Crossposted from V for Vegan.
Last January, The History Channel aired Life After People, a one-part documentary that imagined what a world suddenly absent humans might look like:
In the program, scientists and other experts speculate about how the Earth, animal life, and plant life might be like if, suddenly, humanity no longer existed, as well as the effect humanity’s disappearance might have on the artificial aspects of civilization. Speculation is based upon documented results of the sudden removal of humans from a geographical area and the possible results that would occur if humanity discontinues its maintenance of buildings and urban infrastructure.
The documentary features the gradual and post-apocalyptic disintegration of urban civilization in a time span of 10,000 years after humanity suddenly vanished. The hypotheses are depicted using CGI dramatizations of the possible fate of iconic structures and landmarks (i.e. the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Space Needle, the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hoover Dam).
Having just received Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us for FSMas, I was super-psyched about the documentary (which aired as part of a block of similar programming, such as Last Days on Earth) – and Life After People did not disappoint. The graphics were amazing, and the time projections – from 1 to 10 days after our disappearance, to 1 to 10,000 years post-h. sapiens – were quite impressive. Perhaps most importantly, and much like The World Without Us, Life After People gave me great hope for the future – or rather, for a future without us. Many of humanity’s so-called “greatest achievements” will prove a small match for the forces of nature, particularly once we’re no longer around to beat nature back. Those species which we haven’t yet driven to extinction will be given a second chance, and the earth will regenerate, reclaiming the land and resources we’ve stolen from it.
As I wrote in a review of The World Without Us,
Environmentalists – indeed, any person [with a] modicum of decency – will be happy to know that much of what we’ve done to the Earth, can be quickly undone. With the exception of those species we’ve already managed to eradicate, many endangered and threatened animal species do stand a fighting chance in a world without us. Many of our “greatest accomplishments,” from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hoover Dam, will eventually crumble without humans around to maintain them. Forests, grasslands, and jungles will recover lost ground, though native species will be forced into competition with exotic ones introduced by humans. Global warming will slow and the ozone layer will regain molecular equilibrium. Our most enduring legacies will be our most unnatural creations: nuclear waste, plastics, and petrochemicals. Hopefully a world without us will evolve microbes to digest the more than one billion pounds of plastic we’ve dumped into the environment since the late ‘50s. […]
Whether it happens tomorrow or in 900 million years – when our Sun enters a red giant phase and begins to expand and contract, thus heating the Earth and evaporating our surface water – we will disappear. In this regard, we’re no better than the great megafauna of the Holocene epoch – or the lowly cockroaches and rodents that congregate in our fragile urban areas. It’s not a question of if we will vanish, but when; perhaps we should make our exit a graceful one, taking no more of our fellow earthlings to the grave than we already have.
Call me a hopeless cynic if you’d like, but it’s worth noting that Life After People was the History Channel’s most-watched program ever, with an estimated 5.4 million viewers. Something resonated.
Anyhow, while flipping around the teevee this morning, I was happily surprised to stumble upon Episode 2 of Life After People: The Series. Apparently last year’s documentary proved so popular that the History Channel commissioned a 10-part mini-series: