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.)


alphabet soup said...

Plastic. It requires constant vigilance to hold plastic at bay in my life - some days I am better at it than other days. I think the keyword is organisation. And the thought of all that filth in the ocean is horrifying.
Ms Soup

Ms. Moon said...

I have often been comforted by the idea that if humans disappeared, things would go on nicely here.
I think that living in Florida one sees evidence of this all the time. If a building is abandoned, it falls back into the earth eventually. Vines and plants just take over.
But it's also sad, in a way. I think of standing on a huge pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula and looking around at the jungle and seeing what are probably more pyramids and places where humans lived, completely covered over by jungle and earth and trees and wondering- what of those people who built that? What happened to them? Where did they go? It is at once heartbreaking and awe-full.
On another note- my left foot is giving me fits too! Dang!

Sharon said...

I seem to recall something about a book a few years ago that had photos and drawings depicting the gradual process of nature taking over if we were gone. I remember seeing a few of those pictures. The size of the problem with all the plastic is hard to contemplate. Just sitting here looking at the top of my desk, almost everything I see is made of plastic.

jenny_o said...

That does sound kind of depressing and eerie. There is a similar TV program that I've watched here.

Foot problems are sobering - it's pretty hard to stay off them and heal, and it makes a person feel very compromised. Hope yours feels better quickly.

Cheryl West said...

Your heel pain sounds like it may be plantar fasciitis which is an inflammation. Advil will help as will rest and elevation. You can get a sort of splint to wear at night to keep your foot more flexed to help stretch the tendon. I have had this two or three times and I fear it is sometimes a slow process to get it to calm down again. Have you been wearing less supportive shoes for all your walking? I hope this helps and hope you feel better soon.

Steve Reed said...

Ms Soup: I also do my best to keep it at bay, but YES, it is hard! Virtually every item of food in the grocery store is wrapped in some kind of plastic.

Ms Moon: I must say, I don't really see the heartbreak in it. I know what you mean, all that struggle for nought, but it's beautiful that the earth has such an ability to heal itself.

Sharon: I think I saw that book too! It sounds like a visual companion volume to the one I'm reading!

Jenny-O: It feels much better today, fortunately!

Cheryl: YES! I was thinking it might be plantar fasciitis, which my stepmother has had. If it is PF I think it's a relatively mild case. I'm not noticing as much pain today. I try to wear good shoes but I probably wear them longer than I should.