Journalist Weisman offers an original approach to questions of humanity's impact on the planet. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders, and paleontologists, he illustrates what the planet might be like today if humans disappeared. He explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; which everyday items may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that needn't depend on our demise.--From publisher description.
You might be saying, "Everyone else has said how riveting and breathtaking it is. They say it has a chance to change people and it will be a classic - so explain your low review." OK, fine.
Mr. Weisman spends more of his time explaining evolution than he does explaining what will come of Earth should we leave it. He does get around to "the world without us" but when he does, it comes across as almost an afterthought. He spends three-quarters of a chapter talking about the study of apes by researchers in Africa and then 5 pages on what that means should humans disappear from NYC. He spends three-quarters of a chapter describing how foreign plant species made it to the U.S. and then 7 pages talking about how the battle would play out between those species and the native plants in Central Park should we vanish.
In other words, the book is more about how we got to this point (i.e. Earth & man's evolution) than "The World Without Us". That aspect of it comes across as secondary. I felt a more appropriate title might have been, "The World as a Result of Us". I recognize the importance to support your argument. I'll freely admit that had he done nothing but say, "this would happen, and this would happen, and so would this" with no supporting evidence, I'd be writing an equally disappointing review. However, this is a brave book to attempt and I felt like he just didn't get there. I also found the attempt at going back and forth between the past (how we got here) and the future (after we're gone) to be disjointed. It didn't flow well for me. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it just never hooked me. It got to the point that reading it became somewhat tedious. While the evolutionary background was interesting, I kept thinking "get to the point".
I'm a fan of McKibben (who has a quote featured on the front of the book) and I really liked the concept here. It just never quite did it for me. Maybe it will for you. Apparently most people love it.
The author has taken what was originally an essay, and expanded it into a book. It is a dissertaion on how we have changed the world around us, and how permanent, or not, those changes are. In some cases, such as the Green line between the
The information about the struggle of New York to stay as it is - the pumps removing the underground rivers, the park service removing seedlings, and the squirrels stealing all the seeds from the forest remnant there. Those parts are encouraging.
But the description of the effect of plastic on the ocean life is very depressing. Plastic became a force of nature after WWII, but nature has not figured out what to do with it. It is eaten by most sea creatures, and if they are lucky, they excrete it. If not, it lodges in their gut, causing a fatal constipation. That is discouraging.
It is hard to read the book in one sitting. The scenarios are supported by examples, but rarely statistics (making it more readable than "An Inconvenient Truth"). It has only touched on Climate Change, so far. The encouraging thing is that he talks of people who are studying the problems, and looking for solutions.
For a book that relies on a pretty big "what if" question, Weisman's postulations are largely grounded in small-scale occurrences both current and past. In this, the book manages to weave a tale of both hope and peril for what man's departure might mean for everything from nature to buildings to the arts to the oceans and everything in between. Just know that the cats are already serial killers.
That's not to say simple can't be excellent, but with how World... presents its info, it feels like Weisman did the bare minimum amount of research--as if his only source was a single introductory class or textbook filtered through a writer's whimsy. E.g., he shies away from referencing original research, and instead frequently mentions news articles inaccurately referencing original research as his sources. E.g., he references a number of outdated terms or ideas, such as continental drift or, positively, "The cure for pollution is dilution." (Ouch....)
World... is an alright book, but there are certainly better-written alternatives out there that cover all the same material and more. And, as a science journalist with as big an audience as he has, Weisman really shouldn't be skimping out on his homework.
That said, it's really not too bad if you're in need of an introduction to these environmental topics.
Though an agenda is clear in the writing, Wiesman doesn't belabor the issue or beat you over the head with the "consequences of our actions" but rather paints an
With a easily readable style and pace, the book reads at times like non-fiction Sci-Fi and caters to a broad audience. Personally, I found the book equal parts entertainment and enlightenment as I imagined the future that is painted by the author.
As to the "accuracy" of his extrapolations, I will leave that to more learned readers to decide; however, his scenarios appear plausible and based on some degree of research.
At first, I was a little resistant to the authors tone in the first couple chapters. He came across very sure of himself and even a little condescending. He sings the glories of misquoto abundance after humans stop spraying pesticide and quotes E.O Wilson on the same page, yet E.O. Wilson has explicity stated before that he would love to see misquotos go extinct. After a few chapters though, I began to settle into Weisman's style and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of subjects that he adeptly cruises through with intelligence and wit. Geology, History, Politics, Engineering, Biology, Ornithology are all hit upon. It was also impressive the number of places that Weisman visited in order to write the book: North Korean, Houston, Panama Canal, Poland, New York, ect. Even if Weisman had a particular environmentalist bent, he was doing his homework and siting his sources rigorously.
The most unsettling parts of this book for me, albiet well written, were the sections on plastic. The fact that this relatively recent invention has become so pervasive is not something necessarily new to me, but the extent to which it is explained here in this book was concerning. These particles of plastic just keep breaking down into smaller and smaller parts where smaller and smaller creatures eat them. That and they are predicted to be stable for the next 20,000 years is hard to even think about. The uncertianty about how plastic particles are going to effect an ecoystem for that amount of time is what is worrisome to me. The same goes for nuclear fusion leaks. It saddens me that one of the legacies we could be possible leaving behind for our grandchildren's grandchildren is a utterly useless and poisoned land. A poisoned land that could possibly be dangerous for thousands and thousands of years.
One of the more simply fascinating sections was the piece on Cappadocia in Turkey, where entire cities lie undergound being unused for centuries. Lost underground cities are always sure to please and it always triggers my D & D playing imagination when I discover mysterious forgotten civilizations. Especially when there is a good chance that there are even more subterrainian catacombs still undiscovered.
I also found the jobs of the scientists who design granite nuclear waste slabs fascinating. These guys have to come up with some type of way to convey to humans or other intelligent life in the far future that these nuclear waste dumps are dangerous. Assuming that language mutates so fast, how do you warn someone who is thousands of years in the future and how do you insure that the medium you even choose to relay this message is going to last that long. Again, my RPG adventure mind was eating this up, just imagining myself being one of a few straggling tribes of humans left on the planet thousands of years from now stumbling through the desert of what was once South East United States and finding a mysterious hunk of granite that strange symbols on it. How would we decipher it? What would we think of its creators?
All of these things just reinforced my sense of human insignificance, but not in a way that meant human life is meaningless, but just that its not as significant as many of us go on thinking it is. As an athiest, I am often confronted with the notion that this life is all you get, so you better make it good. This book did a good job of explaining that what we are doing will have drastic effects on the planet for a long time whether we are here or not. Also, however, even if we as a species dissappeared tomorrow, the planet would recover in due time and life would continue to thrive despite the millenia long problems we would be leaving behind.
I learned so much I didn't know. Our copper will last but even stainless steel is doomed. Ceramics are artificial fossils. Plastic nurdles are in the sea. Plastics concentrate pollutants like PCBs which
I was surprised by how factual this book was. Although Bill McKibben blurbs it as being “a tremendous feat of imaginative reporting,” the book’s content is so thoroughly researched it seems like a prediction of what exactly will happen if we continue on this destructive path. Weisman offers MANY sources (with a 29 page “select” bibliography) as well as differing theologies for nearly every concept he presents. Les Knight, the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (and a “thoughtful, soft-spoken, articulate” man) has his arguments proposed adjacent to those belonging to the self-explanatory Church of Euthanasia.
In my opinion, Weisman is rarely preachy or pedantic, assuming an objective tone as he describes the current human-wrought decimation upon his beloved world. His love of the world is apparent, however, in every image of verdant hillsides he conjures up, notably absent of human life. That’s what truly distinguishes this book from a dry recounting of doomsday factoids.
I’m not sure if I’m left with a feeling of hope or despair for the future, after reading The World Without Us. Weisman makes it clear that we can try to repair what we’ve broken—at one point bringing up a study from the World Population Program that states that if all fertile women began having only one child starting tomorrow, “our current 6.5 billion human population would drop by 1 billion by the middle of this century,”—but I’m not convinced. As the Dalai Lama says, ignorant as the rest of us to what the future may hold, “Who knows?”
“Yet the biggest elephant of all is a figurative one in the planet-sized room that is ever harder to ignore, although we keep trying. Worldwide, every four days human population rises by 1 million. Since we really can’t grasp such numbers, they’ll wax out of control until they crash, as has happened to every other species that got too big for this box. About the only thing that could change that, short of the species-wide sacrifice of voluntary human extinction, is to prove that intelligence really makes us special after all.”
Whether this book makes any impact or not remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure the author was writing more to entertain than anything else.
Recommended, although can be depressing at times.
Weisman looks at several places in the world,remaining vestiges of the of the pre-human world and case studies for his thought experiment. Bialowieza Puszcza is a vestigal old growth forest on the border between Poland and Belarus. It is not untouched by man, of course, but has been preserved since the middle ages as a royal hunting preserve and as a national park. The wisent, the European bison, is still in residence there along with deer, wild boars an other European large mammals. No aurochs, sadly. Weisman suggetsts that a forest like Bialowieza Puszcza could once again cover most of Europe.
The subways, tunnels and buried streams on Manhattan would suddenly fill with water. New York pumps thousands of gallons of water every day out of it's underworld. When the pumps stop all would go underwater. This water would rust out the steel structure holding New York up, cause the streets to become canals, the buried streams to re-emerge and the tall buildings to fall. Central Park would become the source of seed to reestablish a forest on the island, wildlife would cross the bridges, soon to collapse from rust and lack of maintenance, and repopulate the island. Rats and cockroaches would die off without the support of their human hosts to feed them and heat their homes. - That's a good thing, Martha.
Houston would become a huge oil and chemical spill which would pollute the ship canal and cause problems for life far out into the Gulf of Mexico. Over time, Weisman hopes, nature would heal the mess, as it is doing for Prince William Sound. It could take centuries.
Nuclear power plants need us to keep them from melting down. Nature would move right in to te contaminated areas, however, as it has done at Chyrnobl An article that he wrote about the aftermath of Chernobyl is, in fact, the inspiration for this book. Grasses, trees, animals and human squatters have occupied the contaminated zone around the ruined nuclear plant, and will pay the inevitable penalty in increased cancers and birth defects.
The worlds oceans would recover, over time, coral reefs would come back and, interestingly, Weisman predicts that the oceans would soon be filled with huge sharks and other large predators. Some studies have suggested that, in a healthy, balanced ocean, much of the biomass is stored in large carnivores, and not is the smaller herbivores and plants as on land. This is because to the rapid rate of reproduction of small fish and of plankton, corals and other marine life, which is quickly eaten. The large carnivores live longer and store that energy, to be recycled years later, when they die of natural causes.
There is no big message in The World Without Us, no doomsday prophecy. Weisman simply wanted to think about the effect humanity has had on the world and his method for doing so was to imagine our sudden withdrawal. He does suggest that the Earth might miss us if we went away. Humanity is a part of nature, too.
I'll Never Forget The Day I Read A Book!
And after reading Weisman's book you can't help but having a tiny nagging feeling that maybe, considering how destructive we have been to earth, humanity does deserve to be wiped out of the earth. At least for a while, just to give time for nature to breath. You get this feeling because unlike other examinations of what it would be like if we suddenly disappeared, Weisman took his analysis a step deeper. Not only showing what happens to buildings, bridges, cars and farmlands after we are zapped away, he opens each of his examination with the human impact on a certain aspect of environment, most of which are of course bad. After showing how we have poisoned the land and the sea or cause extinctions to othe rspecies, then he showed how all this negative impact will, sooner or later, be neutralised by nature. However nature works slowly, but human destroys nature at a very fast pace and nature is overwhelmed. If humanity disappeared, nature's task in neutralising all the poisons that human has poured would be easier.
He showed how plastics - something that was only invented a short while ago, but has now become an inseparable part of our modern life - have choked sea animals and killed birds. We were told about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a spot in the Pacific Ocean, more than 1000 mile wide, where ocean current brings most of the garbage that modern society throw, both on land and in water. Ninety percent of the garbage was plastics and they are practically indestructible. He showed how farming has destroyed many species and poisoned land and water and how flora and fauna diversity diminishes by day.
Is it too late then? Do humans have to disappear really before nature can fix itself to be back to the Garden of Eden that it was? Some people think that they could persuade human to have agreement to lower birth rate and behave more ethically towards environment. Some think that it's impossible to fight the explosion of population and human will continue to process of exhausting and destroying earth resources. Then if humanity is to survive people have to find other worlds to colonise or maybe evolve into virtual world, existing as minds without bodies. Weisman's glimmer of hope seems to come from the believe that humans are actually weary of witnessing the collapse of nature and the disappearing of its flora and fauna, that everyone is seduced by the vision of the beauty of a world relieved of the burdens placed by modern society. If not then humanity would have to be satisfied with leaving a legacy of civilisation, which will not last, destroyed slowly by nature.
The thick book with 19 chapters (not including prelude and coda) is a fascinating read. Weisman did an extensive research and re-tell it in masterful and interesting narration. He makes the science easy to be digested by layman, although sometimes his prosaic writing leave you confused on whether what he is trying to say is literal or figurative. But his descriptions are vivid and you would have to be an iron hearted human if you don't get moved, and hopefully changed your attitude towards the environment, after reading this book.
First of all, to understand what could happen, we have to understand what has
So. That's bad. But then along comes Chapter 15 which goes into detail about radioactive waste, how much of it we have, what we're doing with it, and just how bad it is. HOLY CRAP. Take Uranium-238, for example. This "depleted" version of U-235 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. In the United States alone, there's at least a half-million tons of it. U-238 is an unusually dense metal, so we've been making armor-piercing bullets out of it. (They can pierce tank armor.) There's enough concentrated U-238 in the bullet points that radioactivity in the ashen debris can exceed 1,000 times the normal background level. They'll emit radiation for more years than the planet likely has left. (That is, this stuff will still be radioactive when 4 or 5 billion years from now our sun expands to a red giant and incinerates the inner planets in our solar system. Nice.)
I could go on but suffice it to say that this book should be required reading. An excellent book.
*Oceanography. a ringlike system of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.