Sunday, October 21, 2007

The World Without Us

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
~Joni Mitchell(Big Yellow Taxi)

When I was a child I believed that pavement was permanent—that once that piece of earth was covered, it would never be seen again. Now that I’ve read Alan Weisman’s book, The World Without Us, I know that at least some of the things we do to the earth are not permanent.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. ~Yeats (The Second Coming)

Weisman asks the question—What would happen if humans suddenly disappeared everywhere?—then “lets us view our Earth’s current myriad stresses from the disarming vantage of a fantasy in which we supposedly no longer exist, yet somehow we get to watch what happens next.” (p. 277). He shows us what would eventually happen to our homes, our cities, domestic and wild animals, farmlands, the great wonders of the world, the places where we have scarred the face of the earth, our art, our music, and even our radio transmissions.

While reading about what the world be like without humans, I learned about a great number of subjects along the way:
-Rothamsted Research in England, where agricultural research has continued for over a hundred years
-The legacy of our dependence on plastics and petrochemicals
-The Mannahatta Project, which aims to “reconstruct the ecology of Manhattan when Henry Hudson first sailed by in 1609 and compare it to what we know of the island today.”
-The building of the Panama Canal; and the underground cities of Cappodicia in Turkey
-The invention of chemical fertilizers, elephant research, gene splicing—my personal list of things I learned about goes on and on.

Here are a few statements from the book that might interest you:
· Plastic debris may be “the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans” p.125
· 200 bacteria species call our bodies home
· Every four days the human population of the world rises by one million
· It has been estimated that humanity’s current total biomass wouldn’t fill the Grand Canyon

For animated sequences showing what would happen to a house and to New York City without the existence of humans, see the World Without Us web site at

To hear a National Public Radio interview with Weisman that includes call-in questions from radio listeners, go to "Imagining a World Without Humans" on Talk of the Nation with Ira Flatow, Sept. 7, 2007 at


Sony said...

Hey Z--

I've heard of this book. Thanks for reminding me about it... I really want to read it... sounds very interesting!

clairz said...

It was way beyond interesting to me. I'll probably never look at the world the same way again. This is probably my favorite book so far this year, along with the Kingsolver book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

What I Didn't Say... said...

This book was mentioned on and I was immediately interested. Selfishly, my reluctance in Saving the Planet has always come down to cost and convenience...but that may be changing...
Thanks for your writing about the book!

clairz said...

Dear what...
Thanks for reading. I just have to ask--how did you happen to come across my blog?

clairz said...
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