If you were to take the Earth’s current age and represent it on a 24-hour scale, the existence of humans would be indicated by roughly 30-seconds of time. That’s it. For all our hubris in celebrating our species rise above all others, we’re certainly an anomaly in the scheme of things. As indicated in the History Channel’s fantastic new documentary, Life After People, those 30-seconds of achievement can quickly be wiped away in less than half that time.
Last June, I wrote about a new book by Alan Weisman titled The World Without Us. In it, Weisman breaks down step by step what would happen to civilization if we simply vanished from the face of the planet tomorrow. For example, within about two days, New York City’s subway system would be completely flooded. Without power to keep the pumps running, the various tunnels and shafts would quickly fill by the region’s displaced underground rivers.
What the History Channel has done is basically used Weisman’s work as a script for a computer-generated look at the remaining vestiges of our society. We go all the way from one day to 10,000 years into the future. The visual effects used to represent the decay of our world and nature’s reclamation is stunning. As in the book, the film focuses in particular on New York City (as all good disaster flicks might) and does a great job of brining to life the various conceptual images that Scientific American presented to coincide with World Without Us.
What’s pretty amazing is how far the show takes you — from the eventual collapse of the Eiffel Tower to NYC’s skyscrapers being turned into vertical habitats, with some creatures never touching the ground in their lifetimes. Finally, here’s the most interesting/disturbing thought: No matter what power humans may exert upon the Earth in terms of climate change/global warming, NYC will one day be covered once more in massive two-mile thick glaciers. What force we do have in terms of affecting temperatures will only delay the inevitable that one day a good portion of our cities will be wiped by crushing ice.
On that note, here’s something to ponder: Of all the landmarks in the United States, which one will last perhaps 500,000-1 million years? Give me your best guesses in the comments below.