Imagining how the world will exist in a future absent of humans is an interesting, yet difficult task. Yet envisioning that world through the lens of science is exactly what Alan Weisman has accomplished in his utterly captivating and beautifully believable book The World Without Us.
“Look around you, at today’s world. Your house, your city. The surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place, but extract the human beings. Wipe us out, and see what’s left. How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms? Could nature ever obliterate our traces? How would it undo our monumental cities and public works, and reduce our myriad plastics and toxic synthetics back to benign, basic elements? Or are some so unnatural that they’re indestructable?”
Weisman has taken upon himself the daunting task of answering these questions by traversing numerous fields of study, from geologic fossil records to the corrosion of metals, concrete and plastics that are our homes, cities and possessions. He explores past, present and future ecosystems of life on earth from microscopic organisms to our leftover domesticated flora and fauna. Weisman hits on every major aspect of ecological, geographic and cultural subjects within modern debate ranging from the changing composition of earth’s atmosphere and the acidification of the seas to the fate of our abandoned nuclear reactors, their subsequent waste, and the thousands of deteriorating weapons of mass destruction.
Weisman’s book imagines a recovering planet bereft of humans in a way that lacks much of today’s alarmist doom-saying. He wouldn’t deny our destructive humanly habits, although much of his cited evidence points the way to an overall hopeful future for planet earth. Save the psychological oxymoron contained within the title, The World Without Us, the book’s content evokes a strange feeling of bliss imagining a world after our own extinction, a world roaring with the silence of “nature”.
Whether you’ve ever caught yourself wondering how your possessions, your house, and even your city would end up degenerating back into the landscape, or, at the other end of the spectrum, how infinitely far and wide the traces of human existence will travel into interstellar space via radio communications, Alan Weisman’s book is a must read.