N THE WORLD WITHOUT US, Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity's impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth. The World Without Us Author: Alan Weisman Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us · Read more · Without Conscience. Without pumping, New York . resembling the first life on Earth outlasts “Alan Weisman offers us a sketch of where we stand as a species that is both.
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Print Friendly, PDF & Email Print. world-without-us-alan-weisman-imperialism- decline-multipolarity. (Fozzman / Flickr). In his bestseller. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. Starred Review. If a virulent virus—or even the The World Without Us - Kindle edition by Alan Weisman. Download. Journalist Alan Weisman has worked in 58 countries and on all seven continents. His books, including his bestselling The World Without Us.
Nature has been through worse losses before, and refilled empty niches. And even today, there are still a few Earthly spots where all our senses can inhale a living memory of this Eden before we were here. Inevitably they invite us to wonder how nature might flourish if granted the chance.
We are, after all, mammals ourselves. Every life-form adds to this vast pageant. With our passing, might some lost contribution of ours leave the planet a bit more impoverished? Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us? But if you were raised somewhere in the temperate swathe that crosses much of North America, Japan, Korea, Russia, several former Soviet republics, parts of China, Turkey, and Eastern and Western Europe—including the British Isles—something within you remembers it.
If instead you were born to tundra or desert, subtropics or tropics, pampas or savannas, there are still places on Earth kindred to this puszcza to stir your memory, too. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi. Oaks, shrouded with half a millennium of moss, grow so immense here that great spotted woodpeckers store spruce cones in their three-inch-deep bark furrows.
Almost a quarter of the organic mass aboveground is in assorted stages of decay—more than 50 cubic yards of decomposing trunks and fallen branches on every acre, nourishing thousands of species of mushrooms, lichens, bark beetles, grubs, and microbes that are missing from the orderly, managed woodlands that pass as forests elsewhere.
Although occupying Germans took lumber and slaughtered game during World War I, a pristine core was left intact, which in became a Polish national park.
The timber pillaging resumed briefly under the Soviets, but when the Nazis invaded, a nature fanatic named Hermann Goring decreed the entire preserve off-limits, except by his pleasure.
Little else changed under communist rule, except for construction of some elite hunting dachas—in one of which, Viskuli, an agreement was signed in dissolving the Soviet Union into free states. Yet, as it turns out, this ancient sanctuary is more threatened under Polish democracy and Belarusian independence than it was during seven centuries of monarchs and dictators. Management, however, often turns out to be a euphemism for culling—and selling—mature hardwoods that otherwise would one day return a windfall of nutrients to the forest.
To enter it is to realize that most of us were bred to a pale copy of what nature intended. Seeing elders with trunks seven feet wide, or walking through stands of the tallest trees here—gigantic Norway spruce, shaggy as Methuselah—should seem as exotic as the site or Antarctica to someone raised among the comparatively puny, second-growth woodlands found throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
And, on some cellular level, how complete. Andrzej Bobiec recognized it instantly. Such convoluted thinking, he accused, was rampant among Europeans who have hardly any memory of forested wilderness.
To keep his own memory connected, for years he daily laced his leather boots and hiked through his beloved Puszcza. Alone in the woods, Bobiec enters into communion with fellow Homo sapiens through the ages.
A wilderness this pure is a blank slate to record human passage: a record he has learned to read. Charcoal layers in the soil show him where gamesmen once used fire to clear parts of the forest for browse. In their shade grow telltale seedlings of the hardwoods that were here before them. Gradually, these will crowd out the birch and aspen, until it will be as if they were never gone.
Any lone, massive oak he finds growing from a low, clover-covered mound marks a crematorium. On the northwest edge of the forest, Jews from five surrounding shtetls buried their dead.
Andrzej Bobiec passes through a blue-green glade of Scots pine, barely a mile from the Belarusian border. The waning October afternoon is so hushed, he can hear snowflakes alight. Steaming and pawing, their huge black eyes glance just long enough for them to do what their own ancestors discovered they must upon encountering one of these deceptively frail bipeds: they flee.
Once, following World War I, bison from zoos were brought here to replenish a species nearly extirpated by hungry soldiers. Now, a remnant of a Cold War threatens them again. He cannot risk being seen with Westerners.
In fact, on both sides, the forest is actually growing, as peasant populations leave shrinking villages for cities. In this moist climate, birch and aspen quickly invade their fallow potato fields; within just two decades, farmland gives way to woodland. Under the canopy of the pioneering trees, oak, maple, linden, elm, and spruce regenerate.
Given years without people, a true forest could return. The thought of rural Europe reverting one day to original forest is heartening.
Then stand back. Cleans them right off the face of the Earth.
They all go. Most of all, though, you are beset by what in other contexts is the veritable stuff of life: water.
It always wants in. It starts with wood-frame construction, the most widely used residential building technique in the developed world. It flows across four-by-eight-foot sheets of sheathing made either of plywood or, if newer, of woodchip board composed of three- to four-inch flakes of timber, bonded together by a resin.
Wernher Von Braun, the German scientist who developed the U. That presently leads not only to interior leaks, but to structural mayhem. Besides underlying the roofing, the wooden sheathing secures trusses to each other. The trusses—premanufactured braces held together with metal connection plates—are there to keep the roof from splaying. But when the sheathing goes, structural integrity goes with it.
Beneath the mold, threadlike filaments called hyphae are secreting enzymes that break cellulose and lignin down into fungi food. The same thing is happening to the floors inside.
When the heat went off, pipes burst if you lived where it freezes, and rain is blowing in where windows have cracked from bird collisions and the stress of sagging walls. Even where the glass is still intact, rain and snow mysteriously, inexorably work their way under sills. As the wood continues to rot, trusses start to collapse against each other. Eventually the walls lean to one side, and finally the roof falls in.
That barn roof with the byinch hole was likely gone inside of 10 years. While all that disaster was unfolding, squirrels, raccoons, and lizards have been inside, chewing nest holes in the drywall, even as woodpeckers rammed their way through from the other direction. If they were initially thwarted by allegedly indestructible siding made of aluminum, vinyl, or the maintenance-free, portland-cement-cellulose-fiber clapboards known as Hardie planks, they merely have to wait a century before most of it is lying on the ground.
Its factory-impregnated color is nearly gone, and as water works its inevitable way into saw cuts and holes where the planks took nails, bacteria are picking over its vegetable matter and leaving its minerals behind.
Fallen vinyl siding, whose color began to fade early, is now brittle and cracking as its plasticizers degenerate. The aluminum is in better shape, but salts in water pooling on its surface slowly eat little pits that leave a grainy white coating.
For many decades, even after being exposed to the elements, zinc galvanizing has protected your steel heating and cooling ducts. But water and air have been conspiring to convert it to zinc oxide.
Beijing remains dependent on U. Chinese leadership values domestic, regional, and international stability. It wants, in other words, to preserve an environment in which it can pursue its primary objective: If it can hitch a free ride on the gas-guzzling, armor-plated American Hummer, China will gladly get on board.
But if the Hummer starts to mess with China—its economic growth, its political stability, its regional interests—then China will bail. But political deadlock in Washington is by no means over.
And the structural issues that underlie the relative decline of the United States over the last decade remain in place. This is not the first time that the death of the American empire has been foretold.
Twenty years later, after the palpable foreign policy failures of the George W. But Zakaria, Hatoyama, and other observers have generally shared the same ambivalence as China.
They see American decline as relative, as gradual, and as something to be mourned in the absence of a viable alternative.
The same could be said of the Latin American nations that have long decried U. If a viable alternative to U. Some participants in this debate, of course, have no ambivalence at all. The documentary The World Without US describes the state of anarchy that would result if a future progressive president trimmed the military budget and withdrew troops from around the world. At one point, Ferguson suggests that U.
The European Union was feckless back then, and continues to be so today. No other guarantor of peace has stepped forward. Only China looms on the horizon, and the film ends with images of nuclear blasts hitting Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, presumably from Chinese missiles launched in the wake of the U.
The United States, in other words, is all that stands between the new world order and the world of all against all. It is, in so many ways, a dangerously silly movie. The United States has supported plenty of dictators in the interests of stability.
We have generated considerable instability—in Afghanistan, in Iraq—when it has served our interests. Our stability is often unjust; our instability is devastating.