The World Without Us

It is very easy to get a stable system, but very difficult to get the one you want." Kevin Kelley, Out of Control, 1993

I am reading The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Weisman does a brilliant job of de-constructing Planet Earth given the proposition that humans somehow vanished from her.  His research took him throughout the world asking questions of engineers and scientists about how long our built world would last without our care-taking.  The book is mind-blowing! Whether cities, farms, forests, oceans, or desert, man has tinkered enough for his own purposes to totally distort Earth's ecosystems.  Unintended consequences are just beginning to surface, many of them long known to those who created products and services for the benefit of mankind.  Unfortunately, as humans we have let ourselves be led by greed and power, making kings out of corporations with their insatiable hunger for growth, power, money, and consumer/serfs.  Feedback of a systemic nature has been totally missing. Now, indeed, we have a system on Earth that we did not intend, and in many ways do not want ... one that will take more than a million years to undo.  Weisman remains neutral in his brilliant story telling ... or as neutral as he can be ... for someone who loves nature and is aware of how much she had/has to teach us if we would only listen and learn.  The author tells stories of cities going back to nature; of farmland soils living with the consequences of fertilizers throughout the next half million years or so; of water and wetlands finding ways to purify themselves; of native plants being uprooted by foreign invaders; of species disappearing at alarming rates; and of weapons and military tools lasting far, far  into the future.

Alan Weisman wrote another of my favorite books: Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World.  This is a brilliant book, although it was not a bestseller like The World Without Us.  and in it, the author clearly shows the simple rules of invention and design that have both short and long feedback loops as part of the design development. In one part of the book, he speaks of a visitor to Gaviotas who for the first time in his life, sees real happiness. Can we truly be happy as a species without understanding what we are doing? What the consequences of our actions are?

What is the system we want? As we go forth to try and undo some of the damage we have created, are we building in feedback systems? Is it possible to change the game and move away from unfettered profits at any cost? The World Without Us is one of the most fascinating and wonderfully written books I have ever read, but I cannot read too much of it at once. It is disturbing, fun, insightful, and maybe somewhat hopeful.  I still have much to read and digest.