Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The World Without Us

by Alan Weisman
Weisman has done a crafty thing here; he's written a book capable of inspiring environmental action in its readers, without invoking the usual fears about human survival and quality of life. Starting with the premise that humans have already died off, he imagines life on Earth continuing without us. This can have a strange effect on the reader. First, one is a little embarrassed at how shoddily humankind's seemingly permanent structures and systems were constructed; very little, besides plastics, nuclear waste, and a few bronze sculptures, can last through the ages without constant human maintenance. What does this say about us? It's both disconcerting and reassuring to know that, even if we succeed in making the planet uninhabitable for ourselves and hundreds of other species, we still may not be leaving much of a mark. Weisman takes the reader on a tour around those rare spots on Earth that have been abandoned, including a disputed resort town in Cyprus, the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, and the area Chernobyl, and we marvel at the speed and strength of nature reclaiming the land. As calm and attractive as an Earth without humans seems, one is mainly left with the sense that there has to be a happy medium; if humankind could reduce its relentless consumption of our planet's resources (especially by slowing or stopping our population growth), we would very swiftly be rewarded with a resurgence of all the beauty our planet has to offer. We haven't rendered the planet terminally ill, we've only endangered ourselves. Let the healing begin.

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