Members get a snapshot view of new Long Now content with easy access to all their member benefits.
Published quarterly, the member newsletter gives in-depth and behind the scenes updates on Long Now's projects.
Special updates on the 10,000 Year Clock project are posted on the members only Clock Blog.
Filmed on Wednesday February 24, 02010
Author of the best-seller, The World Without Us (2007), Alan Weisman is professor of journalism and Latin American studies at the University of Arizona. His other books include An Echo in My Blood (1999) and Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World (1998).
Journalist Weisman traveled the world to investigate what happens when humans stop occupying an area. How long do our artifacts last? How does nature recover? What does that say about the human impact on the world? What would be the actual sequence of events if all of humanity suddenly disappeared?
The exercise provides inspiration and techniques for humans to occupy Earth more lightly and therefore more durably.
Weisman's book, The World Without Us, grew out of two questions, he said. One was, "How can I write a best-seller about the environment?" The answer to that was the second question: "How would the rest of nature behave without the constant pressure we put on it?"
On the border of Ukraine and Belarus is a small intact remnant---500,000 acres---of the primordial forest that once covered Europe from Siberia to Ireland. In the Puszcza Bialowieska, with its towering ash and linden trees and dense growth, Weisman felt he was in the forest of Grimm's tales. "It felt primally familiar. It felt like being home. I realized that people really want that back."
Buildings and cities without us around don't last long, his research showed. Water gets into every building, followed by rot, birds, and trees, and pretty soon all that's left is the bathroom tiles. The same with cities. New York is built on top of 40 streams. To keep the subways functioning, 13 million gallons of water have to be pumped out every day. If the water returns, it won't be long before the tall buildings lose their footing and topple.
Maintenance people emerged as the heroes of the book, Weisman said. Without their vigilance and toil, everything collapses. They are the bedrock of civilization.
At the New York Botanical Garden Weisman found that the 40-acre preserve of carefully protected original forest has transformed itself over the years into a new woods dominated by alien plants such as ailanthus and cork trees. The garden's curator told him something radical: "Maintaining biodiversity is less important than maintaining a functioning ecosystem. What matters is that soil is protected, that water gets cleaned, that trees filter the air, that a canopy generates new seedlings to keep nutrients from draining away into the Bronx River."
Plastic, Weisman discovered, is astonishingly durable, gradually accumulating in continent-sized gyres of floating garbage in the oceans. Instead of dissolving, the plastic just gets smaller in size and is ingested harmfully by every scale of animal all the way down to zooplankton.
Weisman's message is one of reconciliation. Wherever humanity backs its impact off even a little, nature comes swarming back. From the new part-wolf coyotes taking up residence in New England to the rare and exquisite red-crowned cranes prospering in Korea's Demilitarized Zone, accommodating nature always rewards humans.--Stewart Brand
Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.
We would also like to recognize George Cowan (1920 - 2012) for being the first to sponsor this series.Would you like to be a featured Sponsor?
Seminars About Long-term Thinking is made possible through the generous support of The Long Now Membership and our Seminar Sponsors. We offer $5,000 and $15,000 annual Sponsorships, both of which entitle the sponsor and a guest to reserved seating at all Long Now seminars and special events. In addition, we invite $15,000 Sponsors to attend dinner with the speaker after each Seminar, and $5,000 Sponsors may choose to attend any four dinners during the sponsored year. For more information about donations and Seminar Sponsorship, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We are a public 501(c)(3) non-profit, and donations to us are always tax deductible.
The Long Now Foundation • Fostering Long-term Responsibility • est. 01996 Top of Page