Book Review: The World Without Us by A. Weisman

Thanks to Dar, at An Exacting Life and her monthly round ups, I added The World Without Us to my reading list, and seeing it wasn’t already on loan from the library I picked it up almost straight away.

source: en.wikipedia.org

source: en.wikipedia.org

Before I lose any readers, this end of the world book isn’t about zombies, aliens or the like. It’s quite simply about the way the world would ‘survive’ without humans. It looks at what animals might take over, and which might become extinct without our nurturing – and also assesses what mega fauna existed in the past. Why did this megafuana die almost universally, but in some cases, survive in some small pockets?  How would soil, farms and forests regenerate?

The book explores how built environments would crumble – how the constant cooling and heating of the seasons, particularly in places where there’s snow and a thaw – cause havoc on concrete. I loved how it talked about the constant battle to keep the New York Subway from being flooded. This seems positively harmless in comparison to the thought of the 441 nuclear plants slowly shutting down, and with them, a radioactive, boiling hot sludge spilling outwards combined with releasing radioactivity into the air. That’s nothing to say about the storage of all the nuclear waste we have to date, which wouldn’t survive without constant maintenance on the structures that hold it, and the power to keep it cool.

I’m tempted to use superlatives with every sentence, such as ‘the scariest part’ or ‘the most worrying thing’ but in reality, so much of this book was alarming and enlightening. How about all the plastics? This book talked about the micro plastics inserted into shower gels, which, after exfoliating the user, are destined for waterways, and the mouths of small animals – something Beth Terry recently campaigned about. The statistics are harrowing. I’d started to think that my ‘recyclables’ and ‘compost’ were ok, and then this book comes out and says the newspapers don’t biodegrade away from air and water, proving the point by saying there’s a reason we have some 3,000 year old papyrus scrolls from Egypt, or perfectly readable newspapers from landfills dated in the 1930s.

It ends with details of how we could make the world sustainable, with the question on population (something Lois touched on yesterday after Jed Bush’s comments).  It suggested a world wide cap of one children per female (obviously we’re talking about humans here!) By 2100, the population would be at 1.6 billion.  It’s something that’s unlikely to be popular, but it’s interesting to think that with this simple step, we could return the world to the 19th century times, but with all the technological advancements.  We’d cherish every birth, even more so than today.  And we’d know that whilst sacrificing a bigger family unit, we’d be healing the earth gradually.  (That being said, I’m not sure I’d be ok with having an only child…)

I loved this book (it won out to the negotiation book, but I did also finish the very Australia centric Cheapskate book I mentioned last week).  It was eye opening to understand how great an impact we’ve already made on the world, and how long it would take for different things to return to a natural equilibrium.  I’d recommend you read this book if you’re at all environmentally minded, or like to think ‘what if’ in terms of the future of the world.  It’s incredibly well written, with a light touch whilst incorporating so much data and research.  This book, to me, is an example of how I’d enjoy all non fiction to be written 😉