I just finished reading Alan Weisman’s “The World Without Us” and even if a fraction of a fraction of what he writes is a fraction correct, then we have really screwed up things on this earthly orb.
The book – you can read a bit about it on a website for the book at http://www.worldwithoutus.com/index2.html – came out a couple of years ago and speculates on what would happen if man – and woman, of course – failed to exist any longer. What would happen to the cities – homes, businesses, subways, channels, etc. – we have built if we were no longer here to maintain them or to build more of them or properly dispose of them, as if we do that now.
What would happen to the species we have endangered. What would return. What would not.
What would happen to trees, forests, streams, rivers, river deltas, the ocean if we were no longer here to cut them, redirect them, dam them, pollute them.
What would happen if we – you, me and the billions upon billions of other people on Earth suddenly were no longer here. What would happen.
It is stunning – and I don’t mean in a good way – what we have done to this planet. Simply stunning.
Frankly, I don’t know if Weisman’s science adds up. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a researcher. Heck, the other day I used the word “sciencey” on one of my other blogs. I don’t get science and science doesn’t get me.
But Weisman presents a startling picture of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what would happen if we were no longer here.
I want this to be a better place and I am personally doing what little I can to do more by recycling bottles, cans, newspaper, cardboard. I purchased a set of no-rip nylon bags to use grocery shopping. I limit the trips in my car – an ultra-low emissions car, I might add.
But it is not nearly enough, not by a very, very long shot.
We very probably – not possibly, but probably – screwed things up so very badly that most things will not come back to even nearly where they were before.
In the book’s prelude, Weisman writes:
“Our world, some respected voices warn, could one day degenerate into something resembling a vacant lot, where crows and rats scuttle among weeds, preying on each other. If it comes to that, at what point would things have gone so far that, for all our vaunted superior intelligence, we’re not among the hardy survivors?
“The truth is, we don’t know. Any conjecture gets muddled by our obstinate reluctance to accept that they worst might actually occur. We may be undermined by our survival instincts, honed over eons to help us deny, defy, or ignore catastrophic portents lest they paralyze us with fright.”
That is not cause to lie down, curl into the fetal position and die. Quite the opposite. I think it is a hopeful piece that urges each of us have to try just a little to make a big impact, if not immediately, then in the future.
This is from the book’s jacket or the website. I cannot recall at the moment:
In “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity’s impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth, without us.
In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; what of our everyday stuff may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.
“The World Without Us” reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York’s subways would start eroding the city’s foundations, and how, as the world’s cities crumble, asphalt jungles give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically-treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dalai Lama, and paleontologists – who describe a pre-human world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths – Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.
From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth’s tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman’s narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that doesn’t depend on our demise. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly-readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.
And here is what critics say about the book:
“I plucked this book from the stack of Advanced Readers Copies that flood the store, read the first page, and then read the book straight through exclaiming to anyone who would tolerate me – listen to this, and this, and this!!!!! This book is a thought experiment (what would the world be like if humans disappeared today, raptured up perhaps). A very simple premise that leads this marvelously straightforward, thoughtful, thorough author into parts of the world I hadn’t known existed. As well, he deals with exactly what would go first and last in your house. How long it would take for Manhattan to collapse. On and on. It makes for obsessive reading. This is perhaps my favorite book this year. At once the most harrowing and, oddly, comforting book on the environment that I’ve read in many years.” — Louise Erdrich, author of “Love Medicine” and of National Book Award finalist “The Birchbark House”
[No] “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it story … is more audacious or interesting than Alan Weisman’s ‘The World Without Us.’” — Boston Globe
“I don’t think I’ve read a better non-fiction book this year.” — Lev Grossman, TIME Book Critic
“This is one of the grandest thought experiments of our time, a tremendous feat of imaginative reporting!” — Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” and “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future”
“The imaginative power of ‘The World Without Us’ is compulsive and nearly hypnotic – make sure you have time to be kidnapped into Alan Weisman’s alternative world before you sit down with the book, because you won’t soon return. This is a text that has a chance to change people, and so make a real difference for the planet.” — Charles Wohlforth, author of L.A. Times Book Prize-winning The Whale and the Supercomputer
“A refreshing, and oddly hopeful, look at the fate of the environment.” — BusinessWeek
“Alan Weisman offers us a sketch of where we stand as a species that is both illuminating and terrifying. His tone is conversational and his affection for both Earth and humanity transparent.” — Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams
“Brilliantly creative. An audacious intellectual adventure. His thought experiment is so intellectually fascinating, so oddly playful, that it escapes categorizing and clichés. It sucks us in with a vision of what is, what has been and what is yet to come. The book is addictive … by appealing not just to our fear and guilt but to our love for our planetary home, ‘The World Without Us’ makes saving the world as intimate an act as helping a child. It’s a trumpet call that sounds from the other end of the universe and from inside us all.” — Salon
“Extraordinarily farsighted. A beautiful and passionate jeremiad against deforestation, climate change, and pollution.” — Boston Globe
“An exacting account of the processes by which things fall apart. The scope is breathtaking … the clarity and lyricism of the writing itself left me with repeated gasps of recognition about the human condition. I believe it will be a classic.” — Dennis Covington, author of National Book Award finalist “Salvation on Sand Mountain”
“… [I]n his provocative new book, ‘The World Without Us,’ Alan Weisman adds a dash of fiction to his science to address a despairing problem: the planet’s health.” — U.S. News & World Report
“Grandly entertaining.” — TIME
“Alan Weisman has produced, if not a bible, at least a Book of Revelation.” — Newsweek
“One of the most ambitious ‘thought experiments’ ever.” — The Cincinnati Enquirer
“The book boasts an amazingly imaginative conceit that manages to tap into underlying fears and subtly inspire us to consider our interaction with the planet.” — The Washington Post
“As fascinating as it is surprising.” — BusinessWeek
“Fascinating, mordant, deeply intelligent, and beautifully written, ‘The World Without Us’ depicts the spectacle of humanity’s impact on the planet Earth in tragically poignant terms that go far beyond the dry dictates of science. This is a very important book for a species playing games with its own destiny.” — James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency
“An astonishing mass of reportage that envisions a world suddenly bereft of humans.” — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution