The World Without Us (Weisman)

When I saw this described as a “thought experiment,” I was concerned, but the book is much more grounded than that description implies. Weisman does spend some time outlining reasonable speculations about what the world would be like without us. And Weisman does really take us around the world, both in place (Cyprus, etc.) and in time (what did happen to the Mayan civilization?).

The most interesting section for me was about the Korean DMZ, currently a refuge for wildlife but a remnant (and apparently still very active part) of tensions between North and South Korea that originated over 50 years ago. So if peace comes, if the country unifies, what cost would there be to the environment? As with most coveted real estate, there are apparently realtors poised to spring should the DMZ no longer be needed.

At 350+ pages, this book will make you throw up your hands from time to time and say, “What have we done?” Or, “Is there no hope?” Perhaps more stories about the individuals who are trying to counter or contain what we’ve already done to the earth would have been helpful, but that probably wasn’t the mission of this book.

It occurred to me that this book, like Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest, depends on a kind of seemingly apocalyptic premise to perceive, but Weisman argues that my skepticism is part of the problem – that we don’t believe such a massive shift can happen or at least not in our lifetimes.

Still, I think you can read the article that inspired the book –

and “Prelude: A Monkey Koan” while you’re standing in the bookstore, and you’ll get the idea.


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