I am thoroughly convinced that weeds will inherit the earth if us humans instantly disappeared from our fair planet. And I have proof. Patches of my backyard that I haven’t been able to tend like I usually do have become weed kingdoms, complete with well-entrenched ruling classes within mere days and weeks.
But let’s go back to the “if humans instantly disappeared” statement. Ever think about the possibility? What would the world look like, act like? Interesting thought experiment that’s the basis for the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.
While I was half-joking about emerging weed rulers, it’s not too far from the post-human world that Weisman envisions. Given time and free reign without human intervention, plants and trees can rip apart concrete and decimate buildings and infrastructure to rubble.
But why I’m talking about this book here is more about how such a scenario should influence how and what we do, and buy, today.
In the book, Weisman discusses how the residue of our consuming society will become the fossils of a far distant future. And some of it may surprise you.
Did you realize that, contrary to popular belief, plastics account for only 20% of what is in landfills? Granted, that 20% is stuff that’ll take centuries to biodegrade. But the proportion is surprising and is not expected to change since new plastic products often use less plastic material than their predecessors.
Actually, what makes up the bulk of landfills is paper and construction debris. Also, contrary to popular belief, newspaper does not easily biodegrade. It can take thousands (one quoted source estimated up to 10,000 years) to biodegrade if kept buried away from air and water.
So are we using less plastic? Not really. It’s just being discarded elsewhere, such as in “oceanfills.” One study found that 80% of ocean flotsam had originally been discarded on land, carried there by wind, washed down storm drains, and other unintentional dumping. And a goodly portion of the oceanfills are plastic.
Weisman questions if geologists millions of years from now would find fossils of Barbie® and Ken® dolls embedded in the seas, able to be pieced together like dinosaur bones. Okay, maybe Weisman had some run in with an evil Barbie® doll and thought it would be cool to portray her as the Planet Polluter Barbie®.
Kidding aside, the main takeaway from The World Without Us is that we need to be good stewards of the planet we live in and will eventually leave behind. One of the ways we can do that is through judicious consumption and recycling of both plastic and paper products to create a “cradle-to-cradle” loop where no waste is wasted and becomes tomorrow’s “new” products.
Worth a read. Worth some thought.
Heidi’s Green Leaves Book Rating: 4 out of 5
- Thought provoking
- Though scenarios presented are bleak, they are not treated with the typical “sky is falling” panic and blame so prevalent in this subject area; takes a detached observer perspective of nature surviving or thriving with or without us
- Only reason did not receive 5-leaf rating is due to its lack of practical advice on what to do to prevent a world without us