By Alan Weisman
Virgin Books, $29.99
In this tour of a world without humankind, Weisman investigates the idea that Earth could be better off without us. Though Weisman acknowledges that the complete extinction of the human species is an unlikely event, the threats of ballooning populations, run-away climate change, pandemics or nuclear holocausts make this book an intriguing read for pessimists and optimists alike.
Manhattan, considered by Weisman to be the epitome of urbanity, is ravaged by fires, sky-scrapers fall like giant trees, and bridges buckle, slowly transforming the urban jungle to a literal one. Man-made structures like Panama Canal collapse without human attention, and the Petro-chemical plants of the world become ‘flaming geysers’ releasing deadly toxins for decades. It is not all as bleak as it sounds, with flowers, birds, insects, and other wildlife predicted to recover much more quickly than might be expected. Fascinating examples of the natural world’s propensity to heal include Korea’s DMZ which has become a nursery for species on the verge of extinction elsewhere. The What if?’s in this book offer lessons and insights into the complex structures we live within, and highlight the scale of damage we inflict upon our environment.
Weisman also published three scenarios tracking widely divergent ecosystems, titled Three Planetary Futures available from Vanity Fair here. The Book’s website also features some interesting multimedia, including a world tour of locations mentioned in the book, flash animations and some amazing illustrations of New York by Ken Brown.
Reviewed by Willow Henderson, October 2008