What if we disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow? All of us, just like that? What would happen? How would the remaining world survive or thrive without us? That's the scenario that science writer Alan Weisman works through in his new eco-thriller, The World Without Us.
Based on his considerable research and extensive interviews with experts, Weisman sees things playing out like this (and here I'm quoting from the New York Times book review): "With no one left to run the pumps, New York’s subway tunnels would fill with water in two days. Within 20 years, Lexington Avenue would be a river. Fire- and wind-ravaged skyscrapers would eventually fall like giant trees. Within weeks of our disappearance, the world’s 441 nuclear plants would melt down into radioactive blobs, while our petrochemical plants, 'ticking time bombs' even on a normal day, would become flaming geysers spewing toxins for decades to come... After about 100,000 years, carbon dioxide would return to prehuman levels. Domesticated species from cattle to carrots would revert back to their wild ancestors. And on every dehabitated continent, forests and grasslands would reclaim our farms and parking lots as animals began a slow parade back to Eden." And, it's also helpful to know, perhaps, that not even cockroaches would fare well in a world without Homo sapiens.
How Weisman researched this big question and drew his conclusions is fascinating, and fortunately it's all explained in this Scientific American podcast (iTunes - Feed - Web Site) that features two recent interviews with Weisman. You can also catch Weisman speaking on John Stewart's Daily Show in less scientific terms. Watch the video here.
- For more related podcasts, check out our Science Podcast Collection
- Also check out Scientific American's June 12 interview with Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fate of Human Societies), who talks about the "State of the World Environment." (iTunes - Feed - Web Site).