Open in the App Open in the App Open in the App
Get the key ideas from

The World Without Us

If humankind were to vanish, what would be left?

By Alan Weisman
15-minute read
Audio available
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

The World Without Us (2007) outlines the fictional scenario where, all of a sudden, the whole of mankind disappears. With humanity missing, the process by which nature claims back what was once hers is described. Although most of the footprints left by humanity would be gone after a relatively short period, some would remain. Among these remnants would be some of the many toxic substances released by mankind, meaning that, even after we’ve gone, the damaging effects of human civilization would linger.

 

 

  • Anyone who wonders what damage humans have already done to nature
  • Anyone who wants to know if nature can recover from human interference
  • Anyone who wonders what will survive of our human culture

 

Alan Weisman is a US author and journalist. As a professor of international journalism at the University of Arizona he published the acclaimed article Earth Without People, which became the basis for The World Without Us.

He has received several prizes including the Four Corners Award for the Best Nonfiction Book.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
3,000+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from

The World Without Us

By Alan Weisman
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Synopsis

The World Without Us (2007) outlines the fictional scenario where, all of a sudden, the whole of mankind disappears. With humanity missing, the process by which nature claims back what was once hers is described. Although most of the footprints left by humanity would be gone after a relatively short period, some would remain. Among these remnants would be some of the many toxic substances released by mankind, meaning that, even after we’ve gone, the damaging effects of human civilization would linger.

 

 

Key idea 1 of 9

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade so it will continue to affect nature forever.

Before the evolution of human beings, nature did a great job recycling every substance that ever appeared on earth. Yet humanity invented a substance that broke this cycle, something that cannot ever be recycled by nature – plastic.

Plastic is impervious to nature because it doesn’t biodegrade. Other substances can be broken down by microorganisms over time, but not plastic. This means that it will last forever, even after humanity has gone.

But if humanity were to disappear what would happen to all the billions of pieces of plastic we have created?

Rain and the oceans have the power to erode rocks and they will do the same to plastic. Over time, plastic pieces will become smaller and smaller as they are bashed by the forces of nature. And yet these tiny pieces will still not biodegrade.

Experiments have shown the durability of even the tiniest fragments of plastic. Scientists fed plastic fibers and particles to bottom-feeding lugworms that usually live on organic sediments. Although the worms ingested the pieces, they passed through the creatures’ digestive tracts harmlessly.

So over the centuries plastic pieces will continue to get smaller and smaller, until, according to the marine biologist Richard Thompson, they will become so small that even zooplankton will swallow them.

As plastic continues to disassemble in this way, it will spread into areas untouched by human habitation. The smaller the pieces of plastic, the easier it is for them to be transported by wind and water. This means that in the future, plastic will even reach the places that we currently cannot.

The amount of plastic produced by humanity is massive. For example, in India alone there are 5,000 factories that solely produce plastic bags. As each piece of plastic will never biodegrade, these bags will be around forever. And as the substance has only been around for 60 years we do not know if it will have any other long-term effects on the ecosystem.

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

Key ideas in this title

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

No time to
read?

Pssst. Sign up to your secret to success: key ideas from top nonfiction in just 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.