If humans disappeared tomorrow, what would happen to the Earth? We’ve left our mark on the planet for thousands of years, so what would happen if we suddenly weren’t here any more? Picture the empty subway stations, car-less highways, empty high-rise apartment buildings. For a more sinister vision, imagine our industries and architecture without anyone to keep things going. Will everything fail over time? Will there be anything left of human civilization thousands of years from now if we disappeared tomorrow? Would nature reclaim the land from us? How long will this all take?
The World Without Us informs with facts and figures, but it also speculates a lot on what post-human Earth would be like. Weisman interviews many architectural experts and industry experts as well as biologists, paleontologists, and conservationists to figure out what could realistically happen without humans. There are a lot of surprises, actually. Bridges would fall, subways would flood, oil refineries would explode, domesticated animals would have to evolve or die out. Some of this would take many years, but much of the destruction could happen within a few seasons or even a few days of our disappearance. Nature can surprisingly heal many of the wounds we have inflicted upon it. It may take thousands of years, but plant and animals life could return and even flourish in the most polluted areas.
The book does a great job of clearly explaining every topic. If Weisman is talking about the oil refineries in Texas, he will explain briefly how they work, what kind of materials they are working with, and how much oil they refine. Then, he asks the experts what would happen if no humans showed up for work the next day and the day after that. Sometimes Weisman gets down to the chemical level with his explanations. Other times he talks in numbers almost too large to grasp. Despite all of this, it is all fairly easy to understand even if you have very little prior knowledge of the subjects. The biggest issue with the book is that it is slightly dated. I believe it was first published in 2007, so being over ten years old, you can guess that a few things have changed, gotten better or worse, or have been discovered since the book’s publication. Still, this is a very informative and eye-opening read.
It’s not all doom and gloom either, if that is something you might worry about. The book can certainly be depressing since we are talking about humans all being dead and the amount of pollution we have created over the years. But, I found it surprisingly uplifting to know how nature will recover nearly completely if given the chance. If we make small changes in our daily lives– recycling, using clean energy, cutting back on meat consumption– we can make small improvements while we are still here.