Thursday, December 6, 2018

The World Without Us: We Can Still Cause Problems Even When We’re Not Here




I am not sure why I thought the book A World Without Us by Alan Weisman would be hopeful and cathartic.  (Spoiler: It wasn’t.)  Perhaps because we know humans are the primary driver of climate change and most of the factors that are causing global extinctions, I na├»vely thought removing people was removing the problem.  There is some comfort in imagining the natural world rebound and recover, even if the price is loss of a single species dear to our hearts—Homo sapiens.  Of course, loss of humans from the planet would remove *a lot* of problems for the rest of biodiversity, but what was most surprising to me about this book was how lasting human impacts will be even if we disappeared instantaneously.  While the cities and structures that humans have built will be short-lived, the contaminants we put into the environment, in some cases, will be long lasting. Changes in green house gases mean changes in climate for hundreds to thousands of years.  The consequences of radioactive materials, especially if nuclear facilities are not shut down properly in a human apocalypse, would be long-lasting, haunting, and global; however, Weisman points out that Chernobyl appears largely recovered and that the birds returned immediately as have people who used to live there (even if its not quite “allowed”). Of course, presence does not mean safety.



This was an interesting read though, and it does make me wonder if it would be better to envision a world WITH US, but minimizing our impacts on the rest of life.  Perhaps the planet could be better WITH US if we could control our impulses, convert to sustainable energy sources, reduce our global population size voluntarily.  Humans clearly have the capacity to build and structure the part of the environment in which we live, which ripples through the places where we do not live.  If we put *sustainable living* at the forefront of our design of human spaces, while reducing population, maybe we could reclaim our place in the natural world.  However, our ability to put sustainable living at the forefront of anything seems so far-fetched at this point in time, it is challenging to feel hopeful—which is perhaps why Weisman didn’t even go there.  But, still, I will (try to) choose hope for a future with a better human consciousness for our natural world, over hope for our loss.