Earth: What Would Happen If Humans Vanished 地球:如果人類消失,將發生什麼事?

 |2007.08.18
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If humans were evacuated, the Earth would flourish.

如果人類撤離淨空,地球將發榮滋長。

The Second Coming may be the most widely anticipated apocalypse ever, but it's far from the only version of the end times. Environmentalists have their own eschatology—a vision of a world not consumed by holy fire but returned to ecological balance by the removal of the most disruptive species in history. That, of course, would be us, the 6 billion furiously metabolizing and reproducing human beings polluting its surface.

世界末日前「基督復臨」也許是各界最普遍預期的大動亂,但這斷非世界末日唯一的版本。環保人士有他們自己的末世論,他們看到的世界並非被神聖的火吞噬,而是藉移除史上破壞力最強的物種,重新回歸生態平衡。那當然是指我們60億瘋狂新陳代謝及繁殖的人類,他們正汙染地球表面。

There's even a group trying to bring it about, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose Web site calls on people to stop having children altogether. And now the journalist Alan Weisman has produced, if not a bible, at least a Book of Revelation, "The World Without Us," which conjures up a future something like ... well, like the area around Chernobyl, the Russian nuclear reactor that blew off a cloud of radioactive steam in 1986. In a radius of 30 kilometers, there are no human settlements—just forests that have begun reclaiming fields and towns, home to birds, deer, wild boar and moose.

有個團體甚至試圖促其實現,「人類志願滅絕運動」架設網站,呼籲民眾乾脆不要再生兒育女。現在新聞記者魏斯曼也推出新著《沒有我們的世界》,也許稱不上聖經,但至少可媲美啟示錄。書中浮現一個未來,類似俄羅斯1986年車諾比爾核子反應爐爆炸,噴出放射性蒸汽雲層,在半徑30公里內,不見人煙,只有森林正開始重回田野和鄉鎮,成為鳥、鹿、野豬和麋鹿的棲息地。

Weisman's intriguing thought experiment is to ask what would happen if the rest of the Earth was similarly evacuated—not by a nuclear holocaust or natural disaster, but by whisking people off in spaceships, or killing them with a virus that spares the rest of the biosphere.

魏斯曼發人深省的思想經驗是要問:如果地球其他地方同樣淨空會發生什麼事,但人類淨空並非靠核子浩劫或天然災難,而是借助太空船把人飛馳電掣般送走,或用一種病毒把人殺光,但保留生物圈其他部分。

In a world with no one to put out fires, repair dams or plow fields, what would become of the immense infrastructure humans have woven across the globe In a matter of days or weeks, nuclear power plants around the world would boil off their water and melt into vast radioactive lumps. Electrical power would fail, and with it the pumps keeping New York City's subways from flooding; in a few years Lexington Avenue would collapse and eventually turn into a river. Lightning-caused fires would blow out the windows in skyscrapers, and concrete floors would freeze and buckle. A few centuries on, steel bridges would fall victim to rust and the inexorable assault of vegetation taking root in windblown clumps of soot. Masonry structures would last the longest, although the next ice age would wipe them out, at least at the latitude of New York, and bronze sculpture, Weisman estimates, would still be recognizable 10 million years into the future, probably the last recognizable artifacts of our civilization.

一個世界,如果沒有人滅火,修築堤壩,或耕作田地,全球人類所共同打造的龐大基礎設施會有什麼下場?在幾天或幾周內,全世界核能電廠的水將汽化損耗,並熔毀成龐大的放射性物質。電力中斷,使紐約地鐵不致淹水的幫浦也失靈,幾年後,雷星頓大道將崩塌,最後變成一條河。閃電引爆的火災,也會爆破摩天大樓的窗戶,混凝土地板將凍結垮掉。經過幾世紀,鋼構橋將因鏽蝕,及植根於風吹來一球球煤灰的植物不斷遭受無情的凌遲而岌岌可危。水泥磚石結構可以維持最久,但至少以紐約的緯度來看,下個冰河紀會將它們掃蕩一空。魏斯曼估計,銅雕在未來一千萬年仍可辨識,這也可能是我們文明最後可以辨識出的藝術作品。

And what of the biosphere Unless global warming has already progressed beyond the point of no return, it would eventually recover much of its diversity and richness. Contrary to widespread belief, cockroaches would not take over the world if there were no one around to step on them: tropical insects, they wouldn't survive their first winter without central heating. Rats and dogs would miss us the most, it seems—the former for our garbage and the latter our protection from bigger predators.

生物圈又如何?除非全球暖化已走上不歸路,最後大半總會恢復多樣豐富。和一般看法不同,如果沒有人去踩死它們,蟑螂也不至於接管世界,因為少了中央暖氣系統,它們根本熬不過第一個冬天。老鼠和狗狗會最想念人類,老鼠可能想念我們的垃圾,狗狗則想念人類保護他們免於遭到更大型猛獸攻擊。

Feral cats, on the other hand, would do quite well: there would be plenty of birds for them to eat. Elephants would once again have the run of Africa, and the oceans would be filled with fish as few alive have ever seen them. Much of the world would come to resemble ... well, the Korean demilitarized zone, where no one has set foot for more than half a century, now a mecca for Korean bird watchers.

另一方面,野貓會過得相當愜意,屆時他們將有很多鳥可吃。大象也會再次奔馳非洲,海洋則會充滿少數活著的人僅見最多的魚類。世界上大半地區會很像南北韓停戰區,那裡已有半世紀不見人煙,如今已成韓國賞鳥專家的聖地。

Sound appealing Well, it did to Weisman, too, when he began work on the book four years ago. And "four out of five" of the people he's told about it, he estimates, thought the idea sounded wonderful. Since we're headed inexorably toward an environmental crash anyway, why not get it over cleanly and allow the world to heal

聽來很引人入勝嗎?至少魏斯曼四年前開始提筆寫書時這麼想。據他估計,他透露這個想法後,「每五個人就有四個人」覺得這個點子很棒。既然不論如何,我們已無力阻擋走向環境崩毀,何不乾乾淨淨做個了斷,讓世界癒合復元?

Over time, though, Weisman's attitude toward the rest of humanity softened, as he thought of some of the beautiful things human beings have accomplished, their architecture and poetry, and he eventually arrived at what he views as a compromise position: a worldwide, voluntary agreement to limit each human couple to one child. This, says Weisman—who is 60, and childless after the death of his only daughter—would stabilize the human population by the end of the century at about 1.6 billion, approximately where it was in 1900. And then, perhaps, more of the world could resemble ... Varosha, the beach resort in Cyprus in the no man's land between the Greek and Turkish zones, where, Weisman writes, thickets of hibiscus, oleander grow wild and houses disappear under magenta mounds of bougainvillea.

但隨著時間流逝,魏斯曼對其他人類的態度開始軟化,當他想起一些人類完成的美好事物,他們的建築和詩詞,他終於獲致妥協的立場:全球自動自發限制每對夫婦只能生一個孩子。魏斯曼說,唯有如此,到本世紀末才能將美國人口穩住在約16億,約1900年的水平。60歲的魏斯曼在獨生女死後,膝下無子。到時,也許世界會更像塞浦路斯希臘裔區和土耳其裔區之間無人地帶的瓦洛沙海灘。魏斯曼寫道,在那裡,木槿灌木叢和歐洲夾竹桃盛開,房舍則消失於九重葛洋紅山丘下。

Too bad there's no one there to see it.

可惜,到時恐怕大家都無福欣賞。(原載「新聞周刊」Jerry Adler專欄)


《詞解》
Second Coming 基督復臨
apocalypse 大動亂
eschatology 末世論
consume 吞噬
disruptive 破壞力
metabolizing 新陳代謝
Extinction 滅絕
Book of Revelation 啟示錄
nuclear reactor 核子反應爐
radius 半徑
moose 麋鹿
intriguing 發人深省
holocaust 浩劫
biosphere 生物圈
boil off 汽化損耗
skyscrapers 摩天大樓
inexorable assault 無情的凌遲
Masonry 水泥磚石
latitude 緯度
cockroaches 蟑螂
predators 猛獸
mecca 聖地
thickets of hibiscus 木槿灌木叢
oleander 歐洲夾竹桃
bougainvillea 九重葛

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