as a rifle or shotgun, but of course, ammo would be in limited supply, and they would find it near enough impossible to make more; so, somewhere down the line our survivor would need to learn the art of bow making and also honing their marksmanship skills with a spear.

Even, if a survivor were able to obtain these crucial items, they would also need to learn the habits and behaviour of game, the way that their scent and the direction of the wind are interlinked, and the way it can either help or hinder them. They would also need to learn the different tracks and signs left behind by animals to aid with hunting.

In reality, unless they were a truly exceptional individual, it would take years just to learn, let alone master these skills. Our survivor would have to rely solely on the information contained in books. While literature can be very useful, certain practical skills require that you witness somebody else performing the task beforehand, so you can then copy, and then learn by rote. Sadly books cannot replicate this important step in the learning process.

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Read More From Skyaboveus

Earth Without Humans

In time, even iconic cities such as Berlin will gradually revert to wilderness.

In time, even iconic cities such as Berlin will gradually revert to wilderness.

London will revert back to the marshland it was when the Romans first settled the area.

London will revert back to the marshland it was when the Romans first settled the area.

Escaped tigers will prowl across a newly wild Washington DC

Escaped tigers will prowl across a newly wild Washington DC

A white rhino attempting to graze in the ruins of New York City

A white rhino attempting to graze in the ruins of New York City

The Harrods store in London becomes flooded after the Thames defences fail, causing it to burst its banks.

The Harrods store in London becomes flooded after the Thames defences fail, causing it to burst its banks.

This lion has resorted to foraging in people's gardens.

This lion has resorted to foraging in people's gardens.

Future Considerations

While our survivor adapts to a new world, time continues to tick by blindly as it’s done without interruption for an eternity. For our survivor, weeks will soon transform into months, and months into years. Looking at their survival over this sort of timescale, means delving further and further into the world of speculation; but one thing we can be certain of is that in the long term the cities will become dangerous places to live.

Almost immediately the works of humanity will begin to crumble. There are some buildings of course that will stand the test of time for centuries, maybe even millennia. We know this, because of startling manmade beauties such as the Pyramids, Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China that will age like mountains. Among our more modern beauties that will endure into geological time will be Mount Rushmore, those famous presidential faces will still be recognisable perhaps in millions of years' time, providing there is anything around to recognise them.

However, very few of our buildings are truly built to last. Without regular and careful maintenance, most of our buildings will fall victims to periodic attacks of rain, frost and heat. Indeed, many of our family homes that seem so secure, would be reduced to mere rubble in as little as thirty years. Roofs would lose their tiles; the walls would absorb moisture, resulting in damp and mouldy patches appearing everywhere. The woodwork would rot, and vegetation would blow in, through open windows and force its way through concrete and asphalt. In a few decades, the onslaught of vegetation would literally suffocate the house. An equally significant threat would be fire, all it would take is a single lightning strike, and without a fire service to stop it, a small house fire could transform into a city-wide inferno.

The countryside wouldn’t be without peril either. Over time, the depletion of livestock and crops would make food harder to find, thus paradoxically our survivor would be compelled to venture into dangerous, crumbling cities in order to get what they need. Some areas of the countryside would be best avoided altogether. Don’t forget that the world is now home to over 400 nuclear power plants, while many have automated systems in place to avoid meltdowns in the absence of humans. There is still the danger of spent fuel, without people to keep the fuel cool in massive pools, the temperature would increase rapidly, causing a rolling blanket of explosions all around the world, spewing radiation out far and wide. Each explosion would be the equivalent of a Chornobyl, which would mean that certain areas of the planet would be no go areas for maybe a decade, but what Chornobyl has taught us, is that eventually, the environment would recover; nature is more resilient than we think.

Hygiene would be both a short and long term issue for our survivor, as already mentioned most fresh water would be unsuitable. Remember that sewage pumping stations around the world help to ensure that by and large our rivers and lakes are kept free of waste. But without the human element, these vital sources would quickly become too polluted for bathing, and crucially for drinking. Any water collected would need to be purified for drinking. Another important consideration is clothes, washing clothes without modern machines would be a back breaking chore, so it would probably be best if they simply make forays into abandoned department stores and swipe whatever clothes they could find.

General health would be another major concern, while the chance of catching an infectious disease would be practically zero, a simple cut, sprain or accident could prove fatal if our survivor fails to take steps to train themselves up medically. Then there’s transport to factor in, initially, the world would be their oyster, but as the roads become progressively clogged with weeds, only the most rugged of vehicles would be able to traverse them. In as little as 20 years, the roads would be inaccessible to even the most practical off-road vehicle. In 50 years, trees would be growing out of the crumbling asphalt which were once Motorways.

Ultimately a canine companion may not be enough to keep our survivor sane.

Ultimately a canine companion may not be enough to keep our survivor sane.

Alone in a New World

The challenges presented above are daunting to say the least, but our survivor would have no shortage of help, in the form of millions of books stored in bookshops and libraries. If they look hard enough they could find the suitable literature to help them with almost every problem. For our survivor, life would be tough and at times brutish, but provided they kept their wits about them, and stayed out of trouble, our survivor could lead a comfortable life, maybe even a luxurious life if they so choose.

They may find the changes occurring in the natural world fascinating, namely the gradual erosion of domestic plants and animals, mostly unfit to survive without humans; although some would live on, albeit after going through a rewilding process, e.g. dogs crossbreeding with wolves, and gradually merging themselves into the wolf gene pool. For our survivor the world would be their playground, they could go anywhere, perhaps raiding museums and art galleries in order to obtain the finest works of art known to man, they could drive the best cars ever made, and wear the coolest clothes.

But as the years drift by, these pleasures would pale into insignificance, as it would gradually dawn on our survivor that their biggest challenge wasn’t simply to keep themselves alive, but to keep themselves sane. The truth of the matter is that humans are not solitary creatures. We evolved to live in tribes; it’s likely that our survivor would swap all of their material luxuries for just one single human companion. They could keep a dog, but man’s best friend can only do so much, from time to time they would need to talk to another human, to share triumphs, to express grievances, to take comfort in the one thing that another human being can offer that no dog could, empathy. While life for our survivor would be fun for a while, the lack of human company would almost certainly result in them descending into madness. Hopefully, this terrifying fate will never happen to anybody.

Could You Survive?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 James Kenny


Caveman Kari on January 21, 2020:

A really delightful and enjoyable article!

You've got a creative mind, nice!

Imagine after a few years of living alone you hear a knock on the door! What would you do?

Here are my thoughts on 'What if you were the last person on earth?' Hope you enjoy them!


SuPeR pOoPeR on May 16, 2018:

You guys are kinda avoiding the fact that if you were the last person on earth and you lived in the U.S that the nucler power plants would eventually start leaking radiation because no one is maintaining it so then you would have to move to a different country so be careful on that!!

poop on January 24, 2018:

You could easily travel from super market to super market getting food water guns and ammo in quantities you could never run out of. eventually the roads would decay and shit would start to fall apart, but if you made it to a pretty densely civilized area, you would be good. shit, theres like 4 walmarts in a 10 mile radius of where i live. thats literally probably enough supplies for 10 years, if not more. not to mention peoples houses, police stations, military bases, all these treasure troves of rations and supplies that were once unavailable, are now yours. The only thing to survive is yourself at that point. The loneliness, grief, solitude. I imagine your head would get very loud and you would lose touch with reality. Depending on how old you are. But then again ive always wanted to be able to snoop through everyones shit and learn about their lives and do what ever I want. I think I could hack it.

thatgrrl on January 03, 2018:

I'd travel. Find a way to run a big ship alone and then cross the ocean to see all the places I can't afford to go now. If I die along the way, that's ok. There won't be anyone left to feel bad about it.

ralph on March 31, 2017:

I wish I could be so fortunate! I volunteer for the spot! I used to live in an extremely remote area and miss it immensely. People are just noise.

Tamara Wilhite from Fort Worth, Texas on July 14, 2016:

Long term, you'd want to move somewhere with food production you could maintain long term on your own. For example, an Amish or Mennonite farm that doesn't require gas or electricity to run. One that focuses on fruit and nuts versus grain is an option.

Alternatively, moving in to a Mormon food storehouse is an option. Freeze dried food stored up for the needs of its community for weeks - and you're one person. Or find a homestead/home of a large Mormon family that followed the tenet of a year's worth of food for each person and had ten family members - then you have supplies for ten years and a property likely designed to run off the grid for years.

David from UK on April 18, 2015:

I'm glad you mentioned water becoming too polluted for bathing. It's something that is never addressed in film or TV but is something I think is extremely relevant. You would struggle to catch food because animals - with their keen sense of smell - would detect you much easier because your natural body odor would be greater.

MP on December 04, 2014:

Yes, I could survive, but without the possibility of having children carry on after me I'd likely take stupid risks and get myself killed.

Now, if I were one of a few, then I could thrive.

Andrew Crawley from Earth on December 12, 2013:


James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on December 11, 2013:

Well, how you could do that if you were the last person on Earth?

Andrew Crawley from Earth on December 11, 2013:

Wouldn't you need to repopulate to survive?

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 09, 2012:

Wow Maggs, you've given this a lot of thought. I've also allowed myself the odd flight of fancy, and I always imagine myself raiding supermarkets for food, then an outdoors shop for practical items like a knife etc. I would probably try and get my hands on a gun too just for protection. Eventually I end up in a place like the New Forest just living off the land (after a lot of learning of course). It sounds like bliss, but it'd be a hard life, and also even though I'm not the most social person in the world, I'd probably end up going mad; although if I find a dog then maybe I'll hang on. Thanks very much for popping by.

maggs224 from Sunny Spain on August 09, 2012:

When I was much younger I loved the end of the world type stories in which there were only a small number of survivors. In my head of course I was always one of those that were going to survive and thrive.

Now I am in the group that the good guys would have to rescue and then they would have to risk life and limb foraging for my blood pressure medication lol....

Looked at from this end it doesn't seem inviting at all. It would be bizarre if I some how managed to be the last one left alive when all the fit young things had not.

In such a strange situation, I think my first move would be onto a live aboard Narrow boat or wide beamed Dutch barge and I would search the marinas until I found one fitted out with all the 12 volt items that I wanted.

I have often spent more than a month on a narrow boat they have large water tanks and alongside many canals are supermarkets that are easy to access so restocking my tank with the bottled water would be fairly straight forward to do.

As I exhausted the supplies in the supermarket I would move on to the next one that I could reach easily.

But first I am going to have to figure out how to get back to England from Spain and by the time I have figured out a way to do that, I would have most likely popped my clogs from eating all that junk food that so invitingly called to me from the supermarket shelves lol....

I enjoyed reading your hub voting up :D

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 13, 2012:

Cheers Steve, I wouldn't want the mantle either, even though I'm not a great one for crowds. I definitely wouldn't want to live the rest of my life without seeing another person.

Steve Wright from Norwich, England on May 13, 2012:

This is a brilliant hub, and you are right at some point this thought crosses everyone's mind. I am quite sure though that 99% of people do not take into consideration all(or probably any) of the points you raise here, and if it did happen their fantasy would soon turn into a nightmare! I myself would not like the mantle of being the last human being alive, but at least if it does happen I know now what to do! Thanks for sharing!

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 07, 2012:

Maybe, I think its one of those things we'll never truly know for sure until we're thrust in just such a situation.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 07, 2012:

Very true Vin, some areas would recover faster than others. Then again, look how quickly the area around Chrenobyl recovered after such a horrific disaster.

Vin Chauhun from Durban on May 07, 2012:

i could hold out longer than most before I go stark raving nutters

Vin Chauhun from Durban on May 07, 2012:

nature would recover but how much depends on what state humans left it in before they did away with themselves :)

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 07, 2012:

Yep, I used to think that, but the novelty of being able to do whatever I want would soon wear off. Mostly because I'd have no one to share it with, plus the thought of going insane disturbs me. Although, I can't help but be fascinated with how nature would recover, maybe recording that would help preserve my sanity.

Vin Chauhun from Durban on May 07, 2012:

oh good god that would be a paradise for me. hell , there ain't way I'd get bored, all the voices in my head would be having a blast[hopefully they won't end up killing each and other, then I'll really be trouble]

I can basically do what ever i want!!!!!. There would be major drawback would be food, i will have to ditch my vegetarianism and learn to guzzle down chunky morsels of Bamby....and i would have competition from the big kitty cats too. I can run around naked and not anyone except the animals.

secondly....this is a sensitive subject, no female companion, unless there are some pretty gentle female chimps[but i could end up with a broken back just from hugging me]

.....and back to the hunting part, i could end up looking Big Kitty Cat straight in the you can see on my photo I'm shortsighted, i might see big feline when its too late .....

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 05, 2012:

You're right, the whole point of life would disappear. All of your goals and dreams would vanish. Like you, I would probably need to be in a warm climate, and have plenty of literature at hand.

AnimalWrites from Planet Earth on May 05, 2012:

I think that the biggest consideration would be the psychological one - would you actually want to survive if you were the only person left? What would be the point? I think that the only thing that would keep you going would be the belief that one day you would find another living person. Personally, if it ever happens to me I hope that it is when I'm on holiday in a warmer country and near to a large library!

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 04, 2012:

Thanks Anna, its one of those things that both frighten and fascinate people. But I think if it ever did happen; survival would be extremely difficult. Imagine if you picked up even a minor injury, that would be the end.

Ann Carr from SW England on May 04, 2012:

Very interesting! Fortunately it probably wouldn't happen but something near to it could; huge disaster which affected large chunks of the world's population. Perish the thought! I would hope I could manage but I don't know how brave I really am, though they do say that necessity is the mother of invention. Lots of thought-provoking premises here. Entertaining and a brill idea for a hub. Voted up and interesting.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 03, 2012:

Thank you Sharon. I couldn't have put it better myself. There was a time when I use to dream of a life of solitude, but not any more. I've got a good life, and have made some wonderful friends recently. Thank you very much Sharon :)

Chris from India on May 03, 2012:

I'll definitely never make it, basic physical essentials may be water, food and shelter but even if heavenly manna were to fall from heavens and fresh water run free and abundantly without the slightest effort... I could not make a day without loved ones or friends... who can I share my joys and sorrows with... who can comfort me... how can I feel happy... ever action requires an equal and opposite reaction and of course humans require a smile for a smile, a shoulder to cry on and healthy competition and acceptance from your community.... even animals move together.. how much more humans require society... we who have six senses, who can feel and respond... its absolutely impossible but was so interesting and vivid. So fantasic, voted up, awesome and interesting, dunno how you come up with these ideas. Good morning and thanks for an amazing hub! :)

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 03, 2012:

Thanks Christy, it was actually 'I am Legend' that inspired this Hub. I'd watched it the previous night, and it sparked the imagination. Thanks for popping by, always appreciated.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on May 03, 2012:

Great topic! Funny when I first started reading I thought of the will smith movie and there the photo was waiting for me at the end! I like that you look at a 'what if' that we have all asked ourselves.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 02, 2012:

Thanks for popping by geegee, really glad you liked it, and thanks for the follow too :)

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 02, 2012:

Hi Suzette, like you I've thought about it, and my conclusion is that whatever happens, I'd rather live, even if it meant going stir crazy. Then again, being totally insane, I'd probably end up killing myself.

geegee77 from The Lone Star State!! on May 02, 2012:

Pretty good hub something to definitely think about I liked it:) ge

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on May 02, 2012:

A very interesting premise. I, for one, would not want to be the last person to survive. I think that permanent solitude would be horrible. I'd rather go with the rest of them. This is really food for thought.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 02, 2012:

Thanks Ruchira, indeed boredom and lack of social stimulation would be our biggest challenge. While many of us crave solitude from time to time, even the most introverted of our species, need some human interaction. Thanks for the visit and the vote.

Ruchira from United States on May 02, 2012:

Interesting topic to hub upon and well written indeed covering all the important aspects for man's survival.

unfortunately, man is a social animal and who ever survived; will not sustain for long 'cause of boredom, solitude etc.

voted up indeed with interesting button.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 02, 2012:

Hi Diana, yeah it seems like that would be the best way to go. but you'd probably end up killing yourself (which may not be a bad thing in that sort of world). Thanks for popping by.

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on May 02, 2012:

This is certainly something to think about. I agree with Christopher.Crazy would be the way to coupe with such chaos. Good hub.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 02, 2012:

Yeah, Will Smith seemed to lead a decent life in that film. You could steal mannequins and pretend to have 'housemates' or something similar. Thanks for popping by Penny.

James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on May 02, 2012:

Hi Christopher, yeah maybe you're right. Perhaps you could do what Tom Hanks did in Castaway, draw a face on a football, and just talk to that all day. Thanks for popping by, always appreciated.

PennyCarey from Felton on May 02, 2012:

I would acquire a dvd player, T.V. and tons of dvd's lol. Then I would find a dog or something... Kind of like the movie "I Am Legend."

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on May 02, 2012:

Oddly enough. The best thing that could happen a person in that situation would be that they would go totally insane. It probably would be the best way to cope with the loneliness.

I would recommend getting an old wind up gramophone and loads of 78" recordings. Listening to other human voices would help to keep the lone survivor sane.

Thanks for another great hub.

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