World Without Us came out years ago. I was interested in it at the time, being the big fan of apocalypse fiction that I am, but intimidated by the fact that it was non-fiction. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, or watch much in the way of documentary for that matter. Lately though, I’ve been thinking about doing a bit of writing of my own, so I decided to get off my duff and give it a read for a bit of research. I’m glad that I finally read it, but this book makes me mad. It’s made me angry enough to punch people in the face and burn down their shit.
The book’s premise, if you aren’t already aware, is the question: what would happen to the earth if all of the people simply disappeared? The reason for their disappearance isn’t important for this exercise, and in fact the assumption is made that they all cease to exist without any side effects due to the disappearance itself. So there we are with cities that are empty of man and all of his works are left to their own devices.
From this deceptively simple premise, Weisman explores humanities effect on the earth and our legacies. He begins by exploring our effects on the natural world from our distant past to the present and beyond. From there he moves on to the things that we will leave behind: plastics and radioactive wastes. It is sickening to think of how much poison we create and how long it will take for it to break down into something harmless. Much of it will probably outlast the planet.
I’ve heard a lot of the things that Weisman talks about before, but reading so much of it is affecting. We like to pretend that we aren’t doing that much damage, but the truth is rather ugly. Even if we were to stop everything and leave right now, some of the scars that we leave behind might never heal.
This is what makes me angry. Most of us generate tons of pollution just doing the things that we do every day. This casual disregard for the effects of our lifestyles make me angry. What is worse it that we as a society have constructed our environment in such a way that it is actually difficult to reduce our footprint in any meaningful way. This book gave me even more reasons to despise cars and their waste products.
Well, besides my usual indignation, I liked the book a lot. This is important stuff to read, illustrating the unseen effects of our consumer cultures and our love of synthetic materials. For me, it was mostly preaching to the choir, but I still found a lot of things that I didn’t know about the so-called ‘disposal’ of our toxic wastes, which of course never really goes away, and the insidious quality of plastic to never go away, ever.
So you should probably read it too, if you haven’t already. It’s about time we took our head out of the sand and books like this can start the process.