Thursday, September 13, 2007

human beings as a force of nature

while on vacation I got a lot of reading done. The first book I finished was The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. This is an amazing piece of non-fiction in which Mr. Weisman imagines what would happen in the world if all the human beings suddenly vanished. He tackles both global issues, as well as specific case studies of specific cities and sites around the world.

The book certainly has no good news to add about the impact of human beings on the rest of the world. Our impact and legacy on the rest of the planet is almost uniformly negative. About the only co-inhabitants of the world that would suffer without us are the lice and parasites that live on us, and the cockroaches and dogs that live with us. Cats on the other hand would be fine without us.

As I read the numerous instances of how we are changing the world, destroying species, and very likely ourselves in the process, I began to think of human beings as best regarded as simply one of many other forces of nature, like a meteorite that slams into the earth, or ice-ages or volcanos that have from time to time vastly remade the planet and shifted the direction of evolution in one direction or another. The moral dimension enters in our case because we have a choice (perhaps) not to destroy the world, but from the nuetral perspective of the planet it doesn't really matter what we do.

In his conclusion Mr. Weisman quotes Doug Erwin of the Smithsonian, "The only real prediction you can make is that life will go on. And that it will be interesting" (p. 232).

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