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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A World Without Humans!!!

The abundant doomsday plotlines in 'The World Without Us' make it a useful conversation piece, if a grim one. Traveling down many different avenues of scientific research, Alan Weisman postulates the complete disappearance of mankind from planet Earth. Then he extrapolates about what would happen without us. By his estimate most of our leavings would rot and crumble; much of our damage would take eons to undo. There’s one tiny bit of good news. Depleted sea species might recover if we would do them a favor and go away.


Manhattan Without the People

If people disappeared, what would Manhattan look like in two days, two years or 15,000 years?
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Overall, this book paints a punishingly bleak picture. Entries in its index indicate the scope of its pessimism. For instance: "Birds, plate glass picture windows and"; "Central Park, coyotes in"; "Earth, final days"; "Embalming, arsenic and"; "Human race, robots and computers as replacements"; "Great Britain’s shoreline, rubbish along"; "PCBs, and hermaphroditic polar bears." "Dessication," "Meltdowns" and "Slash-and-burn" also play their roles here.

Mr. Weisman speaks to the darkest parts of our collective imagination as well as some of the strangest. Consider the lowly exfoliant. These lotions contain tiny plastic particles that are meant to scrub. But they wind up fulfilling other purposes, like clogging the innards of the tiny sea creatures that ingest them. This book cites research on bottom-feeding lugworms, barnacles and sand fleas as evidence of the damage the particles do. All three species became terminally constipated from ingesting this man-made microlitter.

Very early in the book Mr. Weisman makes his argument personal by describing how a house would fall apart. Your house. "Back when they told you what your house would cost, nobody mentioned what you'd also be paying so that nature wouldn't repossess it long before the bank," he writes. As with many of the book's other conclusions, this one is accompanied by a hint of unseemly glee. The more elaborately Mr. Weisman paints a worst possible outcome, the better he has made his case. And the more triumphant he sounds.

It is one thing to imagine one house with a leaking roof, burgeoning mold, rusting nails, broken windows and small animals gnawing on the drywall. But this book hypothesizes more avidly about decay on a grander scale.

When Mr. Weisman wonders what would happen to New York City, he foresees rewilding (the return of wolves and bears), plants forcing their way through the sidewalk and water damage to the underground infrastructure. "Before long, streets start to crater," he writes, with scarily apt foresight. "As Lexington Avenue caves in, it becomes a river." Lexington Avenue has lately shown us what he means.

This book's global-scale dismay about humanity's environmental impact is its most important theme. But it's Mr. Weisman's more marginal facts that give 'The World Without Us' so much curiosity value. Which would last longer in storage: a) money in a vault, or b) paintings in a museum? Bear in mind that museums might have skylights that could leak, basements that could flood and larvae of the black carpet beetle. And choose a third option: c) ceramics, since they are chemically similar to fossils. Ancient ceramics have a built-in advantage because they have already withstood the test of time.
When it comes to antiquity Mr. Weisman can draw on tangible evidence to back up his speculation. He marvels at the scope and durability of the large underground city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia, Turkey, especially in comparison to showier monuments with less staying power. There is also hope for the endurance of Mount Rushmore and for Egypt's Khufu pyramid, although the latter "should not look very pyramidal at all" a million years from now.

"The Panama Canal," on the other hand, "is like a wound that humans inflicted on the Earth -- one that nature is trying to heal," according to a superintendent of its locks on the Atlantic side. And a disintegrating coral reef in the Pacific is on "the slippery slope to slime."
From the gyre that is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the flower-growers of Kenya to the Rothamsted Research Archive in Britain, a repository for more than 300,000 soil samples, Mr. Weisman covers a huge amount of terrain. His research is prodigious and impressive. So is his persistence, even though he knows full well about the carnage our cell phone transmission towers inflict on unsuspecting birds and the ill effects that embalmed human corpses have on soil. Compared with the founder of Vhemt -- the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, a group with the motto "May we live long and die out" -- Mr. Weisman is a veritable beam of sunshine.


Caution Over Shuttle Shows Changes at NASA Officials Investigate Standpipe in Manhattan Fire Border Crossings: Rising Breed of Migrant Worker:... Move Over Mickey, Disney™s Found a Franchise Hurricane Pounds Jamaica as It Crosses Caribbean More Stories'The World Without Us' has an arid, plain, what-if style and an air of relentless foreboding. The book is coaxed from subject to subject by ominous transition phrases. ("But that wouldn't be the biggest problem" is a typical one.)

Its delivery of bad news is strangely uniform in tone, given the vast difference in scale among the catastrophes anticipated here. The threats posed by condominium-buying British retirees to the island of Cyprus, or by the "serial killers" that are common house cats, aren't nearly as grave as what could happen to the oil fields and pipelines of Houston if they went unattended. In Houston, without man, there would be "a race to see whether their bottoms corrode first, spilling their contents into the soil," writes Mr. Weisman, "or their grounding connectors flake away." That is, poison or explosion

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