The World Without Us

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Or keep asking until we do.

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So I did, in more than twenty countries over two years. Now, you get to ask them for yourselves, as you follow my travels and inquiry.


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Science Friday. Latest Episode. In Sellafield in England, liquid radioactive waste is mixed with molten glass and large glass block are then stored in air-conditioned warehouses. In this case, there is no need for a fire — a permanent lack of electric power is enough for temperatures to begin to rise and accident to become a given.

When the water evaporates, the temperature in the basins rises both literally and metaphorically. There are nearly nuclear power plants on Earth. Perhaps all this radioactivity which will be around for billions of years , will give rise to exciting new mutations that will compensate for all plant and animal species we humans have made extinct? Or will this simply be the last time we give the finger to the rest of the planet from beyond our graves?

In this context, humanity is an increasingly violent volcanic eruption that has lasted without interruption since the s. The geological cycle will eventually bring CO2 levels back to what existed before humans began to influene the climate, but it will take approximately years. Or longer.

THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Alan Weisman | Kirkus Reviews

On a somewhat smaller level, we will leave a lot of car tires behind us. When natural rubber is vulcanized heated and mixed with finely powdered sulfur , the end product is one big molecule. The process of vulcanizing rubber is unfortunately irreversible — you can not melt down a tire and produce something else out of it.


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Tires are here to stay, and until evolution produces a microbe that likes to eat its hydrocarbons spiked with sulfur, only ozone and ultraviolet rays can break down the rubber-sulfur atoms. You could by all means burn the tires, but that is hardly a good idea:.

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In the United States, on average one third of a billion tires are thrown away annually one tire per person. Add to that the tires from the rest of the world. We might not leave as much as a trillion tires behind us on earth, but by now we have probably enriched the environment with hundreds of billions of virtually non-degradable car tires. Some of the longest-lasting man-made artifacts are located in Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

There are approximately underground salt domes located hundreds of meters below ground and whose contents have been dissolved by water being pumped in by humans , and whose walls consist of impermeable salt crystals. The domes are used as a place for storage fossil gases, including the most hazardous and flammable ones, such as ethylene. The best thing future explorers can do is to leave these dangerous substance where they are stored under extreme pressure , but how could they know?

Alan Weisman on The World Without Us

A topic that Weisman touches on several times in the book is the challenge of communicating that some places are dangerous, or in some other way making future explorers understand that they should leave certain locations alone e. What would happen to all above-ground structures in this huge industrial park?

Lesson 2: Predators will rise again and domestic farm animals will be their lunch.

If someone has time to press the stop button, there would be no immediate danger, but the petrochemical products would eventually leak out or be dissolved in the air as the tanks rust away. If instead the whole machinery would continue to run but unmonitored, pressures and temperatures would remain high and the outcome would be widespread explosions and fires.

Maybe a big chain reaction would burn up the whole caboodle — possibly during a period of several weeks, or perhaps as a long series of more isolated incidents which are spread out over time. But if there was a chain reaction in which several petrochemical plants burned up at the same time, many extremely toxic substances would be emitted into the air simultaneously such as hydrogen cyanide , the active component in the WWII extermination camp gas Zyklon B.

Europe and North America, with the biggest concentrations of refineries and chemical plants, would be the most contaminated.

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