The World Without Us

What if all human beings suddenly disappeared? Poof—no reason required. What would happen to our earth? A book by Alan Weisman. <i>Thomas Dunne. $24.95.</i>


What if all human beings suddenly disappeared? Poof—no reason required. What would happen to the earth, our earth? As Alan Weisman explains in this intriguing thought experiment, most traces of us disappear—give or take a few millennia. Within days, without engineers to man the pumps, Manhattan’s subway tunnels reclaim their birthright as creeks, cultivating sinkholes in the streets above. Within 50 years most houses have collapsed. The Statue of Liberty, submerged by rising seas, survives, alongside most of the world’s bronze sculptures, old copper pennies, and the Chunnel. In 100,000 years or so, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reset to prehuman levels. Yet, paradoxically, some things get worse. Without us to babysit them, abandoned nuclear and petrochemical plants burn, leak, melt down, and decay.

The World Without Us is as disturbing as the pronouncement of a terminal diagnosis and as fun as a spritz of schadenfreude, where the misfortune we cheer is the end of our own species. Weisman takes a long view of history, examining the bones and stones of ancient civilizations and our earliest hominid ancestors for clues to what might survive us. He tours odd corners of the world, uncovering scientists and engineers who deconstruct the final days of our greatest monuments. Without us monkeying with the planet, our closest kin rebound. Chimpanzees own Central Africa, while brainy baboons start our world-dominance experiment all over again.

Beyond this epic hypothetical quest, Weisman presents an emotional exercise the likes of which Buddhists have been advocating for ages: to meditate on the world after me. Although the human footprint is huge, it’s ultimately ephemeral. The planet will survive without us. Not the reverse.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.