Did Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us get your mind spinning about what our planet would look like if we just suddenly disappeared? Well, get ready to spin some more, courtesy of a new book by University of Leicester geologist Jan Zalasiewicz.
Titled The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks?, Zalasiewicz’s book explores what an alien geologist might be able to learn about our species from the geological record. And, like The World Without Us, it sounds like a fascinating — and sobering — read.
Zalasiewicz offers this perspective from our imaginary geologist of the future: “There is no doubt now. An organized culture arose, and settled on the land surface. We have little detail yet, and are now excavating. It seems to have been extremely shortlived. I suspect the site would not have been discovered at all had it not been associated with one of the perturbation events that we have been trying to decipher.”
The concept offers a serious cautionary tale for us humans, according to the University of Leicester’s news release about the book.
“Looking to the distant future gives us a warning for the present: our activities have already left a significant footprint on the planet, and not a flattering one. It is not too late to limit it. We would not wish to be dubbed by future explorers the ‘amazingly clever and utterly foolish two-legged ape.’ ”
While Zalasiewicz’s geology-focused perspective is a fresh one, the idea of what legacy humans will leave behind isn’t. Recall, for example, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s classic work, “Ozymandias”:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
You can learn more about Zalasiewicz’s book at the Oxford University Press Website.