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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The world without humans

RECLAIMED BY NATURE: Nature takes back an abandoned building.

Mary Margaret

RECENTLY I reread Alan Weisman’s international bestseller ‘The World Without Us’, in which he explored what our home planet, the Earth, would be like if suddenly all the humans on it disappeared — an event that is highly unlikely but not completely impossible.
His prediction that the wild would quickly take over and adapt to or undo the damage to natural ecosystems that have been wrought by man’s relentless march towards progress was made after extensive research, travels and talks with scientific experts from around the world. It is also humbling.
The natural world’s ability to undo human creations can be observed in Kuching as abandoned houses or gardens quickly become wild.
If man, does not ‘fight’ back, these are rapidly covered with creepers, invading sun-loving shrubs and herbs. Lizards and snakes whip around while birds and bats stake out the buildings’ upper floors. Water runs through windows and spaces around the doors. The cement cracks and eventually the building disappears from sight and memory.
Buildings above ground are likely to tumble down as roots break open cracks and water seeps or pours in.
However, Weisman predicts that underground homes dug into tuft (a material which hardens upon exposure to air) will last
There is an area in Turkey that has been inhabited since ancient times and old tunnels that were uncovered have been used by present residents for storage.

But not all underground constructions are predicted to withstand nature if humans do not repair or control the environment.
The subway or the underground might survive if it is not built on fault lines, but some like in New York are highly likely to become flooded.
Human engineers control the water and the tunnels would quickly become flooded if they were not on duty as New York’s planners, over 100 years ago, forced the water underground and paid little attention to the natural layout of the island.
Another substance that is unlikely to disappear is plastic. The strengths of this new man- made highly versatile and durable material are also its weaknesses.
The miracle material that has become a curse is likely to withstand the ravages of the wild. It does not biodegrade.
Whatever has been made, with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated, will still be around.
The giant Pacific Ocean garbage dump, about the size of Africa, circles clockwise north of Hawaii.

The plastic rubbish blows into the sea from land, is washed in by rivers and dumped by boats. Most plastic degrades with UV light and this slow process slows even further in cold waters
The plastic gradually breaks into smaller and smaller pieces until even micro invertebrate creatures eat it.

However, the oil (the source material for plastic) processing plants are likely to explode and burn without their human controllers and they, like cities, would be reclaimed by the wild. Farms also would disappear, as would domesticated versions of food.
It is likely that food crops would evolve towards their original genetic structure.
‘Hot’ concerns — the holes in the ozone layer in the earth’s atmosphere and used up uranium cannot be omitted in a book that explores what would happen if suddenly all humans disappeared.

Spent uranium from nuclear
power plants and warheads is stored deep underground and would likely remain closed until someone comes along and opens the vaults.

Power plants on the other hand would continue to operate for a short time until the automatic functions require intervention.
In 1986, Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded into the sky and rained down radioactive rain as far away as the Russian wheat producing plains. Nature, and people, have since returned.
In the eerily beautiful land, wolves and lynx populations have increased, as have their prey
Animals living in this area of radioactive contamination do live as long as their counterparts but have made up for this by reaching sexual maturity earlier.

Whether their genes survive will only be known after several
generations. These predictions that nature

will likely ‘un-build’ human creations and adapt to and even repair the damage to the natural world is humbling. We build for prosperity and to be remembered, yet the natural world is likely to brush it aside.
See ‘The World Without Us’ by Alan Weisman (2007) Virgin Books Ltd, London.

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