The World Without Us

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of an earth after humans ever since I read some of Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us. The idea of humans “destroying the planet” has always been a necessary bit of hyperbole; we are far more likely to destroy ourselves as a species by making the planet uninhabitable. After we’re gone, it will eventually recover and go on just fine without us. Still, the idea of “saving the planet” communicates the scale of the problem and the potential loss in a way that many people have an easier time grasping.

Aside from the environmental issues, videos like this show just how strong the forces of time and nature are. So many of the structures that we take for granted crumble and disappear relatively fast without constant maintenance, from the giant buildings and bridges to the subways and power systems. Much of our influence on nature, including specialized breeding of animals and cultivation of plants, would eventually be undone without humans around to maintain it. Ultimately, nothing we do is really permanent.

This becomes more immediate when brought down to the individual level. We can hope that humanity will never really destroy itself, although we’ve only been flirting with the possibility for about 100 years so we haven’t had a lot of time to really explore the possibilities. What is certain is that each of us will move on as individuals at some point. Very few of us leave behind names that will be spoken centuries from now but we all affect the lives and environments that we touch which then affect others. We define ourselves, in large part, by what we leave behind, either when moving on to a new job or city or in our final moments. We cannot truly move on without caring for what we leave behind. The willingness to stop every so often, turn away from the noise and distractions of everyday life and reflect on our real effects on the people and world around us is an exercise in the personal integrity that ultimately determines what kind of legacy we will leave.

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