Monday, March 24, 2008

With evolution, nature can recover from nearly everything

If humans were to go extinct in the next few years, it's safe to say that mother nature will fully recover. There are some things she will likely not be able to fix, nuclear waste being top of the list, but evolution will help her to take care of a lot of the other problems humans have created, at least according to The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

Luckily Weisman didn't just focus on one city and tell us how it would be destroyed and returned to its natural state, which was what I feared when I began reading the book. The first chapter focuses on New York City, the penultimate city to most Americans, but he quickly moves on to other things. Weisman talks to bridge workers to find out how quickly bridges would corrode and crumble depending on climate. He also looks into how buildings deteriorate, how roads crack and give way to trees and plants, and how other species would be effected by the loss of humans.

The chapters about deterioration of man-made buildings were difficult for me to read as I don't have a very scientific mind. I had to really focus on each paragraph to be sure I was really understanding, which made this a long book for me. I found the chapters about case studies (Chernobyl, the DMZ between the Koreas, etc.), and those about other species, to be the most fascinating. As a crazy environmentalist I find myself always thinking everything would be better off without humans, but this just isn't the case. There are several species that would likely become extinct themselves as a result of human extinction, many of those being the animals we have painstakingly domesticated and bred for our own use.

Other chapters that took turns I didn't expect were the chapter on war, in which Weisman argues that war is actually good for the environment despite horrible examples of it causing destruction, and the section about birds, in which we learn that birds are the least effected by humans because they don't have to spend all their time on Earth with us but they are still killed in the hundreds each year because of human interaction.

Overall, I found this book to be really interesting and I appreciated the illustrations that helped to explain some of the more difficult issues and managed to break up the dense text for me. The book is well researched and well written, giving a very full picture of what would happen if humans disappeared without destroying the Earth in the process.

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