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One of the most insightful views of a world where humans themselves play no part - only their legacy is of essence
on 29 September 2013
Alan Weisman's international bestseller The World Without Us has been widely acclaimed for its ability to carry its readers on a journey described by the Independent as `Flesh-creepingly good fun...an expert-led fantasia of the post human planet''. But pick up the book, absorb its contents and you will realize that the Independent was being modest in their appraisal of Weisman's love of detail. Detail, which if taken time to digest, will lead you to an epiphany. Here is a world, where the very last human on Earth is no more. `Look around you, at today's world' writes Weisman. `Your house, your city. The surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place but extract the human beings. Wipe us out and see what's left''.
This thought- provoking scenario compels the reader to follow Weisman's string of consciousness which attempts to answer two fundamental questions. Would nature be forever impaired by our destructive practices or would it simply heal itself back to its pristine, pre-human state? Perhaps the only hint that once, we humans were, like many other species whose ancient skeletal frames are now carefully preserved in history museums across the globe, just transient guests in nature's abode. Perhaps the trace of our former presence embedded only in the faint glow of a surface scar, littered with thick cast iron and chromium alloys. But whilst such a prospect is bound to make readers fidget on their sofas uncomfortably, they're also given a light hearted image of fire hydrants, casually sprouting amidst cacti as one of the few remaining signs of `Earthly humanity'.
Weisman predicts how other forms of life would adapt without the presence of humans by giving as prime example natural reserves and sanctuaries where human intervention has been minimal. Such places include Białowieża Forest, the Kingman Reef, and the Palmyra Atoll. He also approaches important figures, some of them like biologist E. O. Wilson in an attempt to foresee the return of native plants by looking into the spread of pre historic vegetation. In Weisman's view, megafauna would flourish whilst animals which constitute urban pests such as rats would die off from a lack of a continual supply of food that is plentiful in today's modern cities.
The author uses the city of New York as an example of how nature would take over in almost no time, even over a developed urban area such as modern day New York. Weisman foresees how New York's roads will cave in as a result of underground streams flooding subway corridors and how native fauna and flora would slowly take over and out survive the invasive exotic species once brought forth by explorers insistent on diversifying the city's vegetation.
But Weisman also looks at the suburban world, and assesses the impact of nature on abandoned middle class, residential homes. Yet again, the eroding power of water will damage the existent wood frames and rusting the metals to the point of collapse. 500 years later and all that'll remain out of a house once booming with human activity are dishwasher parts, stainless steel cookware and plastic handles that stubbornly persist in becoming part of our 21st century legacy.
And yet, Weisman does not entirely embrace the notion that the world as a human construct is all doom and gloom. He delves into matters deep, as for instance when he raises the question of the legacy humans will have left behind and strives to reach a verdict in humanity's defence. Perhaps our impact on the natural environment and the planet as a whole has not been as detrimental, as it has changed the face of a planet, where someday our ancestral monuments will tell our story to an entirely new, and altogether different inhabitants.