Sloan: Earth history facts not so trivial

My book-of-the-month summary for May is Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”

Wendel Sloan

Wendel Sloan

Its 544 pages cover everything from the Big Bang to civilization’s rise.

Here are some highlights:
• Pluto is barely one-fifty-thousandth of the way to the edge of the solar system.

• Of Earth’s space by volume, 99.5 percent is off limits for human survival.

• Humans are 99 percent oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus.
We each have probably a billion atoms once belonging to Shakespeare.

• Despite leaded gasoline being banned in 1986, each U.S. citizen today has 625 times more lead than a century ago.

• In 1993, a comet fragment struck Jupiter with a force 75 times greater than all nuclear weapons in existence.

• We have evolved no tolerance for man-made elements (example: plutonium). Earth seems miraculously accommodating to us because we have evolved to suit its conditions.

• Because we are inclined to believe life has a purpose, it is difficult to accept we are not the culmination of anything. Life just is. The impulse of 1,000-year-old lichens on rocks to exist is as strong as ours. They will suffer any hardship for a moment’s additional existence.

• The water you drink has been around for 3.8 billion years. Ninety-seven percent of water is in oceans. Only .036 percent of water is drinkable.

• Almost everyone you encounter is a distant relative. Your existence is the product of innumerable couplings of related people throughout history.

• You have 6 feet of DNA in each cell, and trillions of cells.

• Humans are 98.4 percent genetically indistinguishable from modern chimpanzees. There is more difference between a dolphin and porpoise.

• Partly because of human hunters, only four large land animals survive: elephants, rhinos, hippos and giraffes — the fewest in millions of years.

• Human activity causes up to 1,000 plant and animal extinctions per week.

• Behaviorally modern humans have existed for only 0.0001 percent of Earth’s history.

Contact Wendel Sloan at