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But do not worry about the life of the earth itself. No extinction, no matter how huge the territory involved or how violent the damage, can possibly bring the earth’s life to an end. Even if we were to superimpose on the more or less natural events now calculated to be heading toward a mass extinction the added violence and radioactivity of a full-scale, general nuclear war, we could never kill off everything. We might reduce the numbers of species of multicellular animals and higher plants to a mere handful, but the bacteria and their resident viruses would still be there, perhaps in greater abundance than ever because of the expanding ecosystems created for them by so much death. The planet would be back where things stood a billion years ago, with no way of predicting the future course of evolution beyond the high probability that, given the random nature of evolution, nothing quite like us would ever turn up again.
Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species (1992)