Newsweek writer Jerry Adler penned an environmental-extremist quote for the ages in the last issue of 1990, writing "It's a morbid observation, but if everyone on earth just stopped breathing for an hour, the greenhouse effect would no longer be a problem." More than 16 years later, Adler’s on the morbid anti-human bandwagon again in this week’s Newsweek with an entire page-long article reporting "If humans were evacuated, the Earth would flourish." The hatred for man’s apparent ruination of the Earth comes right through in his coldly casual discussion of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement:
Environmentalists have their own eschatology—a vision of a world not consumed by holy fire but returned to ecological balance by the removal of the most disruptive species in history. That, of course, would be us, the 6 billion furiously metabolizing and reproducing human beings polluting its surface.
There's even a group trying to bring it about, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose Web site calls on people to stop having children altogether. And now the journalist Alan Weisman has produced, if not a bible, at least a Book of Revelation, "The World Without Us," which conjures up a future something like ... well, like the area around Chernobyl, the Russian nuclear reactor that blew off a cloud of radioactive steam in 1986. In a radius of 30 kilometers, there are no human settlements—just forests that have begun reclaiming fields and towns, home to birds, deer, wild boar and moose.
This is where you might begin to think that environmentalists should not be portayed as philanthropists, but as misanthropes, as man-haters and nature worshippers. It would be interesting to see a green candidate try to go to a town meeting and suggest the world would be better off if all you voters were wiped out by a virus. "Blood for oil" sounds wimpy next to that. Adler admiringly chronicled Weisman’s wish-experiments in massive human die-backs:
Weisman's intriguing thought experiment is to ask what would happen if the rest of the Earth was similarly evacuated—not by a nuclear holocaust or natural disaster, but by whisking people off in spaceships, or killing them with a virus that spares the rest of the biosphere. In a world with no one to put out fires, repair dams or plow fields, what would become of the immense infrastructure humans have woven across the globe?
Adler unspooled a vision of civilization collapsing and nature advancing to an extinct-human utopia of Africa teeming with elephants and the seas teeming with fish.
Sound appealing? Well, it did to Weisman, too, when he began work on the book four years ago. And "four out of five" of the people he's told about it, he estimates, thought the idea sounded wonderful. Since we're headed inexorably toward an environmental crash anyway, why not get it over cleanly and allow the world to heal? Over time, though, Weisman's attitude toward the rest of humanity softened, as he thought of some of the beautiful things human beings have accomplished, their architecture and poetry, and he eventually arrived at what he views as a compromise position: a worldwide, voluntary agreement to limit each human couple to one child. This, says Weisman—who is 60, and childless after the death of his only daughter—would stabilize the human population by the end of the century at about 1.6 billion, approximately where it was in 1900.
Adler doesn’t consider the egomania in Weisman’s ponderings, that he has so mercifully decided that the rest of humanity could survive his extinction fantasy, if at a greatly reduced rate of birth.
Sadly, Time magazine also promotes the book with a smaller item that also claims Weisman is "pleasantly morbid" and get this – "refreshingly unscreechy." It’s un-screechy to imagine how much better the world would be if a virus wiped us all out of the biosphere? The tone of the small piece was established in the first few lines:
Suppose the human race were to just vanish? What would happen to our houses, our cities, our precious plastic novelty items? In The World Without Us, this pleasantly morbid parlor game becomes a grandly entertaining (and refreshingly unscreechy) study of the ways we meddling humans have perturbed our planet and of how blithely the earth would shrug off our departure.
This item must have been written by Time book critic Lev Grossman, who blogged it with high praise (and some of the same verbiage):
Last month I plugged this book gonzo-style, without actually having read it. Now I've read Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, and it turns out that in my total ignorance, I was right: I don't think I've read a better non-fiction book this year.