The end of the world as we know it

What would the world be like without humans?

If a recent special on the National Geographic Channel is correct, it would be much better off.  “Aftermath: Population Zero” takes a hypothetical look (and I emphasize the hypo) at what would happen should every human on the planet suddenly disappear.  From the show’s description:

This is the astounding story of a world we will never see. A world without people, where city streets are still populated by cars, but without drivers. Nobody to fix bridges, repair buildings or maintain power plants. After being controlled by humanity for millennia, nature reclaims the earth. But how would that work? How long would skyscrapers, nuclear power plants, and our homes last if abandoned? How would wild and domestic animals fare without us? Will the Eiffel Tower outlast the Statue of Liberty? Aftermath: Population Zero gives us a chance to see the impact of human beings by seeing how Earth would adapt without us.

It’s a concept that could be very interesting — a philosophical pause on an I Am Legend scenario that shows us how humans really are the pinnacle of creation.  It could be interesting, except for the one thing “Aftermath” forgets: humans are a part of nature.

Following a textbook environmentalist script, the show postulates how our nuclear power plants, suddenly unmanned, will explode and cause mass devastation upon the world — we apparently can’t stop tearing stuff up even after we’ve left the building.

Not to fear, the planet soon heals itself and recovers just fine without us.  Even the “green” movement gets a boost without those pesky people to interfere.  As the narrator observers, “Manhattan turns from gray to green.” And as the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty finally crumble after a millennium, we learn that it’s all just part of how “nature is reclaiming the world, city by city.”

All documentaries, even the speculative ones like “Aftermath” — have a moral at the end of the story.  It’s the take-away message that we’ve all learned from what we’ve just seen.  As nearly all traces of human existence are wiped out, our narrator encourages us with the fact that “earth is resilient — in time, it cleaned up every mess we made — all we had to do was get out of the way.”