2009.01.14 When we're no longer here

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I rented a cheery movie for the holidays called “Life After People.” Just a light comedy about what would happen to the planet if there were no longer any humans living on it.

No, it’s far from a comedy, but it sounded rather interesting. Maddie loaded the disk, I told my wife what it was about and her reaction wasn’t positive.

Something like this: Who cares what the planet looks like if we’re not around to see it? She was more interested in learning how to prevent the situation from happening in the first place.

The film—patterned after Alan Weisman’s book, “The World Without Us”—doesn’t make any assumptions about how the Earth became unpeopled. It just starts off on day one with everything looking normal. No evidence of a massive nuclear war. No sign of a suffocating dust cloud from a meteor hit. We’re just not here.

Within a few hours, power generating plants begin to run out of fuel and the planet gradually goes dark.

There’s one glaring exception: Las Vegas. The glittering lights of that city would continue for months until the Hoover Dam coolant pipes finally become clogged with mussels and the generating plant shuts down.

Pets locked up inside houses could survive for a few days and those outside would begin competing for food. Those suffering the most would be the animals that humans bred for appearance. The short legs and small mouths of a bulldog or terrier put them at a distinct disadvantage in the fight for survival.

Within six months, rats and mice are running out of food and are forced to return to the wild where they flourished before us. Deer are seen grazing on lawns in towns. Coyotes and bobcats move into the suburbs.

After a year, the breakup of sidewalks and highways is underway as plants take root in cracks. Fires caused by lightning strikes would burn uncontrolled.

After five years, plant life covers many urban surfaces as grass, vines and saplings spread. Many roads start to disappear.

The deterioration of a city isn’t all speculation. The movie takes viewers to Prypiat, Ukraine, a city that was abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 22 years ago.

Within 25 years, sea water will flood cities such as London and Amsterdam which are kept dry by human engineering. High rise windows begin to crack and shatter through the freeze/thaw cycles.

Fifty years after we’re gone, wood frame houses will show significant deterioration. Steel structures such as bridges are showing signs of strain from neglect.

Except in very dry climates, hundreds of millions of automobiles would have corroded into barely recognizable heaps within 75 years. The world’s major bridges would begin to collapse within a century.

In a few more years, streets with subways below would collapse into the flooded tunnels. A new wild landscape would rise vertically onto tall buildings.

Eventually the skyscrapers would tumble. Within 500 years, modern concrete would give way as the rebar inside expands.

In a thousand years, cities would appear much as they did before human settlement, with fallen buildings becoming new hills. In 10,000 years, there’s really not much trace of us remaining. Mount Rushmore, the Pyramids, portions of the Great Wall—that’s about it. Eventually the glaciers would be back to wipe it all clean in the northern hemisphere.

The music and the narrator make for a very annoying movie, but it’s fascinating to watch how things would change. Eventually it all works back to the way things were—a pristine wilderness that must have been extremely frightful to a human being.

What we call wilderness now is actually quite tame and few people would want to go back to those really wild times.

I can’t help but think of the head start the disintegration would have at my house. Grass encroaching on the edges of the sidewalk. Weeds firmly entrenched along the back fence. Animals in the walls and ants, in season, in the kitchen. Corrosion expanding across the old van. A large grizzly bear in the basement. And on it goes.

  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.snake
    Lannis Smith of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor shows off a python last week at Stair District Library's Summer Reading Program.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
    LINED UP—Lengths of pipe were put in place last week along the route of the Rover natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Ontario, Canada. Topsoil was removed before the pipes were laid out. The 42-inch diameter pipeline is scheduled for completion in November.
  • Front.rock Study
    ROCKHOUNDS—From the left, Joseph McCullough, Sean Pagett and Jonathan McCullough peer through hand lenses to study rocks. The project is part of Morenci Elementary School’s summer camp that continues into August.

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