The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

January 27th, 2008 at 5:55 pm

This is a good book.

Not a great book, but a good book.

As a humbling, interesting book about Our World and the incompatibility of our Current Society with Ecology, The World Without Us belongs on your shelf next to Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, An Inconvenient Truth, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. There is plenty to keep your eyes wide open in horror at our existence’s lack of harmony with the environment. Like the frightening petrochemical monstrosity that is Houston, Texas. Yeehaw!!!

This is a subversive and ultimately very effective and worthwhile book in that its thesis is simple, but in that innocent idea to hypothesize what the world would be without human life, Weisman has an intriguing frame for which to explore and assess the magnitude of human’s impact on the planet – an extensive, pervasive presence. Unfortunately, Our Legacy is most likely doomed to be chemicals, metals, genetic tinkering, ecosystem manipulation, farms, cities, industry, nuclear waste, mining, pollution, etc, et al. Interestingly enough, it is the bronze and copper sculptures as well as the radio waves of information that we have beamed into space that will probably be the longest-lasting remnant of our flawed existence.

It is oddly comforting to know that in our absence nature will quickly reclaim our cities, farms, and homes. It is equally alarming to know how much of our byproducts will continue to plague the planet long after our departure.

Weisman is at his worst when he lingers too long describing what would happen to the Panama Canal in our absence (Surprise, it’d stop working, like a lot of things…). He is at his best describing the beautifully, tragically ironic reclamation of places like the Korean DMZ and the Chernobyl disaster by endangered fauna.

This book is frustrating when you realize that the only decent thing to do for The Cause would be to go away. It’s not a cause without supporters. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and the Church of Euthanasia both have their points. Even our current mode of departure with the expensive funeral industry leading the way with exotically unnecessary coffins is rife with negative impact on the planet. But don’t bother getting too riled up about environmental destruction because Weisman makes a compelling case for our Doom to be wrought instead by New Technologies.

The creepiest, eeriest, scariest, most resounding part of the book comes when our modern civilization and the pompousness of our overindulged lifestyles is compared to the fall of the Mayan Empire: “Society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles…a culture wobbling under the weight of an excess of nobles, all needing quetzal feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, fancy corbelled roofs, and animal furs. Nobility is expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society’s energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings. Too many heirs wanted thrones, or needed some ritual bloodletting to confirm their stature. So dynastic warfare heightened. As more temples need building, the higher caloric demand on workers requires more food production…Population rises to insure enough food-producers. War itself often increases population – as it did in the Aztec, Incan, and Chinese empires – because rulers require cannon fodder. Stakes rise, trade is disrupted, and population concentrates…There is dwindling investment in long-term crops that maintain diversity. Refugees living behind defensive walls farm only adjacent areas, inviting ecological disaster. Their confidence in leaders who once seemed all knowing, but are obsessed with selfish, short-term goals, declines with the quality of life. People lose faith. Ritual activity ceases. They abandon centers.”

Sound familiar?

Not one to be entirely negative and without Hope, god bless him, Weisman offers compelling data in support of population control and concludes his acknowledgments with, “Without us, Earth will abide and endure; without her, however, we could not even be.”

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One Response to “The World Without Us by Alan Weisman”

  1. I never really thought about it like that. It has always been recycling and less waste as the best foot forward for mankind and the planet. Not our destruction. I wonder what the middle road is here.

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