That’s the premise of a fascinating book I just got, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. At least it was a fascinating book judging by the dustcover and the first ten pages. That’s about all I had time to read before my friend Rob, conspiracy theorist and disaster maven extraordinaire, snatched it up.
Luckily, and perhaps not by coincidence, The History Channel aired a special on the same topic, Life After People. (There is an encore presentation Wednesday, January 23. Quick, set your Tivos!) Proceeding in increments of 1, 2, 5, 10, 50, 100, 1000 and 10,000 years, it charts (with generous doses of CGI) just how the Earth would react and what would happen to all our trash, all our pets and everything else we’d leave behind.
But first, if we were gone, what would survive?
Apparently, the dogs would be the first to suffer a massive die-off. Especially all the ones whose genetics and features we’ve monkeyed with. That means the ones with the little pug noses, the smashed-in faces, the short stubby legs and the convenient purse sized bodies. They probably wouldn’t last out the month, even the first week. The rest would try to find their niche in the ecosystem. The bigger wolf-like ones would probably scavenge garbage while it lasted, then compete with wolves and coyotes, or maybe merge with those packs. I’m hoping my Smooth Fox Terriers, who are supposed to have their original instinct to hunt rats and small critters intact, would snag a relatively safe rung on the food chain. (Although, I have seen a fox run right across Lucy’s path at the park to her utter disdain. Maybe I better start stocking a bunker full of kibbles for them.)
Cats, however, would not even miss a beat.
Apparently, cats aren’t as truly dependent on humans as domestic dogs. In fact, some animal behaviorists say the difference between your cat and a Sumatran Tiger is just size. They aren’t any tamer, they’ve just learned to tolerate you as long as you’re handing out food. The second after we’re gone, cats will just stroll outside and catch birds.
But everyone knows, most cats are just too mean to die.
The good news is that the rest of Earth would recover, repair and thrive without us — starting almost immediately. What proof do the producers have? Surprisingly, they journey to Chernobyl, where all the humans did disappear all of a sudden (fleeing the nuclear disaster) and never returned. What they find is new forests, re-established wildlife and a thriving ecosystem. They didn’t get close enough to any of the deer to show me if they had three heads. But one scientist walking around with a Geiger Counter said the radiation levels had stabilized at a relatively low level. I’m not sure I’m believing this and I’m not sure I like the message it sends. But I direct you to the website of Elena, a crazy Ukrainian biker girl who has been posting since 2004 her various pictures and descriptions of her frequent motorcycle rides through the Chernobyl area. If she keeps riding and doesn’t turn into Godzilla, maybe I’ll believe that the area’s radioactivity is dropping. But I won’t be planning any vacations there anytime soon. (However, this BBC news story confirms that Chernobyl is now alive with wildlife — even previously endangered or absent species such as bear, wild boar, wolves and Przewalski’s Horse are making a comeback there. Sadly, human presence — with all its pesticides, traffic, habitat destruction — far outweighs plutonium in negatively affecting the environment!)
Which brings me to what will last. Apparently, not much of anything — thanks in great part to water, mold spores and tiny climbing plants. Actually, what they theorize will survive to 1000 or even 10,000 years after us is just what has been surviving. Namely, the Pyramids, the Colosseum, The Great Wall of China. Maybe the Hoover Dam, but that won’t outlast the ancient sites. Sadly , it seems we have no building materials that are better and more durable than the concrete the Romans used or the bricks the Chinese and Egyptians had. And our books, media, artwork and other records of our civilization? Well, any stone tablets made by Egyptians, Romans, Mayans or Aztecs might make it past 1000 years after humans. Not much else. In fact, the long held theory that our radio and TV signals, beamed into outer space, will bear testimony to us is also debunked. It seems before the signals reach the nearest star, they will degenerate into useless noise.
Mmm. Depressing on some levels, but uplifting on others. Seems we may be able to repair the Earth just by getting out of her way.
But just in case this all comes to pass, and by some stroke of luck, I’m the last human left, I’m resolving to be very, very nice to all the animals, plants and especially mold spores in my patch of Sonoma. I’m glad we’ve put in all the French drains and are working to protect the waterways we have. According to the program, it’s the water that really breaks everything down. As for the animals, well, we’ve been planning to keep as much land wildlife-friendly as possible. I guess that means I’ve got to make the decision I’ve been coming to for a long time: no goats. I like the idea of goats, but to keep them, you need fences so tight and so escape-proof that not even rabbits, foxes and all the other critters can get through them. That would disrupt a lot of the travel patterns for our wildlife and upset the ecosystem. And besides, now I’ve got to keep myself on their good side. So no goats. No critter-proof fences (with the exception of the three acre area keeping the deer from the grapes.)
But making friends with mold spores is a challenge. I’m still contemplating how to do that. However mold thrives on grapes and I did protect our grapes from the deer. So I might be on the “friends list”.