Wednesday, October 14, 2015
The World Without Us
I don't know what I have done to my left foot. Suddenly I'm getting sharp pain from the back of my heel, the area just below the connection to my achilles tendon. I suspect that sitting on the floor in the library, working on the lower shelves, may have stressed it out somehow.
I really AM almost 50, I guess! Gawd.
I've been reading an interesting, but kind of depressing, book called "The World Without Us." It's a meditation on the ways humans have changed the planet, and a look at what would happen if we suddenly disappeared in a plague or mass rapture or some other event that removed us, but left everything else intact. Some things that we think of as relatively permanent -- our gigantic buildings, our houses, our bridges and tunnels -- would deteriorate relatively rapidly through water intrusion and weathering. But other things, like all the plastic trash we've produced over the last 75 years, would likely stick around for millennia.
And no, surprisingly, the cockroaches wouldn't take over the planet. Apparently in northern climes they would freeze, without our building heat to sustain them, and rats would drastically dwindle in number without our garbage to supply their nutrients. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, would prosper.
The part about the plastics is bleak -- because, really, how can we avoid consuming plastics in the modern world? These are products that we've only been producing since World War II, and already we have an Africa-sized floating garbage patch in the Western Pacific, full of ever-smaller plastic bits that are being consumed by sea creatures, to their detriment. We don't know what will happen to those plastics over time. They haven't been around long enough for us to find out.
On the other hand, it's nice to know that nature would rebound in most ways if we suddenly vanished. Our hybridized gardens would perish or gradually sink back into the wilderness' gene pool. Predators (four-legged ones) would once again roam our cities. The excess carbon we've pumped into the atmosphere would gradually -- over many, many years -- be reabsorbed into the body of the planet.
I can't help but suspect that the world might really be better off without us!
(Photo: A yellow wall in Leyton, East London.)