Oct 12, 2022–Looking at the recent hurricane damage that leveled portions of several cities, the question came to mind: if mankind was not around to rebuild them, how long would it be before urban areas disappeared?
If we abandoned the earth, how long would it take for nature to cover all evidence of human existence?
Right now, the growing narrative is that the environment is fragile. Mankind is ruining it, depleting the ozone, burning up the forests, sucking out the oil.
What if instead we looked at nature as an unstoppable juggernaut, seething and roiling at the fringes of civilization, just waiting for us to turn our backs before it overwhelms us with tentacles of vines and tsunamis of seawater?
If we walked away from our homes tomorrow, would they still be there five years from now? How long before streets and sidewalks would be heaved by roots? How long before buildings would crumble into their foundations like a punctured souffle? How long before feral species would reestablish their territories, with otters swimming in our pools and badgers burrowing in our football stadiums?
I looked it up.
The simple answer is, it depends.
Experts quote times as short as 5 years to 20 years.
A town near Chernobyl, which experienced a complete nuclear meltdown, is pretty much completely overgrown after only 30 years.
When the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu, it lay hidden and overgrown for 400 years. One of the most magnificent structures of the Incan Empire vanished from the face of the earth. It lived on as a myth until Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911.
According to Mayank Vahia, when man leaves, Nature will restore equilibrium through the tools of:
-Heating and radiation by the sun
-Corrosion (rust, the slow oxidation of metals, is pervasive and unstoppable)
-Erosion by wind and water
-Upheaval by cycles of freezing and thawing
-Earthquakes and tsunamis
-Storms and hurricanes (imagine how cities in their path would stay leveled with no Cajun Navy to rebuild them)
This is not far-fetched.
We have all experienced the insidious encroachment of nature.
Those weeds that pop up in the cracks of sidewalks? Tree branches scraping shingles off your roof? The wisteria that hypnotizes you with intoxicatingly scented violet blooms while shooting braided vines into your home’s foundation like a creature from Alien?
Every Midwesterner will testify if you don’t mow your lawn weekly, within a month you won’t be able to find your house let alone meet the Homeowners Association Restrictions. Or ask any rancher how often he has to clear mesquite, cedar, and cactus out of his pasture, only to do it again.
In every Weekly Reader starting in 1962 we were warned about the disappearing Amazon jungle. So when I finally traveled to Iquitos I was amazed at the density of herbage. It was a greenhouse. You could hear the plants growing. While walking along a jungle path single file, crossing the swampy ground on a slippery felled tree trunk, I had the feeling our path would be overgrown by the time we turned back. Our guides had to hack back the undergrowth constantly to keep the path navigable.
This is not a political statement. It’s more a change in perspective; from tiptoeing through a fragile environment to being awestruck at the immense power of the nature in which we are immersed.
We build our little toehold and we struggle to keep it clear and clean and vital and predator-free, just as do the ants that police their entrance every day, and the dung beetles busy burying 250 times their body weight in feces every night.
That’s why I don’t fret about controlling the climate and diverting hurricanes. I have my hands full keeping my weeds pulled and my fences repaired.
The storms will rage on long after we’re gone.