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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Read this book on the plane this morning. It's excellent, although it's not exactly what I expected. The idea is, well, what would the world be like if human beings disappeared from the face of the earth? How long would humanity's mark remain on the surface of the earth--in buildings, pollution, agriculture, radiation (U-238, nuclear power plants). But there's no "big argument." It's a series of investigations, interviews with experts in a number of fields--architecture and engineering, oil refineries, forestry, coral reefs, and many more. Some of the vignettes are less effective than others, but overall, a very strong book.

The interesting thing that comes across is that, despite the damage that human beings have done to the world, the earth will last a long time, and humanity can be largely erased by the passage of time. Few human achievements are all that permanent, especially in geological time. Weisman's conclusion with species extinction is that species have gone extinct many, many times before, in those periodic mass extinction episodes, and new species will develop--just give them a few million years. For example, most of the coral reefs in the world are recent developments, in geological terms. I didn't know that. The deciduous forests of the northeast U.S. weren't there 10,000 years ago--glaciers covered the land. Of course, as a Michigander, I know that. Hell, I grew up on a glacial deposit.

So maybe the takeaway is that the world has more bounce to it than we sometimes imagine.

I was also struck by Weisman's optimism. In one of the last chapters, he actually seems to suggest that the world's people will grapple with overpopulation some time soon by adopting a one-child-per-women worldwide standard! IMO, not so likely.

Anyway, worth a read, if you're looking for something a little different. And the writing is quite strong.


At 10:24 AM, Blogger Curat Lex said...

Does he mention what happens to the federal debt once humans are gone? Does that still get bigger?

At 5:35 PM, Blogger WilsonDeGreat said...

Hey let's get off the Earth. . .our debris will float forever in space.


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