How nature flourishes when humans leave

Posted by: Adam Aston on April 18, 2008

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The New Scientist has a surprising look at Bikini Atoll, which was famously blasted by the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated in the atmosphere back in 1952 (not to mention 19 other nuclear weapon tests between 1946 and 1958). A recent visit reveals that, in the utter absence of human activity since those tests, the mile-wide crater left by the H-bomb is flourishing with coral life. Welcome news given that elsewhere, reefs are whithering due to direct human contact from fishing and diving, as well as indirect stresses from man-made water pollution. The news resonates with a darkly-wishful theme running through the media of late. From books like “The World Without Us” to movies such as Will Smith’s “I Am Legend”, many folks are exploring the benefits to nature if humanity were to disappear. News that nature is in fact so resilient can cause folks to treat the environment worse in the faith that miraculously, the earth will heal itself. Only problem is: this seems to happen only when humans are taken out of the picture. What do you think?

Reader Comments

Jonathan fguide.org

April 25, 2008 10:57 PM

Back in my civilian clothes again... This isn't an entirely new idea, I don't think. For quite a long time there's been a kind of "darkly-wishful" thinking about untouched nature. Even movies like Apocalypse Now have a thread of it running through (and Heart of Darkness in its time), don't you think? The frightening attraction to going into total wilderness. Given the xenophobia in human nature, the fact that indigenous people are living in these jungles doesn't count to nullify the effect. They seem, to the outsider/explorer, as much a part of the untouched wilderness as any other animal. It's been 15 years or so since I was in college living life as an English major, but I doubt it'd take much lit crit theory to find this sort of darkly-wishful theme in much of our cultural baggage, like Grimm's Fairy Tales and so forth. Not the only theme, of course, but part of what's going on.

Meanwhile, recall that humans can, by certain definitions, be active enablers of fertile nature. The acequia canal systems of northern New Mexico are an example described in various writings by University of Washington Anthropology professor Devon Peña. (For example, see his contribution to Natural Assets. [link is to Google Books display of the chapter]) The activity of the farmers there has had the benefit of increasing biodiversity in the region and building significant quantities of topsoil. The examples along these lines are, unfortunately, too few and far between, but they do exist!

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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