Introduction: What would be the developments to follow on Planet Earth, in the absence of human beings?
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Sages meditated for Ages; the wise-men wrote millions of pages; kings and statesmen gave brilliant speeches—about joy and happiness, that has eluded the mankind in the known history. What a profound mystery! The pages of human history, daubed in bloodshed, very recently that of World War I & II and Nanking (China) ask the crying question. How to make this Planet Earth, heaven-like? The answer is simple and direct. Eyes full of understanding, the heart full of love and the life that refuses conflicts—enough. These alone are enough. Well, if peace is not possible for humanity, what is the alternative? Alan Weisman seems to have the answer.
His poser is, what will happen, if human beings are bundled out from Earth, lock, stock and barrel? He is trying to find the answer with methodical investigations. He has provided certain very interesting observations and he describes the eventualities that are likely to happen in this human-race-less planet when the census figures related to human population is a big zero Well, the torch has been passed on to non- human beings. Now it depends what they will do, with what we have left, and from where we have left. Rest would be a novel history (But who will report it and who will record it?)Rest would be Planet Earth’s destiny. Such species , which were so far under the protective wings of the human beings, will be run over by the enemies of human beings.
One positive, unfailing development is, it is peace at last. Less noise, no pollution, no rat-race, no cut-throat competition, all the negativities which are the hallmark of human race will vanish from the face of Earth. Mother Earth will be bored, but temporarily. Weisman met and interviewed engineers, naturalists, scientists and maintenance workers, who make and unmake the developments on Earth, and collected valuable information. His research was all-embracing. He was aware of the importance of a microbe so also a giant whale, in the nature’s scheme of things. Each leaf has an assigned role.
Small and big things have a path laid down for them. His conclusions were both amazing and made an inconvenient reading for the human beings. Anyway, they have bid farewell to the Earth and hence no worry on this count.
The contents of the book have set many thinking about the damage that they have been causing, some without being aware of the consequences of their actions. Weisman writes,
“The plastics chapter really hit people between the eyes. A lot of women have told me that they are utterly appalled to learn that they have been flushing plastic down the drain that has gone out to sea [from exfoliates that contain polyethylene]. Actually eliminating plastic would be very easy….” (Weisman, 2007).Human beings think that they can go scot-free and do anything. Nature is that Force, which will never condone one’s wrong actions. You have to suffer for your wrong actions. Nature doesn’t entertain mercy petitions.
Sky is the limit for Weisman’s imagination. But it is not that alone. His reporting is scientifically solid. On many issues it is based on facts. An able sociologist and philosopher writes in all seriousness. A man of concern for the ecological issues and a man of reason! Some of the changes that will soon follow upon the evacuation of human beings from Earth are worth enumeration. Weisman says, after some days, with no one to man the pumps, Manhattan’s subways dry would fail; tunnels will overflow; the soil under streets will be a major threat to the tall skyscrapers, whose life s otherwise, many centuries. They will begin to crumble. Indestructible plastic and goods made out of bronze will survive for millions of years.
He gives the example of Chernobyl, where scientists thought that it is all over for this part of the world, but the land freed from the greed of man, animal life has comfortably returned. The tragedy happened in 1986 and within a short period of two decades, nature has reconstituted itself, and is on the upbeat again. There is another wonder for everyone to see. In the vacant demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the once extinct Amur leopard and goral mountain goat, have reappeared. With human beings gone, Nature will carry out many a ‘reformation’ and ‘rehabilitation’ activities and will make all out efforts to recoup its original health!
Weisman says that the Earth will look like the haunted house, but will it be really so? The Nature will redress herself, and she is unlikely to shed any tears for the absence of human beings, for they have done more damage to her than any benefit. Human beings have always exploited her for self-aggrandizement. With their departure the trees will have the freedom to grow wherever they like and find the comfort of unlimited growth. As for the animal kingdom, the domesticated dogs will be extinct before long; the wild predators have been bidding their time. The petrochemical complexes at Texas, with none to care, might be on fire, hydrogen cyanide will be blown all over, and there could be a rain of chemicals. As for the polymer waste, the nature will in all probability give evidence of the polymer-eating microbe. Then fish and bird population will multiply to unimaginable counts.
Planet Earth will look like a big wildlife sanctuary. For the really concerned human being, the book has many thoughts to ponder and questions to answer. In all probability, he will change some of his lifestyles. He will also repent how cruel he has been to the systems of nature and how resilient and benevolent is Nature. How many human follies it has condoned. In the name of industrialization and advancement of materialistic civilization, how he has been engaged in destructive projects, and continues to commit some of the greatest and unpardonable blunders like, tearing the peaks of mountains, dumping plastic waste in beautiful and blue waters of the oceans, challenging the climate with carbon emission—is this progress and welfare in the real sense? Oh, man wake up. You are cutting the branch of the tree on which you are sitting.
The book is the cautionary one that advises human beings not to draw too much upon the generosity and goodwill of Earth. If the torch of survival of humanity is to be carried further, it’s time we pause for a while and think about the future plans. It now depends what we do with what our forefathers have left and from where they have left. Any complacency is peril. Though this is an environmental book, it is a must for the politicians, sociologists and above all scientists. God forbid, atom bombs and hydrogen bombs are not necessary for the ultimate destruction of humanity. Without declaring World War III, we are already at war with ourselves. The humanity has played with many theoretical juggleries. Now it is time for concrete action.
It can be said that man collectively shrinks back more and more from Earth, and it can also be said that on all sides the natural forces are closing in more and more upon man. A life time of effort is required and at this hour, man should not fail in his duty towards Earth. He should not shrink back. It is difficult, but not to take the principled position now is to invite more difficulties. In the final chapter Weisman comes out with a suggestion which has been aired in this or that part of the world quite often. It is the one child per family norm. According to him, it is the only solution to save humanity. This will raise controversy and may not be acceptable as a policy in many countries. But it could be one of the suggestions for consideration.
Weisman writes well. His prose is appealing and charming. The subject matter of the book is new, the narrations beautiful and therefore this becomes a rare creation. The author has dealt with this unique topic in his lucid style, and as the story develops, it becomes poignant, without losing its ground and reality. The theme of the book and the author’s attitude towards the story, both evoke curiosity. The level of detachment achieved by the author in the book is commendable. Without giving room for too much sentimentalism, the grim situation on Plant Earth manifests clearly, grows and attains new dimensions. The novel deserves an outstanding position on account of this approach. The mutual reaction between different subjects and situations, reveal in the most natural way, the convictions for which the book stands for. This is the uniqueness of the book.
“As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that doesn't depend on our demise. It appeals to the heart and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly-readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.”(NHBS….)..Many of the observations of Weisman have the philosophical approach to life and reach the threshold of spirituality.
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