What would happen to the world if every single human being disappeared right now? How would mother nature respond and will Homo sapien leave a lasting legacy on the earth?
Alan Weisman entertains this grand thought experiment with scientific rigour and beautifully elegant prose in The World Without Us. In a nutshell human extinction, maybe unsurprisingly, will be good for the planet.
“In the day after humans disappear, nature takes over
and immediately begins cleaning house – our houses.”
― Alan Weisman
Throughout the book Alan remarks on the extraordinary resilience of nature. Using examples of abandoned towns around the world, which only a few decades ago were vibrant urban centres, Alan shows how nature will take back what was once its own. The structures and facilities that have become a symbol of urbanisation and economic power will ultimately bow to the power of the life giving substance: water. Water is nature’s ace, able to break up roads, seep into cracks in concrete and create ideal environments for mould and other decomposing organisms. The atmosphere slowly clears up the greenhouse gases we have been unscrupulously emitting since the industrial revolution.
Reading this book, I was struck by how quickly nature responds to the absence of people. Within a few decades to centuries, what was once busy shopping centres and housing estates are now lush forests with a profusion of life. Without the constant stress on habitat and lives many animals on the brink of extinction bounce back. The vibrancy of animal and plant life is a stark contrast to the so called human-induced 6th mass extinction we are in now.
But Homo sapien will not go quietly, in our brief time on the Earth we have created wonders and caused utter destruction of ecosystems. Some of these may not recover at all. Our ancient stone monoliths may yet survive for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Billions of tonnes of plastic will enter into the geological record and mark the time we as a species dominated life on earth with its own geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Some of our far flung satellites, cruising into the vastness of deep space may even survive the destruction of the Earth itself when in 5 billion years our planet is engulfed by the dying embers of the sun.
I cannot recommend this book enough. As one reviewer said, it is like “a slow-motion disaster spectacular and feel-good movie rolled into one”. Maybe if we understand our affects on nature and the planet can we hope to live more in tune with it.
“Without us, Earth will abide and endure;
without her, however, we could not even be.”
― Alan Weisman