Book Review: The World Without Us
The World Without Us
“Without us, Earth will abide and endure; without her, however, we could not even be.” (369)
If all of humanity suddenly disappeared, whether it be as a result of an epidemic, nuclear warfare, or sudden rapture via intergalactic lifeforms, how would the Earth continue without us? Would nature revert back to a pre-human state, or have humans pushed the planet to the point of no return? Would something evolve in our place and discover the ruins of a human-dominated planet? Would Earth breathe a sigh of relief, or might humanity be missed?
Alan Weisman addresses these intriguing questions and more in his 2007 book The World Without Us. Ten years later, this book remains relevant as environmental protections are rolled back and National Parks are diminished. Weisman, while not a scientist himself, travels and poses these questions to experts in vastly different fields (e.g. marine biology, microbiology, ecology, civil engineering, industry, philosophy, rocket science, architecture, horticulture, polymer science, archaeology) and weaves their knowledge into a story of an Earth without Homo sapiens.
Weisman looks to the evolutionary history of humans to discuss the fate of the species humans will leave behind. He visits the abandoned city of Varosha in Cyprus, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea, Mayan ruins, Chernobyl, the underground civilization Cappadocia in Turkey, and more. He describes areas that have had very little visitation from humans in recent years, but once saw generations of people and years of development and infrastructure. Weisman uses these as examples to prognosticate about a world where humans suddenly vanished, leaving behind empty buildings, rusty bridges, abandoned appliances, and deep caves. He also connects with engineers working on the Panama Canal, the Texas Petrochemical Plant, the Palo Verde nuclear plant, and the New York City public transit hydraulics team to get insight into how seemingly permanent human developments would fair without any observation and maintenance.
Weisman’s description of the fate of the environment and wildlife without humanity is oddly playful and even hopeful; it has been described as “the very DNA of hope” by The Globe and Mail of Toronto. The World Without Us encourages the reader to imagine the unthinkable and consider the interactions humans have with their planet, especially those that may have everlasting effects. For those who have pondered humanity’s role on our living planet and in our universe, The World Without Us is an incredibly satisfying intellectual adventure.