If all humans were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, would the earth be better or worse off without us? Alan Weisman answers this question in his fascinating book The World Without Us.
The book is one of the grandest thought experiments of our time. It examines the impact human beings have on our world and what would happen if we stopped exerting the pressures on it that we currently do. I learnt more about the world we live in from this one book than I did in all my previous decades of living.
Book review nuggets
A rubber tyre is a single giant molecule created by vulcanization. Therefore it cannot be melted down and turned into something else and will always remain round. Many dumps don’t accept tires because they create doughnut-shaped air bubbles that rise to the surface. In the US alone, one tire per citizen is discarded annually.
Nuclear waste storage sites remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands, even millions of years. When designing signs to warn humans away from such sites, the main problem is language. Human languages evolve and are unrecognizable every 500 years or so. Any warning we post will be incomprehensible to our descendants who may have no idea of the danger they are in when they eventually build houses in the vicinity.
Coral reefs in their most natural forms are made up mainly of large predators like sharks and parrot fish. Sharks kill about 15 humans a year, while humans kill about 100 million sharks a year.
Sea urchins, those scary spiky things that I fear most when scuba diving or snorkelling, are actually good for coral reefs. They consume algae which would otherwise gobble up all the oxygen in the water and cause reefs to die. I’ll look at sea urchins with a lot more respect and gratitude now, though still from a safe distance!
For more interesting facts like those highlighted in this book review, visit The World Without Us website.
Will the world really be without us?
Weisman admits that it is highly unlikely that humans will suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. However all the experts interviewed in the book agree that it’s a matter of time before we do disappear. All species die out eventually, and even earth itself will overheat as the sun continues to expand. So all of life is temporary.
This provides a good perspective as it helps us to stop sweating the small stuff when you realise that ultimately, it’s all small stuff. As you read the book, you start thinking in immense time frames – in the thousands or millions of years – and this too puts our little troubles into amazing perspective. Whatever is bugging you now exists for just a teeny speck in time. Our very lives are just a flash.
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about the natural world, understanding the impact humans have had, and generally broadening your perspective by a thousand percent or more. Click here to purchase The World Without Us.