Alan Weisman

Prescott College AffiliationSupporter

Environmental writers with a bent for imagining the fate of Earth tend to lean in one of two directions. The first describes the near or total annihilation of life as the result of some man-made cataclysm, be it nuclear winter, global warming, or some souped-up killer organism let loose from the lab. The second envisions a world in which humans have been removed from the equation, and the earth flourishes, restored to ecological balance. The World Without Us by former faculty member Alan Weisman, demonstrates the former.

Called an “intriguing thought experiment” and “an environmentalist’s Book of Revelation” by Newsweek, Weisman’s book hit the streets in July 2007 to wide acclaim. His telescopic vision of a world devoid of humans – whether removed by spaceships or wiped out by plague – describes an idyllic crumbling of human infrastructure and a return to the wild, much like the regions around Chernobyl two decades after it release a burst of radioactive steam, and the Korean Demilitarized Zone, now a mecca for bird enthusiasts.

Alan describes scenarios that are sure to make Hollywood adventure-flick producers’ mouths water: Manhattan subways flood, Lincoln Avenue becomes a river, bridges collapse under the weight of opportunistic vegetation. In his scenario, nuclear reactors would fail, spewing radioactivity into the air and water. Cockroaches, a tropical insect, die off without central heating, human body and head lice go extinct, and rats and dogs fall prey to more savvy predators. Cats, on the other hand, thrive–with over a billion birds which otherwise would have gone extinct, there’s plenty to eat.

Admitting that most folks he’s told of his vision find it appealing, Weisman proposes a compromise scenario; limit childbearing to one offspring per couple, reducing the population to approximately 1.6 billion at the end of this century, approximately where it was as it was at end of the 19th.