The World Without Us

A song lyric from a 1987 album by Sting could be the strapline for this book about science and the environment. ‘How fragile we are, How fragile we are’. More than 99 percent of all species, amounting to over five billion species, that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. Estimates on the number of Earth’s current species range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86 percent have not yet been described. Each species has gone somewhere along the spectrum from a slow depletion of numbers to a catastrophic departure.  (

The means of human extinction are likely to be global epidemic (a super virus), asteroid impact, disastrous climate change, or elimination by a superior cyborg being of our own creation. Whatever the proximate cause, it is interesting to speculate would really happen if, for one reason or another, all humans vanished from the planet. Building on a Discover magazine article, Alan Weisman ( addresses this question. There are no surprises – nature goes on, though it is unsettling to observe the processes. Drawing on interviews with architects, biologists, engineers, physicists, wildlife managers, archaeologists, extinction experts, Weisman shows how underground water would destroy city streets, lightning would set fires, moisture and animals would turn temperate zone suburbs into forests in 500 years and 441 nuclear plants would overheat and burn or melt. Many of Weisman’s forecasts are instructed by past events, such as the sudden disappearance of the Maya 1,600 years ago and the evolution of animals and humans in Africa. Bridges will fall, subways near fault lines in New York and San Francisco will cave in. In the short term scavengers will clean our human bones within a few months. In the longer term glaciers will crush away and eradicate our built world. Yet some things may persist after we’re gone: bronze sculptures, Mount Rushmore (about 7.2 millions years, given granite’s erosion rate of one inch every 10,000 years), particles of everything made of plastic, man made underground malls in Montreal and Moscow. In Hawaii, which lacks predators, cows and pigs will rule! Weisman quietly unfolds his cautionary tale, allowing us to conclude what we must about the delicacy of our existence and our relationship with the natural world.

Read this whilst there is still a world with us. Enquire at your local library or consult  for further bibliographic detail.


336 pages in Virgin Books

First published 2008

ISBN  978-0753513576


Image result for Alan Weisman

Alan Weisman

Scroll to Top