Change Alley

information, opinion, conversation

Life After People

with 3 comments

Eiffel TowerTonight, The History Channel broadcasts a two-hour documentary special ‘Life After People’. The program speculates:

“What would happen to planet earth if the human race were to suddenly disappear forever? Would ecosystems thrive? What remnants of our industrialized world would survive?”

A mix of science fiction and science fact, using expert testimony from a range of disciplines, we are shown how the world as we have made it would change if the human race were no longer there to ‘maintain’ it. Judging by the accompanying History Channel web site, the program follows quite closely the general thread of a 1996 New Scientist article, ‘Return to Paradise‘, which traces the changes in a deserted London over 5, 10, 50 and 500 years.

The thing about ‘What if?’ scenarios is that they often raise more questions than they answer. In this case, one has to ask how the human race disappeared, because the manner of our departure could have a strong influence over how, or if, the planet and its remaining occupants survive us. The web site describes a number of possible causes: pandemic, nuclear winter, asteroid impact. Several of these would be relatively quick, but indiscriminate, possibly leaving a totally dead planet. The premise of the show seems to be an instantaneous vanishing, leaving all physical traces of our civilisation intact. This kind of begs the question, who turns the lights off? Who makes the nukes safe, and closes down industrial processes? What about the mess?

I suppose this is outside the scope of the program. As another New Scientist article ‘Imagine Earth Without People’ put it in 2006:

“Imagine that all the people on Earth – all 6.5 billion of us and counting – could be spirited away tomorrow, transported to a re-education camp in a far-off galaxy. (Let’s not invoke the mother of all plagues to wipe us out, if only to avoid complications from all the corpses).”

Cheery stuff. Inevitably, ‘Life After People’ concentrates on the decay and collapse of our built environment, because it makes more dramatic visuals than watching grass grow, which I imagine would be a major activity if this were to happen for real. It should be remembered that there’s very little of the planet’s surface left that doesn’t bear the mark of human activity, and very few ecosystems that wouldn’t change once we went.


3 Responses

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  1. I was about to say … Pall Mall would grass over, then read the last line of your post. That takes all the fun away.

    Cause of human destruction? – Shaun of the Dead


    January 22, 2008 at 3:36 pm

  2. Ah yes, the superior English version of this

    Pete Smith

    January 22, 2008 at 4:07 pm

  3. I am Legend, yeah what a load of rubbish. We shouldn’t just decouple from the dollar. We would do well to decouple from their cultural influences as well.

    Which reminds me, how is that US share market doing …


    January 22, 2008 at 4:24 pm

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