Sunday, June 14, 2009

The World Without Us


The World Without Us, a book by Alan Weisman, is a thought experiment to piece together what might happen to the earth if humans vanished overnight (poof! all gone). What would happen to structures we built, the waste we’ve disposed of, the nature we keep at bay, the landscapes we cultivate, etc. From the vantage point of such an unrealistic event as all humans disappearing instantaneously, the author looks at the numerous stresses that the Earth is under from humans. If you don't like the sound of that last statement, then you probably will not be interested in this book. You'd have company as many reviewers thought the author cared more about the environment than people to which I say this was a thought experiment after all.

The book is an interesting read, a little depressing but mostly fascinating. You’ll be hitting the Go button in your favorite search engine searching for this or that mentioned in the book. I started to have too many book darts to count. There were many interesting subjects discussed in the book; some that stood out for me include:

1.The Voyager Spacecraft Golden Record is a phonograph record included with two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The phonograph includes symbolic instructions on how to operate and when it plays it is meant to communicate what life on Earth is like. A pretty tall order. The NASA Voyager Mission page has samples of images and audio clips.

2. Nurdles. What are nurdles? They are plastic pellets (under 5mm in diameter) that go into making lots of everyday stuff. They are as indestructible as they are handy and apparently they hang around in the environment for a long time being a major contributor to marine debris. One of the saddest examples of marine debris is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - pile of trash twice the size of Texas floating in the ocean.

3. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) is a movement that encourages humans to voluntarily go extinct to avoid “the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth’s ecology.” The motto of the movement is “may we live long and die out” and it’s not all doom and gloom for VHEMT volunteers as they believe we will live out the last of our years happy and content.

4. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico where transuranic radioactive waste is to be interred for 10,000 years. Here’s a short video about the site. Basically, human-related waste from nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are being stored in stable salt formations a half mile underground. The part that was the most intriguing to me was how to design a marking system (including both site design and site messaging) to warn future humans to stay away. One example.

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