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The World Without Man

The World Without Man

By Steve Robinson

Apocalyptic visions of the future rarely have humans wiped out altogether, and that's simply not good enough for Steve Robinson. He's been pondering what would happen if we all suddenly vanished. Do you agree, or is Null's Nostradamus barking up the wrong tree?

Imagine the world ends tomorrow in a proverbial Doomsday scenario – nuclear winter, killer virus; whatever. What would the world be like, sans homme?

1 MONTH A.D. (After Doomsday)

With humans gone, the infrastructure left behind - notably CCTV cameras, street lights and other automated services - continue to tick on until power stations fail, unregulated nuclear power plants suffering catastrophic meltdowns. Eventually, the lights on planet Earth go out for the last time.

The world is adjusting to the loss of its most influential species. Nature is reclaiming its land – desperate, some of the starving creatures have managed to break out of London Zoo and spread across the city looking for food. A sharp-eyed observer may even spot the grizzly bear in Hyde Park.


Biological erosion begins to green the cities as nature invades. Soon the flora will bloom – mainly weeds at first, followed by overgrowth of hedges and tree shrubs, until roads and pavements begin to disintegrate. Domestic dogs have long since abandoned their owners’ homes; packs of hounds roam the streets engaging in territorial disputes as they revert to the behaviour of their wolfish ancestors.

Lightning strikes ignite fires in many built-up areas. Fuelled by leaking gas supplies and with no emergency services, Philadelphia burns to the ground. Elsewhere, forest fires spread unchecked, cutting through the Australian Outback and California, where the famous Hollywood sign is engulfed in flame.


Five decades after the events of Doomsday, Earth is already a changed place. Whilst many buildings remain, some have collapsed under natural forces. Internally, however, many buildings are virtually unchanged from the day humans vanished; modern materials have a long lifespan. Given favourable circumstances, plastic bags might decompose sometime in the next five hundred to a thousand years, whilst heavier plastics will still be around for many millennia.

The British woodland begins to reaffirm its grip on the countryside, especially on old farmland as scrubland overtakes field and pasture. Many of the escaped animals have embedded into the wildlife of the country - wild boar now reside in Birmingham city centre.

1000 YEARS A.D.

A millennium on and the biology of our planet is shifting. In Britain, once-domestic cats are thriving thanks to an upsurge in rodent populations; they’re growing bigger, stronger and could be set to evolve into the dominant terrestrial predators.

Temperatures continue to rise due to the momentum of man’s activities. Global warming melts the polar ice caps and leads to flooding of low-lying areas: What used to be the Netherlands have disappeared, along with large swaths of Florida.

The worlds’ cities are now ancient ruins, but some can still be identified from the air as patches of grey amongst the green. Strangely enough, most of the buildings that remain standing are churches and castles – built from slow-weathering stone – as are the pyramids, though their days are numbered.

Whilst the relics of man are slowly eroded on Earth, his presence in space remains unaffected. Many satellites still orbit the planet, some still functioning – remarkably – after all these years. The Voyager Spacecraft, launched in 1976, has reached a distance of 346 billion miles from Earth. Its systems died long ago, but it sails on through the dark.

10,000 YEARS A.D.

A large asteroid strikes the Earth just outside ancient Moscow, evaporating the city’s remnants in an instant. The dust cloud created spans the European continent and blocks out the sun for a decade.

As our buildings and tools slowly crumble into dust, the biology of the planet continues to alter rapidly. The descendants of domesticated cattle, which were all but wiped out thanks to their pitifully deformed morphology, have decreased in size and learned to adapt to the now forested landscape. Large rodents traverse the subterranean landscape, tunnelling through enormous burrows.

The next ice age never arrives, due entirely to the artificial global warming instigated by man. The North Pole is now entirely free of ice, its blue seas a haunting tribute to man’s enduring legacy.

500,000 YEARS A.D.

Man-made global warming prevented the next four ice ages from developing, but now global cooling is occurring. Ice has reformed at the poles for the first time in millennia, and soon it will spread to lower latitudes, covering most of North America and Europe as far south as Italy; many species will not survive this latest climatic change. The ice will cover the last traces of London, Paris, New York and Tokyo, its erosive forces crushing the few remaining relics of these
once great cities. When the ice retreats, the surface of the planet will be scraped clean. Soon, the only memory of man will be left deep in the layers of soil, a footnote in the planet’s history.

Voyager 2 sails on, unaware, 28 light years from home.

Is this more crystal meth than crystal ball? Let us know using the form below. Alternatively read more of Steve's articles or check out these links:

Top Ten Deadly Vegetables
The World Without Man
Top Ten Weird Phobias
  Top 10 Science Can't Explain
Images: Paul Armstrong; Mike; Keith Emmerich; Roman Sołowiej; Stefano; Matt West; NASA

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28 Dec 2010
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