The World Without Us provides an interesting paradox: In an effort to make us think about our impact on our planet, and how substantial that impact may be, Alan Weisman takes the approach of imagining our world should we no longer around to populate the planet. It’s quite a hook. Considering our species’ tendency towards navel-gazing, and our love of tales of disaster and tragedy, what could be more interesting than finding out what happens after we’re all gone?
Of course, Earth would do fine without us should we disappear, although some subtle scars of or evidence of our existence would remain as long as the Earth itself. Much of our built infrastructure would fall apart remarkably quickly, with much of it being reduced to rubble over the next century. (Only a few severely overbuilt structures, such as some railroad bridges, would have a chance of making it a millennium, still a sliver of time in geologic terms.) Weisman finds other items that would last a long time, but they’re almost always the exceptions.
In short, if we’re gone, our stuff will soon be gone as well.
Although occasionally prone to melodrama, almost forgivable considering the subject matter , The World Without Us generally came across as a well-researched and thoughtful work, albeit not one claiming to be scientific by any means. But while fascinating, about midway through I started finding myself thinking, “what’s the point of this?” In retrospect, I’m not sure what Weisman’s point actually was supposed to be. A book doesn’t have to have a point, of course, so I only mention this as it seemed the book appeared to be trying to make some kind of environmental statement. Obviously, I’m not sure it succeeded. Yes, we’re making a mess of our planet, but is it really a good idea to point that out by saying hey, don’t worry, Earth will be able to recover? Probably not.
Still, for anyone who’s curious as to how permanent our works really are, this is an interesting and entertaining read. 7/10.