Thursday, July 12, 2007

Let’s Say Humans Were Wiped out Tomorrow…

What would the world look like in a few years, decades, millennia? A journalism professor at the University of Arizona, Alan Weisman, explores this fascinating scenario in a new book, “The World Without Us.” In an interview with Scientific American, Weisman reveals some of the possible outcomes.

First of all, a lot of our infrastructure -- roads, bridges, buildings -- wouldn’t last too long. Weisman refers to our seemingly “imposing”, “monumental”, infrastructure as “fairly fragile.” In reality, our infrastructure is heavily dependent on regular maintenance.

Take Manhattan, for example. If you pull humans out of the equation today, you’ll have flooding tomorrow. “Even on a clear, sunny day, the people who keep the subway going have to pump 13 million gallons of water away,” said Weisman.

After a couple decades of flooding, the streets would start to crater as underground steel supports corrode and collapse. Waterlogged foundations would also become unstable and buildings would topple. All the while, seeds would blow into cracking concrete, covering much of the crumbling cityscape with native plants.

Turn the clock ahead a few more decades now. Imagine majestic urban rivers winding through the hollow, ghostly husks of decimated city structures covered in a soft, green coat.

Dense forests, “like what you see in your mind’s eye when you’re a kid and someone is reading Grimm’s fairy tales,” would probably make a comeback. So would giant mammals, like sloth the size of mammoths and beavers the size of bears, which mysteriously disappeared with the arrival of humans.

According to Weisman, “as forests would become reestablished across the continent, eventually -- in evolutionary time -- larger herbivores would evolve to take advantage of all the nutrients locked up in woody species. Larger predators would evolve accordingly.”

Okay, Disneyland, when are you starting construction on this ride?

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.