What happens next is the subject of a new book,”The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisman,a journalism professor at the University of Arizona and a science writer.
It's an implausible situation,but gives a fresh take on the environmental challenges Earth faces because of human actions.
“If we theoretically wipe people off the earth,we have a much clearer vision of what's here without us,” Weisman said in an interview.
The book has been wildly popular since its July 10 release,reaching No. 6 on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction,and No. 25 on Amazon's top selling books.
In a sea of environment-focused books,Weisman's stands out – it doesn't lecture the reader,doesn't try to impose guilt about the damages the reader may have inflicted upon the world over the years but does paint a picture of hope that the earth will slowly but surely reclaim its lands and seas.
“It's not that most people haven't read about the environment,but it's overwhelming,” Weisman said. “People find it too daunting to understand,too depressing,too scary.”
Weisman said most environmental writing creates a sense of fear in readers that they will one day die because the earth can't sustain them.
“By posing a fantasy at the beginning of the book,with a slight plausibility,I let the reader assume the worst has already happened so you don't have to worry about it but we get to hang around and see what happens next.”
His exploration of those changes is thorough and fascinating. Weisman leads the reader on a tour of the globe,touching every continent but Antarctica,and jumps in time from early man to present day to way,way in the future.
One chapter is devoted to a detailed,step-by-step process of how suburban neighborhoods could become forests and wildlife sanctuaries. A typical house,50 years after humans' mysterious disappearances: the basement and pool are overrun by plants,the house is home to small animals,and pristine bathroom tile and stainless steel flatware peek out from a pile of rubbish and the collapsed roof.
In the book,Weisman describes how plants and animals seem to bounce back faster than humans in areas of the world that have already become unpopulated by humans. Birds appeared at the site of Chernobyl less than a year after it detonated,fields of poppies popped up on hillsides ravaged by fire in Cyprus and rice paddies returned to wetlands in Korea's demilitarized zone,where red crowned cranes now delicately sidestep land mines.
In his fantasy future,the absence of humans in New York will lead to the gradual collapse of skyscrapers. The Statue of Liberty could survive,albeit as an underwater,barnacle-covered relic. The subway system would flood soon after humans disappeared and within 20 years several Manhattan streets could turn into rivers.
Most world landmarks would fall to the ravages of time: the Great Wall of China will shift to become a Great Pile of Rocks,the Panama Canal will fill with silt and the Egyptian pyramids will continue to dissolve. But American presidents will stare out from the side of Mount Rushmore for more than 7 million years.
One of the few chapters in which it seems humanity has trumped nature is called “Polymers are Forever.” Humans' plastic obsession is filling the oceans with plastic in every shape and form,and waves break it up into particles now small enough to be eaten by plankton,attacking the food chain from the bottom up.
“Plastic bags should be outlawed,” Weisman said,talking about the book. “It should be illegal for grocery stores to give away bags.” He also suggested a plastic tax to encourage conservation and said Americans just don't need to use as much plastic.
Though the book doesn't preach the rhetoric of reducing carbon footprints and buying hybrid cars,Weisman hopes readers will be shocked by some of the lasting touches they're leaving on the planet,and will change their behavior to curb the damage.
“I wrote this book so humans beings could look at the world without us in it and think,about how we can be in this world but in a much more balanced relationship with nature,” Weisman said.
Weisman will be touring through November to talk about his book.
Aug. 31-Sept 2
Sept. 17 – 21
University of Minnesota
Nov. 9 and 10