Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

A drive into Chicago in March will collaborate the message of The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. The expressway is pitted with potholes. The train trestles are rusted. The windows are all broken in abandoned factories. Brush is growing behind the warehouses. Houses need painting. Shingles need replacing. Everything is trying to return to a natural state. Without people maintaining the architecture, the prairies and woodlands would soon return.

Weisman has done a lot of thinking about what would happen to the earth if people disappeared, and his conclusion is that the planet would adapt and survive. Many of the plants and animals that depend on humans for their existence (pets, farm animals, rats, hybrid crops, etc.) would also soon disappear, but wild species would recover. In some ways, the planet would benefit greatly, and the sooner the better. The role of humans on the planet is that of virus, and the earth is seeking a cure.

The author's descriptions of the earth without us almost make the reader wish it would happen. That is not his intention. The point is that the forces of nature have these tendencies and we should work with instead of against them.

Weisman includes some warnings:
  • When a major earthquake hits Istanbul, the destruction will be worse than when the hurricane hit New Orleans.
  • Plastic debris is breaking up into tiny bits that choke microorganisms and are threatening the food chain.
  • All of the atomic power plants will become like volcanoes if they are abandoned.

Near the end of the book, the author offers some prescriptions for a sustainable future with humans. The largest point is that the human population needs to be managed and reduced dramatically.

Reading The World Without Us is like seeing the earth from space for the first time and it will change many readers. It would make a great discussion book. It should be in every public library collection.

Weisman, Alan. The World Without Us. Thomas Dunne Books, 2007. ISBN 9780312347291


Susan said...

I've seen so much about this book. It sounds really, really interesting. I'm going to have to check it out. Thanks for the review!

Mary Soderstrom said...

I've just finished reading this and James Kunstler's The Long Emergency: pretty grim stuff. They come at the tail end of much research for a book that I hope will be out next fall: The Walkable City: From Haussmann's Boulevards
to Jane Jacobs Street and Beyond (VĂ©hicule Press.)

My quarrel with both Weisman and Kunstler (in particular) is that they paint what is happening as inevitable.

Their warnings are important but may inspire paralysis not action. There are things that can be done, that ought to be done. The danger is that what Naomi Klein (in another book well worth reading, The Shock Doctrine) calls "disaster capitalists" will use the opportunity of "end of the world" scenarios to make the world safer for the wealthy few, and forget the rest of us.