July 1, 2009

"Life After People: How Fast Will Our Cities Crumble?"

A History Channel documentary, rerun last night, depicted something that I've thought about since I was a child. I arrived at this topic when, as a child in the 1960s, I often heard fretting and agonizing about how the entire world was being paved over.

Here's Joni Mitchell channeling the angst of that period:

I thought human beings were stomping out nature and was relieved when I realized that if people stopped tending to their concrete creations, nature would fight back and win. Maybe this song prompted me to think about Nature's inevitable ultimate victory:

Got that? Love will never die. Even after people? Well, there is no History Channel documentary about what happens to love after all of humanity is gone, but how cool to show us what happens to the buildings, bridges, art and monuments....

... and puppies!


AllenS said...

Tomorrow, at 8 am a cement truck from Cemstone will deliver 4 yards of concrete for a slab in front of my shop. The forms are up and the rebar laid and tied together. Joni ain't stoppin this.

Bob said...

Did you ever read Earth Abides when you were younger, Ann?

The Crack Emcee said...

What's "cool" about it? It's malthusianism and nothing more. I, generally, don't care for people any longer but, jeez, I don't want humanity to end.

I watched part of that doc and found it stupid. No people? Things will fall apart. Big deal.

I do remember wondering who such a program was designed to appeal to, and now I know:


Doesn't it make you wonder why you feel that way? Is it any wonder that things are falling apart after the influence of Boomers?

traditionalguy said...

In my opinion, that is a sick idea. Of course everything is temporary on earth including people. In 100 years no one will be alive that is alive now.But the victory is in the unaborted and unexterminated descendants of the human race on this green earth. People enamored by the possibility to achieve mass destruction of human achievements on earth are not my friends, and they should stay in San Francisco.

AllenS said...

Cement. The anti-hippie.

The Drill SGT said...

Cement. The anti-hippie.

One only has to look a those Roman aquaducts, but with laid stone and no mortar to know that some things persist long after 100 years.

The Romans did invent cement though.

the Colusseum however, was built without cementusing iron brackets and stands 2,000 years later.

Those Romans did good work.

MadisonMan said...

I saw that documentary last year, and thought it was kind of interesting -- I liked watching the things fall down.

AllenS said...

Yes, Drill, those Romans did good work. I'm having a Norwegian help me screed the cement tomorrow. They're almost as good as a Roman.

AJ Lynch said...

Old saying ..."Rome wasn't built in a day".

Old Bricklayer I worked for in college .."That's because he did not have that job". Heh.

AJ Lynch said...

I have seen that show too and wondered at the premise?

Ron said...

This show just strikes me as garbage.

Ophir said...

In 100 years no one will be alive that is alive now.

Whoa, why the pessimism? Why not give today's tots a chance at centenarianism?

rhhardin said...

Don't forget Rush's theme song, My City Was Gone (The Pretenders).

Hoosier Daddy said...

Those Romans did good work.

Roma Vita baby.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I saw that documentary last year, and thought it was kind of interesting -- I liked watching the things fall down.

Well with Obama now having his supermajority senate complete with Stuart Smalley you'll get to watch that happen to the nation in the next few years.

AJ Lynch said...

Hoosier, you are a numbers guy so you know the fed spending is unsustainable.

How soon before some Republican utters that old line "zero base budgeting"?

Kite said...

Hermann Hesse wrote a short story in 1910 called "The City" about a city rising from the prairie. At each step in its development, the city fathers remark "Now we're getting somewhere". Later, after the city is abandoned and the plants return to destroy it, they remark "Now we're getting somewhere". This story, and the refrain, has stayed with me since I first read it in the 70's.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Look on my public works, ye Mighty, and despair.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Hoosier, you are a numbers guy so you know the fed spending is unsustainable. How soon before some Republican utters that old line "zero base budgeting"?

Well in all fairness the GOP should have been uttering that phrase 8 years ago. Nevertheless, the electorate has to face reality and realize that this kind of spending is simply unsustainable. I mean we’re already beyond the point of no return once you throw in the unfunded liabilities of SS and Medicare because then we’re looking at over $65 trillion in total federal obligations. That is more than the GDP of the fucking planet yet we’re whistling past the graveyard. I simply stand in amazement when I raise this and the only response is ‘well Bush did it too’ as if that somehow justifies continuing toward the financial drop off.

I think it’s because people just think it’s impossible for the US to go bankrupt. Well we just print more money right? Yeah because that worked so well for let’s see, the Weimar Republic, Argentina, Zimbabwe…Hell if printing money worked, counterfeiters would be our saviors. Well it will come to a head when we finally can’t sell our treasuries because the buyers will have done the math and realize that we simply will be unable to even pay the interest on the debt and that is getting damn close now.
The fact is we can go back to pre-Kennedy marginal rates and we still don’t have enough money to pay for all this yet our Dear Leader is continuing us on the path of his predecessor who he blames for getting us in this mess in the first place. I mean it would be laughable if it wasn’t so fucking tragic.

/end rant

Fred4Pres said...

I found it boring too. Dystopias are fun, but there have to be a few human survivors to enjoy the empty ruins. Of course Dystopias are fun only if you are one of the lucky few to survive the dying time!

Lindsay said...

To me this is like the question if a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

If no one is there...who cares?

nansealinks said...

remember when you posted about drum beats or something in evolution? i commented but i am not going to look.

last night when i went to visit all my stuff after not seeing it since that cold day in hell in february, the only thing i really wanted to get back after all that stuff was gone was my drum

now i got my beat back.

does that make me a hippie? well i also had to get my handy womans bag and bucket and some things to clean.

still like the counting crows version of that song way way better.


he only charges the people a dollar and a half to see the trees instead of a whopping 25.

The Drill SGT said...


you might like a recent militray SF, post global catastrophe (bird flu plus).

The story is told by mid-wes farmer turned grunt

a fun read for thee and me.


nansealinks said...

what is wrong with those guys anyway who are listening? there is only one guy at 44 seconds even tapping his leg and fingers to the beat.

some years ago i went to a free concert. first live concert in years and years and years. rocca deluca.

i never go to concerts but somebody told me to get out and get a life, so i tried. Man i couldn't stand that the people were just sitting still. Very disappointing. Not the band, they were great. it was the audience.

i decided had a life with all the music in my bones. and I didn't need to sit still for two hours just listening.

nansealinks said...

Mortar is a mixture of sand, a binder such as cement or lime, and water

it degrades.

and lime probably causes disease or at least makes tulips grow or something. I didn't read the article i just found this.

Eat Tulips and Die from the yale daily news

Swelling deer numbers ...// //, are helping spread Lyme disease. But lately, humans have started to fight back.

Hoosier Daddy said...

you might like a recent militray SF, post global catastrophe (bird flu plus).

I'll have to check that out. Honestly, I am not enthralled with Ringo's stuff overall but I'll check that one.

Best military sci-fi I have read is Pournelle's Falkenberg series.

MrBuddwing said...

This show just strikes me as garbage.

No interest in an Earth totally devoid of people? Ever read H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine"?

nansealinks said...

concerning time machine:

I saw that book as a movie, the recent version, at someone's house while they had the tv on. and now i am just waiting for one of my dimensions to get in line with the other person in the machine. dang it has been so close so many times.

course sometimes the closeness in aligning dimensions turns out to be crushing, but that's the way it has got to be.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Talking Heads (w/Johnny MArr!) said it best 20 years ago:

Plumwood Road said...

Two things: There is something inherently creepy about this subject, or at least the way it is presented.

Watching the previews I thought "what if someone had a camera and stood on the deck of the Titanic filming while the ship went down?"

This supposes that the photographer, or at least his pictures, survive, Or, that someone survives to view the footage. But with the end of civilization -- Population: 0 -- who survives to either take or view the pictures? Who is sitting in the audience?

That's where the "creep-factor" comes in. The sub-text message here is that the world can get along without everyone else, but I'll be just fine. I'll be able to pop up some corn and watch the show. I don't know what to make of that.

Second point: If you are curious about civilization vanishing, rent the terrific 1950s science-fiction movie, "Forbidden Planet". Intergalactic explorers discover a world where all life disappeared millions of years ago. Late in the film the cause is revealed and it is something worth thinking about.

John Lynch said...

I read the
the series is based on. It's a lot of paranoia about plastics. The author laments all the plastic molecules left all over the place and all through the ecosystem. Fine, but if plastic doesn't decay and doesn't interact with life, what's the problem? He doesn't offer any evidence that it's harmful, just that it's everywhere at the molecular level. Just the existence of it offends him.

I also got the impression that the existence of humans offended him.

Anyway, if people can survive in the Apocalypse that is 21st century Africa (war, plague, Mad Max cars with guns) we can survive anything. It's a lot harder to kill people off than is generally recognized. Population in the Congo, home of the worst war since WW2, AIDS, and Ebola, is growing.

There's a neat book called "After Man" by Dougal Dixon that looks at evolution 50 million years from now.

traditionalguy said...

The funny part is that Christians who seriously believe the Books of Revelations and Daniel are told to quit being insane fools, while these prophets from Academia out do those end of "The present world system" predictions in the Bible with a prediction of the real end of all human life, and present that as a good thing.

kimsch said...

I've watched several episodes and I see it as Gaia will heal, pretty much no matter what we do. The series shows many places right now where humans had been and are no longer and those places are being reclaimed by nature. One is an island off Japan, another an island off Manhattan.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

I just watch so I know what the world will be like when I'm the only one left. It pays to be prepared.

Elliott A said...

While Joni Mitchell's song sounds like an environmental anthem, the 'Paradise" in question was actually a bar in Hollywood that sat back off the street with some grass and a couple of trees in front. It was levelled to make a parking lot. In the other lines of the song, she is lamenting how everything must be newer and better and how the world was being reshaped into artificiality rather than being left "au natural". "Paradise" suffers the same fate since it is replaced by a trendy club, modern and artificial.

Joe said...

The show is interesting, but makes loads of mistakes in favor of sensationalism. The show rightly points out that we have an example of a place without people; Chernobyl. Weirdly, however, it then blithely proceeds to ignore many of the things we learn there AND THEIR OWN VIDEO FOOTAGE.

The last thing is where it gets weird. At one point the narrator says something in direct contradiction of what is being shown in the Chernobyl footage. At the time (I saw the show when it first aired) I got the distinct impression that the editor had done this deliberately.

(The point of Chernobyl is that some things fall apart faster than you might expect while others take just as long, if not longer, than you would expect. In terms of the show, the most remarkable thing about Chernobyl is how intact it still is, in direct contradiction to claims on the show.)

Crimso said...

Okay, I don't care if it's the best damned piece of television since "CPO Sharkey." It doesn't belong on the History Channel. History. History. Not Future History Channel. Not UFO Channel. Not Monster Channel. I would watch the History Channel 14.78 hrs per day if they would actually show history.

Big Mike said...

@Elliott A, sounds like Kelo.

Ralph L said...

I thought it was silly because all the people disappeared at the same time. They forget that a lot of urban decay is caused by people, not nature.

How many children did it scare into radicalism? The History Channel has also run a lot of UFO and JfK conspiracy crap. Who owns them?

John Lynch said...

Crimso, the History Channel is gone. I stopped watching years ago.

All educational TV eventually becomes ghosts, UFOs, conspiracies, Nazis, and reality shows.

TLC at least avoided the Nazis.

David said...

For nearly all of time, there were no humans on the earth. We have been around, in our current social forms, for perhaps 10,000 years, maybe less. In our current biological form, we may be 100,000 years old.

Will there still be humans on earth in another 10,000 years? 100,000? 1,000,000? Even if our species lasts a million years from now, our time on earth will have been fleeting. Does the earth cease to matter after we are gone? Did it not matter before man evolved? Does God, if there is a God, have no interest in the creatures that preceded and will succeed us? If not, why did he create them?

The notion of the permanence of our species is our ultimate foolishness. We do not rule the earth and never will.

sarah said...

Okay, maybe someone can clear something up for me. One of my husband's co-workers saw this last year, and according to him, the show claims that in 1000 years, all traces of human beings would be gone.

Help me out here, people. Did they really say that? And what were their arguments? The pyramids alone are already 5000 years-old and counting. I suspect that the ancient world would last longer than the modern, which is interesting...but even so, 1000 years seems pretty arbitrary. Am I wrong? This has been bugging the crap out of me.

Big Mike said...

I'm not sure what all the shouting is about. Extinction is the end of every species and death is the end of every individual. I don't expect to beat those odds and I doubt whether anybody commenting in this thread will either. I'm not sure why anybody thinks that humanity will not go extinct someday. Nearly every species that has ever existed has gone extinct.

traditionalguy said...

Big Mike...Isaiah 54:10 gives a promise from the earth maker.

nansealinks said...

i dont follow science fiction. maybe a star trek episode here or there. of course, wall•e my favorite movie. Actually i think you can see this in fractals. Tribes going extinct or civilizations crumbling, empires destroyed.

I remember entering the microsoft philosophy forums long ago after being courted by a person to do so. seven , eight years ago i saw that as furthering my education. now i see it as something i didn't even need. It was all inside me all the time, and i didn't need the stimulus that those group had.

anyway, what is done is done. what is destroyed is destroyed. even if it was part of me.

one of the first discussion i was in was about being the last person left on earth. you can have enough foresight that an entire planet is hardly going to disappear all at once. the key is if the reproducing females disappear or if the last females are willing to have sexual intercourse with the remaining males. i remember some intellectuals making fun of my uneducated style/ talk back then. they thought they could trip me up easy. I don't have the discussion on my files but i have a memory and i know the conversation in my head. it involved the pope saving people from death and collecting firewood and keeping the fire going. somebody has that conversation ice. I asked for it. No one wants to give me my words back. they own them now. the only think i own is my memory and keeping my integrity and dignity so that if ever asked about that someone might believe me. Of course, there are people out there trying to destroy my integrity and my dignity. If they were the last people left on earth i would ...

never mind. needless to say i would let the human race die out before i reproduced with someone trying to disgrace me. and that is when civilizations die. when the women can no longer trust the dignity of men.

nansealinks said...


Terry said...

Liberals tend toward thinking humans and what they have built will inevitably result in a disastrous future.

Conservatives tend toward thinking humans and what they have built will result in a continuously improving future.

Why is that?