Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Monday, October 15, 2007

The World Without Us

I've never had much patience for misanthropy. Once you boil it down, it always seems to be just a self-indulgent hatred of life in general with a healthy dollop of self-righteous superiority. That doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to it, of course. I am, and I think a lot of folks with environmentalist tendencies are too. Humans really are screwing the environmental pooch, if you know what I mean. But I've always thought it was uselessly whiny to spend valuable time pining for human extinction. (Hey dipshit! You won't be here to know how great it is once that happens!)

But once you start reading -- or in my case, listening to -- The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, it's hard not to be smacked upside the head with how much nicer the earth would be for pretty much everything else if we were all zapped up to the planet Zorcon. (Planet Zorcon, on the other hand, would doubtless undergo a precipitous decline shortly thereafter.) This book takes as its premise the extinction, whether sudden or otherwise, of humanity, and tracks what happens on earth from there. The immediate impression you get from this is that the earth would be like a dog relieved of a horrendous infestation of fleas.

The elephant population would quickly resurge once the poachers were gone. New York City, inside of a few hundred years, would revert to rivers and forests. The atmosphere would begin the long process of adjusting its carbon levels back to normal.

Oh, don't get me wrong. We wouldn't be entirely unmourned. Head lice would be very upset if we were to leave, as they are almost entirely dependent on us. Cockroaches up north would die without heat in the winter.

In my doggedly non-misanthropic worldview, The World Without Us is useful -- beyond idle curiosity -- only as a guide to how to keep humans (and others) from becoming extinct in the first damn place. By raising the alarm to the indelible changes we're causing in such a creative way, the book forces the reader to question her assumptions, not the least of which is the sense of her own harmlessness.

And I'm only halfway through.

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