Written in 2007, Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us examines exactly that: what would happen to the world if all the humans suddenly disappeared? The answer basically boils down to: the world would probably be much happier and healthier, thank you very much.
“All of us humans have myriad other species to thank. Without them, we couldn’t exist. It’s that simple, and we can’t afford to ignore them, anymore than I can afford to neglect my precious wife–nor the sweet mother Earth that births and holds us all.
Without us, Earth will abide and endure; without her, however, we could not even be.”
Weisman takes the premise that every human being has simultaneously disappeared, and chapter by chapter, he examines the results for different realms of the planet: the ocean, the cities, the atmosphere, the abandoned mines, etc. But very little of each chapter really deals with the future — instead, Weisman talks about how the planet got to the state it’s in now. Yes, this is what will happen to the cities — but how did we create those cities? Here’s how pollution will gradually dissipate — but how long will that take? how did things get so polluted to begin with? And most frighteningly, what damage have we done that cannot be reversed?
It’s an incredible book, very well-written and researched, packed with information but interesting enough that your eyes won’t glaze over. The author adds in all sorts of random facts, such as: “In New York, the European starling—now a ubiquitous avian pest from Alaska to Mexico—was introduced because someone thought the city would be more cultured if Central Park were home to each bird mentioned in Shakespeare.” His message is clear: we’re hurting this planet irreparably in ways that you can’t even imagine — but he doesn’t provide too many solutions. I would love to see a follow up of this — almost 10 years later, have we reversed anything? Or are we sliding even further into self-destruction?