Life After People was on the History channel last night. It imagined the way our cities and their infrastructures would fare if there were suddenly no people on earth. They would respond in complex ways, but basically, entropy takes over and everything turns to dust.
I was struck most by how all the things around us, the symbols of modern life that we tend to think of as serving us, in fact, require our constant care. Without it, our buildings, bridges, dams, highways and homes would be beyond repair in 20 years, beyond recognition in 100 years, forgotten for all time in 500 years.
The scenes filmed in Pripyat, the town near Chernobyl abandoned only 20 years ago, were especially haunting.
It turns out that the clay tablets and stone carvings of ancient Egyptians and Romans, which have lasted thousands of years, may allow their histories to live thousands more, while the paper, film and plastic upon which we have recorded modern times will be lucky to last 100 years after we stop safeguarding them.
The program reminded me of an old George Carlin bit in which he rails at the arrogance of environmentalist who want to “protect the earth.” “The earth will do just fine,” Carlin assures us. “The earth has been around billions of years. Man can only do long-term damage to himself – not the earth.”
The program is on again Wednesday at 8:00 EST.