Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The World Without Us

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The World Without Us

by Alan Weisman

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman X
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2007, 336 pages

    Aug 2008, 368 pages


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Beyond the Book

This article relates to The World Without Us

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  • Oil based plastic does not simply go away; according to The World Without Us, almost every piece of plastic made is still here with us today, whether it be polystyrene, viscose, vinyl, PVC, nylon, polyester, polyethylene, saran wrap or acrylic - virtually every plastic bag, every McDonald's Happy Meal toy, every plastic candy wrapper and every plastic water bottle; not to mention the plastic interior or exterior of virtually every modern device from cars to fridges. As you go about your business today, count how many times you come across plastic that you either throw away immediately, such as the wrappings on your groceries, or that will be disposed of within a decade - and then multiple by billions of people consuming plastics for decades!

  • The world's largest trash heap is in the Pacific Ocean in an area called the North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Garbage Patch. Here, winds traveling in a gigantic circular pattern concentrate floating trash, almost entirely plastics, into an area bigger than Texas. The concentration of trash is approximately 3,340,000 pieces/km² on the surface - and nobody knows how much below. This has been calculated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton.

  • The fertilizer-choked dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi is larger than New Jersey.

  • The reason that tires don't degrade is that they're one enormous molecule due to the process of vulcanization invented by Charles Goodyear that ties long rubber polymer chains together with short strands of sulfur atoms. Goodyear discovered the process by chance when he accidentally dropped some natural rubber mixed with sulfur on a hot stove - the result was a strengthened rubber that did not melt, freeze or crack.

  • According to The World Without Us, in North America and Europe, the numbers of many bird species have fallen by two-thirds since 1975. At least half a billion birds die each year as a result of colliding fatally with aircraft warning towers and cell phone towers. Many others are electrocuted by power lines. Habitat destruction in tropical America and Africa has reduced roosting spots, lowering the birth rate; and acid rain and insecticides have killed many more. In the USA, about 80 million birds are killed by cars each year and as many as 1 billion are killed flying into glass windows. Meanwhile, it is estimated that domestic cats kill upwards of 219 million birds each year - and that's just in State of Wisconsin!

  • If humans disappear, one of the longest lasting monuments to humanity will be Mount Rushmore - vestiges of the Presidents' likenesses, including that of Roosevelt, will be visible for the next 7 million years - a lot longer than Roosevelt's legacy, the Panama Canal, which without human intervention, would be reclaimed by nature in a matter of a few years.

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