when humans disappear

October 6, 2008

Call me morose, but I really enjoy watching the National Geographic show Aftermath: Population Zero which chronicles the systematic collapse of everything humans built after our species disappears from the face of the Earth. It was created during a sort of mini doomsday craze sparked by the book The World Without Us in which author Alan Wiesman lays out what would happen if humanity were to suddenly vanish. The press coverage for the book generated a flood of investigative articles and two television specials about what would happen to the planet us and Aftermath has been rerun again and again which seems to indicate good ratings for the show.

Watching Aftermath, I learned something new for myself. I never knew what would happen after nuclear reactors ran out of power. I naively assumed that they would just shut down and all the spent fuel and waste would quietly decay in concrete walls with an occasional radiation leak in a few plants here and there. Nope, no such luck as this teaser kindly explains.

So why the fascination with what will happen to the planet after were gone? All of us know that almost no trace of us will be left if any. But yet we watch how our ruins decay in graphic detail, taking in every detail of a macabre doomsday erotica. Could it be a manifestation of our unique ability to realize our own mortality and think about what will happen after were dead and gone?

After watching the show again, its final note struck me as very odd. Weve spent about 60,000 years on planet Earth as a species, but the only place capable of preserving our creative and technological legacy for millions, if not hundreds of millions of years, is the Moon. If we vanish tomorrow, our greatest legacy will be what was once deemed as a multi-billion dollar publicity stunt of the Space Race. Isnt that something?

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  • Well, the souvenirs we left on The Sea of Tranquility might be erased by impacts from asteroids and comets even before our Sun inflates into a red giant, possibly evaporating the evidence to our existence. Maybe NASAs Voyager Project is a better candidate?

    p.s. I saw that amazing show a few months ago.

  • Jypson

    The longing to know of what will be after we pass, is possibly a staple of humanity itself. If our media is indeed a reflection of society, its no wonder why movies featuring imaginative ways of our apocalyptic destruction do so well. I feel that everything must come to an end, as thats what history has taught me, and humanity is no exception. Speculating on how that event will come about and what legacy, if any, is left behind is only human. Its a healthy way for us to evaluate our own lives and consider what legacy each one of us will leave behind.