Nobody Home: Earth Without Man Would Recover If humans vanished from Earth, plastic, radio waves and I Love Lucy reruns would be our most enduring legacies. It's a ghostly scenario described in The World Without Us, author Alan Weisman's meditation on how the planet would respond to man's extinction.

Nobody Home: Earth Without Man Would Recover

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SIMON: Within two decades, lightning rods have begun to rust and snap and roof fires leap among buildings, entering paneled offices filled with paper fuel. Gas lines ignite with a rush of flames that blows out windows. Rain and snow blow in and, soon, even poured concrete floors are freezing, thawing and starting to buckle. Burnt insulation and charred wood add nutrients to Manhattan's growing soil cap. Native Virginia creeper and poison ivy claw at walls covered with lichens, which thrive in the absence of air pollution. Red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons nest in increasingly skeletal high-rise structures.

SIMON: Alan, thanks very much for being with us.

SIMON: Thank you, Scott. Great to talk to you.

SIMON: What put this particular vision of the Earth in your mind?

SIMON: So I realized that why don't I just kill everybody off right in the beginning, pose a fantasy in which something just takes us away, say, a Homo sapien-specific virus just picks us off and leaves everything else, or maybe there's a Rapture or something happens, we're gone, but the rest of nature continues on. How long would it take to wipe out our traces? Could it recover from everything we've done to it?

SIMON: Recognizing how difficult this is, can you put a certain time span on a point that might come on the Earth absent of humankind where we could say for the scientific eye, there's no sign of our having been here.

SIMON: So I have a feeling that there's always going to be some sign of us, you know? I looked at the Panama Canal to see how long it would take nature to heal that little gash that separates the Americas. It looks like it'd only take a couple of decades. But Teddy Roosevelt, who built that, his image should be up there on Mount Rushmore for at least 7 million years.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a couple of the trips you made to research the book. You went to what amounts to an abandoned resort hotel in Cyprus where - your beautiful phrase for it, I believe, was that the flowers become wrecking crews.

SIMON: Now, 33 years later, Cyprus is still divided. And this town called Varosha, this resort, is now crumbling. There are ornamental plants that are coming right through the ceilings. There are sand dunes in the lobbies of the hotels. Pigeons roost in there. Rats have taken over. None of these buildings are salvageable anymore. They would have to bulldoze the thing and start over, which tells us something about our modern architecture, some of our oldest buildings on Earth that were built out of the stuff of the Earth, out of stone. Those are the ones that are going to last the longest.

SIMON: You went to Korea's Demilitarized Zone.

SIMON: Next to the whooping crane, they are the rarest crane on Earth, and most of them in the world winter in the DMZ. So it's a constant state of interrupted warfare that is keeping them alive.

SIMON: In the end, to try and understand your book, it's - as I read it, it's not an attempt to say that we would be a happier Earth without humankind, so much as we would be a happier Earth if humankind can find a way to keep the place together.

SIMON: I think it will overcome the human-caused extinction. The question is, can we still remain a part of it? And that's what I really want readers to think about. And I hope my book gives us a little distance from all of our distractions so they can see the rest of the Earth more clearly and then figure out how can we be a part of it.

SIMON: Thanks so much.

SIMON: Thank you, Scott.


SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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