SMLI Book Report: The World Without Us
Updated: May 24
Welcome to the start of an ongoing series of posts called "SMLI Book Report" in which we will present our thoughts and report on a book that one of our staff has read that falls in some field of science. Please enjoy my first foray into a small book report since my undergraduate studies when I was instructed to read Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. (GREAT book by the way!)
Last March when we (the teachers here at SMLI) were told that we were going to have to be working from home for the foreseeable future, I looked into our computer lab/library and found a book that immediately caught my eye. As someone who is a passionate fan of the abandoned places like Camp Hero/ Montauk Air Force Station in Montauk, Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital in Kings Park (both in New York) as well as the television shows like Mysteries of the Abandoned, I am FASCINATED by places that humans no longer use and the stories associated with them, especially once time and decay have had time to do what they do.
However this book isn't JUST about abandoned places, at least not entirely. This book especially caught my eye after watching the History Channel series "Life After People". The book "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman is a riveting non-fiction look at what happens to the world we leave behind if humans were to suddenly be entirely removed from Earth!
Weisman also delves into places on Earth where humans, for some reason or another, have already vanished such as Pripyat, Ukraine, the Korean DMZ and an old-growth forest in Poland. In various chapters, Weisman poses simple but profound questions. What would happen to Earth without humans? How does nature react once the relentless pressure of humans is removed and what will become of human's creations? How do we prevent future intelligent life from hurting themselves on things things that modern humans have already disposed of?
At only 275 pages, this is a quick, fascinating, compelling and interesting read. Weisman's insights discuss what might happen to our built-up cities and the buildings therein, what might befall the animals around the world that no longer have to worry about the most dangerous animal in the world, humans, pushing in on their world from almost every side. Or what will happen to the millions of tons of plastic that our society so desperately depends on, once there are no more humans left making it and how long will it take before bacteria evolve to break it down? What will become of places like Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeast New Mexico, where low-grade transuranic radioactive waste is is stored some 2,150 feet below the surface? Or the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository where spent nuclear fuel is held? If we were to disappear tomorrow, how might we warn whatever comes after humans to stay away from these "hot" areas buried deep in the ground? Weisman gives a sobering but informative look at this as well.
If we were to suddenly all disappear from the planet tomorrow, our wounded planet would recover as it has after every catastrophe that has befallen it before humans showed up. Weisman's book is easy to read, informative, frightening at times and insightful, not just sharing the bad, but the "what can be done" to help. He imagines a world without war and ponders the fate of ancient and modern wonders in this eye-opening text about the world we'll leave behind. I highly recommend this book for those with an interest in a World Without Us.