So my topic is about shifting our design approach from trying to control nature to participating with nature. What do you mean ‘control nature’ I hear you ask? Well in order to further research ways in which we are controlling nature I hunted down a documentary by National Geographic from 2008, called Aftermath: Population Zero. Its based on the hypothetical situation that in 1 second every member of the human race will disappear. Not die, just disappear. And we can watch as the world restores itself for the next 1000 years without us. It’s worth a watch, and available on YouTube here. The narrator’s voice is a bit unnecessarily intense, and I question some of the scientific reasoning, but the statistics speak for themselves.
The documentary goes through a timeline of life After Humans. It gets a little cheesy, but I must say it got my brain ticking. I had no idea of the extent to which we’ve changed the planet…
LAND. Did you know that half of the 7 billion world population live in cities? We have practically erased nature from the streets around us. If you’re lucky there might be a park within a 20 minute walk from your house. But we’ve altered the countryside too… We’ve covered a staggering one third of all dry land with farms and pastures. You’ve got to wonder, with a rapidly growing population, do we even have enough room for the buildings to house them, plus the fields to feed them? Without us, nature can reclaim the earth. London turns back in to the swamp it originally was, and certain pastures turn to desert. We have spent a staggering 10,000 years cutting down half of the world’s forests, but without us, nature could grow them back in just 500 years.
WATER. We can’t even let the water run free… We’ve dammed and diverted half of all major rivers in the world (the special effects of the Colorado dam bursting are rather impressive). We’ve also used half of all the fresh water, taking it away from nature and using it for our own benefit.
AIR. We’ve built 50,000 power plants, almost half of which run on coal. These send CO2 into the atmosphere, much like our cars that produce 2kg of it per litre. And we’ve built enough roads and motorways to accommodate 500 million of them. CO2 it sticks about in the air for 100 years, but I shall get to climate change in my next post (bet you can’t wait!). The chemical plants we’ve built could send gas into the atmosphere and cause huge fires, while the nuclear plants could cause radiation 500 times as strong as Hiroshima if spent fuel is not disposed of correctly, killing thousands of plants and animals. Even the power from our body heat alone has heated up the world by almost half a degree. And skies are clearer without us, as clouds disappear without all our planes whizzing around.
ANIMALS. We’ve bred 1.4 billion cattle and 1.5 billion chickens, species that in the natural world would never have reached these figures. We’ve transformed wild animals into pets, and altered their natural evolution. We’ve even taken the wild animals left and cooped them up in zoos. Without us, the animal population would explode. Our dear dogs would only live through survival of the fittest, the small ones getting eaten by their own and the larger breeding with wolves to create a sub species. Without us hunting fish, cod would grow up to 6 feet. Poor whales haven’t been able to hear each others mating calls due to our loud cruise ships, but once we’re gone, the whales can thrive, and romance is restored.
So we’ve affected the air, sea, land and living creatures. But have we changed them forever? Or could nature erase all trace of us? According to national geographic, yes. The only trace in 1000 AH of human habitat exists on the moon. Plants on earth have cleansed our polluted planet; soaked up the 7 billion tons of CO2 we produce each year (more than one ton each!), turned our skyscrapers to compost, and even buried our nuclear mess. As I’ve illustrated with images in a previous post, our earth is wonderfully resilient. But I can’t help but feel like a bit of a bully. If only we had a teacher to give us a few detentions for stealing all of nature’s resources, maybe we’d learn to live in harmony, and to stop be so controlling. Stay tuned for ways in which technology can help us with a little participation.