Something very different in the world of post-apocalyptic books, The World Without Us is a non-fiction exploration of what would become of the built and natural environment of our world if humanity were to disappear. It does not suppose a disaster, or any major catastrophe, simply asking what if humans were no more – if we all died, but the world as it stands today was otherwise unaffected. How would things change? The result is an excellent thought-exercise.
What would become of the world without us?
Possibly the most interesting facet of this book, which is what will appeal to some and put others off, is that Weisman focuses heavily on the natural world’s recovery. There’s evidence of what would become of our creations (which would mostly fade away) and what would be our legacy (essentially toxic waste), but it’s the recovery of the Earth that takes front seat.
Without people to control the cities (for instance New York), nature could be allowed to rapidly return. Without people to confine them, herds of animals like Bison could grow in numbers. The rainforests could expand again. Crucially, though, without people to monitor our fuel reserves and nuclear waste, the survivors of nature would have a challenge overcoming the toxicities we leave behind.
The resulting book is a complex story woven together using anthropology, archaeology, geology, chemistry and more. The suppositions are based on the best information that the author could garner, interviewing experts and studying in detail the history of our Earth. Weisman takes the reader on field trips around the world, to consider the plains of Africa, Mayan ruins and the aftermath of Chernobyl, all with the mind to gradually piece together a haunting future image of the world.
In some cases the extent of the author’s analytical approach might appear long-winded, but the premise does stand up. And it’s an important exercise to consider, because by considering how the world could be allowed to recover without a human presence, it forces us to consider the damage that the human race is doing now. Ultimately, inevitably, The World Without Us comes with a message: no one wants human extinction, but by considering it so realistically, we can really drive home how huge an impact the growth of the population is having. Something that Weisman himself concludes, somewhat damningly, must be limited.