Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The World Without Us - Alan Weisman

What would happen if humanity were to depart in one go from the Earth? How would the world manage without us? What would happen to the environment, our cities or fauna and flora?

One of the early sections in this book visits New York city and the team of men who are responsible for the never-ending pumping out of water from under the city, which constantly threatens to fill subways. The author then goes through the surprisingly rapid decline of the city. If you've ever stood in Manhattan gazing along the straight avenues and streets, and were amazed at the scale of construction, then this section will chill you right through. Later in the book, the author desctribes an abandoned seaside town in Cyrpus and it's decline in decrepitude.

A common thread thoughout the book concerns our effect on the environment and how long it would take for the Earth to correct itself if we were to depart. What about the ozone-damaging chemicals we pump out into the atmosphere, or the heavy metals and radioactive materials we dump and store without regard for future generations. The U.S. has silos of chock-full radioactive materials, surrounded by hundreds of warning signs. Due to the fact that human languages can mutate beyond recognition over just a few hundred years, the warning signs had to be desinged to be comprehensible to anyone who came across them. The author visits oil-refining facilities in Texas to examine what would happen there should humans suddenly stop running these facilities. A trip to Chernobyl is used to illustrate what could happen in the aftermath of a nuclear containment failure.

By examining the rise of humanity from the depths of Africa, the author looks for the most suitable candidate to suceed us once we depart. The sudden departure of megafauna from the Earth is examined and is attributed to the increasing ability of Homo Sapiens to hunt. From a research facility in England, we learn how farmland will handle the fertilisers and chemicals we have left behind, and how eventually, trees will once again cover the land.

The author has gathered together so many areas of science in this book. However, due to skillful mixing of the strands, we never suffer from fatigue. He admits that the sudden departure of humans from the planet is fantasy, but the science and research he has gathered is rock-solid, and often chilling. Weisman portrays the sheer disregard humanity has for its home and its other inhabitants, yet his book also reveals the immense capacity of the Earth to heal itself. This book lingers in the mind long after you have finished reading it.

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