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The World Without Us – Book Review

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman book Cover Art

Published by: Thomas Dunne

With all of the concern these days about Destroying the Planet, whether through our “carbon footprint” or not recycling, as well as “green” living being the new catchphrase, I was relieved when I read this book. Rather than dwell on how we humans can “kill” our planet, author Alan Weisman sets out to hypothesize what would happen to the Earth if all of us pesky humans just up and disappeared.

This is hardly idle speculation, either. About what happens afterwards, I mean. Weisman has consulted with experts in everything from forestry to mortuary science. He asks not only what would happen ten or one thousand years from now if there were no one to man the cooling vats at a nuclear plant, but also what will happen to all of those big heavy boxes in which we’ve been interring our dead over the last century. He also examines what we can learn from past extinctions and huge climate changes regarding how our planet heals itself over time after catastrophe.

The book begins subtly with the most familiar place for all of us–our homes. If there were no one to maintain it, how long would it take for wind, weather, and the flora and fauna outside our walls to take over? After grabbing his readers with such personal speculation, he then launches methodically into explorations that take us to increasingly distant places and times. How would different animal species fare without us? While certain species would thrive in our absence, for example, he claims that there is evidence that the house cockroach would not survive in colder climes without our comfortable heating systems (take that, icky roaches!). How would forests, savannas, and coral reefs (as well as the animals who live there) adapt over time? Weisman tackles all of these complex questions in fascinating and very informed ways.

While there are definite messages about the many ways in which we humans negatively affect our planet in its current form, this book left me not bemoaning the tragedy of our malicious impact, but rather hopeful for the future. Weisman does not preach or scold, but gives us knowledge that nature finds a way to adapt to great change, and even if we humans don’t survive ourselves and our follies, our planet will.

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