Alan Weisman speaks about his groundbreaking book, The World Without Us
Your new book, The World Without Us, poses a fascinating,
extraordinary thought experiment: if you take every living human off the Earth,
what traces of us would linger and what would disappear? It asks what might
happen to our world if humans vanished? What was the inspiration for your book?
For a long time I've sought some fresh, non-threatening approach to disarm
readers' apprehensions about environmental destruction long enough that they
might consider the impacts of unbridled human activity on the rest of nature
and on our own fate. I've found that theoretically wiping humans off the face of
the earth intrigues rather than frightens people.
At first glance, the research required to make educated predictions about the
future on many parts of the planet seems incredibly daunting. How did you go
about this task?
To understand how a world without people might be requires learning what the
world was like before people existed which turns out to be different on every
continent and island. And then, of course, there is the fact that two-thirds of
the world is covered with water. What would the seas be like without us? To get
everything I needed, I have been privileged to speak to paleontologists,
structural engineers, biologists, art conservators, diamond miners, marine
biologists, astrophysicists, and even Buddhist monks, to name just a few.
Describe some of the interesting places you traveled to in writing The
World Without Us.
The field research included travel to abandoned spots like the Korean
Demilitarized Zone; the last relic of primeval European forest (a game preserve
since the 14th century on the Polish-Belarusian border); national wildlife
refuges in Colorado that were once nuclear and chemical weapons arsenals;
ancient and modern ruins in Turkey and Northern Cyprus; Chernobyl; diving in
coral reefs in Micronesia's Line Islands; and several sites in Africa, the
Amazon, the Arctic, and Mayan Guatemala.
What are some of the changes we could expect in New York City alone if all
Within two days, without pumping, New York's subway would impassably flood.
Within twenty years, water-soaked steel columns that support the street above
the East Side's 4-5-6 trains would corrode and buckle. As Lexington Avenue caves
in, it becomes a river. In the first few years with no heat, pipes burst all
over town, the freeze-thaw cycle moves indoors, and things start to seriously
deteriorate. Plugged sewers, deluged tunnels and streets reverting to rivers
will conspire to waterlog foundations and destabilize their huge loads, toppling
structures. Gradually the asphalt jungle will give way to a real one.