The World Without Us: The Staggering Thought Experiment

worldwithout2.jpgWhat 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 (iTunesFeedWeb 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.

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