What would the Earth be like without people?
By Terry Fredrickson
Imagining a situation that is not real – we hope
Some time ago, the famous magazine Scientific American, considered the question of what would happen if suddenly all humans disappeared from the Earth. New York City was used as the example. The magazine considered what would happen very quickly, after 10 years, and after one hundred, one thousand and ten thousand years.
Below is a short video giving the main conclusions. In it, you will find many good examples of conditionals. Watch and listen and then read the transcript. List at least four things that would happen quite quickly.
Notice that when the video talks about specific future times, it stops using the conditional. Instead it has us imagine that we are there, seeing for ourselves what is happening. You can still make conditional statements, however. Add three or four things that would likely happen to your list.
Intro: What do you suppose that noise was?
Imagine that one morning, the day started like any other, but with one big difference. All humans had vanished. What would the Earth be like without people?
Obviously much quieter, but what would actually happen? Could nature wipe out all traces of our existence?
Some things would change very quickly. First the power utilities would start to shut down. In a city like New York, the pumps in the subways would switch off and the water would pour in. The streets above would erode quickly (and) collapse.
Within days nature would begin its reclamation. Without the constant attention of humans, the exteriors of buildings would become filthy, crack and vegetation would start to take root. Step by step a strange new urban ecosystem would begin to develop – and quickly.
Ten years along and Central Park is becoming the swampy wilderness that it was to begin with.
One hundred years pass. The steel infrastructure of many buildings is corroding. The facades are coming off and some begin to collapse. What were once bustling avenues are now river canyons.
One thousand years later and who knows? Global warming, the proliferating descendants of zoo animals and Central Park might start to look like somewhere in Africa.
Ten thousand years pass. Perhaps some trace of our civilization remains, not just the toxic waste we created to fuel our existence. An Earth without people would probably be very different, but then who would ever know?
Ending: What do you suppose that noise was?
imagine – to form a picture of something or someone in your mind
vanish – to disappear, usually in a sudden and mysterious way
trace – a slight sign that someone has been present or that something has happened
power utility – a public service that provides power, such as an electrical power company
erode – to gradually damage the surface of rock or land so that it begins to disappear or to be gradually damaged in this way
collapse – to fall down suddenly
reclamation – the process of taking something back; in this case, the environment returning to its natural condition, i.e, the process of reclaiming
exterior – the outside of something
filthy – very dirty
crack – to break in a way that a long thin line appears on the surface of something, but does not cause it to break into pieces
take root – to begin to grow
urban – relating to cities and towns, not the countryside
ecosystem – all the plants and animal in a particular area, considered as a system with parts that depend on one another
swampy – covered with water, trees and plants
wilderness – an area of land where people do not live or grow crops; a place that is not looked after or cared for
infrastructure – the structure inside a building that holds it together
corroding – (of a metal or other substance) gradually being destroyed by a chemical process
façade – the front of a building, especially one that is large or impressive – admired because of being very large or good or showing great skill
bustling – full of noise and activity
canyon – a long deep valley with very steep sides
proliferating – quickly increasing in number or amount
descendant – a relative of a person, or in this case, an animal, that lived in the past
toxic waste – poisonous and harmful waste products, like nuclear waste
Showing off your own video
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