"The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman (2007)
"The Rocky Flats asphalt where drums of radioactive oil spilled was also scraped and shipped to South Carolina, along with three feet of soil. More than half of its 800 structures were razed, including the infamous 'Infinity Room,' where contamination levels rose higher than instruments could measure. Several buildings were mostly underground; after the removal of items like the glove boxes used to handle the shiny plutonium disks that triggered A-bombs, the basement floors were buried."
What would happen if everyone on Earth disappeared tomorrow? How would nature go about repairing all the damage that we've caused? Could endangered animals repopulate themselves in a world without humans? And what sort of human artifacts might they encounter in our absence?
In "The World Without Us" author Alan Weisman attempts to answer all of these questions, and in so doing assess the impact humans have had on the natural world. Most of the chapters conclude with a kind of eulogy for the city, infrastructure project, or type of environmental damage that will "vanish" in the wake of humankind, and this eulogy also suggests how the biosphere might regenerate itself without us.
"The World Without Us" is a well written book, but as an argument it leaves a lot to be desired. Many of the details surrounding the degradation of cities, factories, and dwellings were of course unknown to me, but learning about these details wasn't very enlightening. I suppose that I now know which parts of my house will survive a mass human extinction, but what of it?
Maybe I am just too anthropocentric for my own good, but I fail to see the point of "The World Without Us." Perhaps there is a certain poetic fascination in this kind of speculation, but to me it all seems rather morbid. As a human being, it is only a future containing human beings that I can relate to.
A world without us is something I'd prefer to avoid, and this book offers neither plans nor suggestions that might help us avoid such a tragic fate. It is for this reason that I consider "The World Without Us" to be a rather pointless exercise, devoid of the hope for humanity that might have given it greater import.