The Root of All Evil…

27 05 2008

This evening, Channel 4, usually a station I associate with good quality documentary programming (although the rest leaves a lot to be desired!) has finally let me down. The programme, entitled, cunningly, Life After People depicted the type of apocalyptic rubbish more befitting of Hollywood. Working with the (flawed) premise that humans have deserted the planet, the programme proceeded to demonstrate what would happen to the world were mankind never to return.

Taking the flawed assumption that the world will develop like the site around Chernobyl has in 20 years, the narrator proceeded to warn us with apparent glee, that the major cities will firstly flood, and then quickly become overgrown. Rats, it was maintained, would initially struggle without humans providing them rubbish on which to feast; but pigeons (in my opinion equally adept at scavenging food in big cities) would have no trouble adapting to the lack of human kind. Trees would puncture the city, growing at some fantastic rate, and plant roots would damage all the buildings foundations causing eventual collapse. All wooden buildings would, naturally, be destroyed by fire very quickly, and metal will soon rust and collapse.

All this doom-mongering was, it must be said, thought-provoking. However, the biggest question I was left with was “where did the humans go”? This problem was never answered, and, in all fairness, the programme never tried to answer it. It was though the most pertinent question. If the writers of such fantastical drivel are not going to consider such a basic question then it is little wonder they produce something of this low calibre. As I see it, there are two options. The first is that humans have abandoned the planet in favour of another planet capable of supporting life. If this is the reason then one must wonder why the humans left given that (as the programmes premise was based on humans leaving on the very near future) the planet is still surviving.

The second option is that disease has wiped us out. If, though, this were the case, then one would expect the decaying bodies of the 6 billion people to be found somewhere. Yet there was no corpses to be found. The answer then must be the first option, we have simply packed up and left. However, as I see it, the sheer logistical difficulty of transporting some 6 billion people to another planet renders this option impossible.

So it was, working with the flawed premise that there are no longer any humans, that the programme proceeded to demonstrate how quickly nature would reclaim the land man currently occupies. Apparently it would not take long. However even this is questionable. Chernobyl, deserted 20 years ago, still looks like a town, buildings are still in place, cars are still present. Yes there is some decline, of course there is, but the suggestion made in the programme was that the likes of New York and London would be lost to layers of plant life within roughly the same time period, seems foolish. The programme looked too at the pyramids, giant stone monuments build centuries ago, but still standing today. Pointing to the weathering on the sides of the pyramids, the narrator explained that this weathering would cause the crumbling of all stone buildings worldwide. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that stone weathers, the over dramatic nature of the programme was painful.

My final gripe about the programme was its sheer stupidity. I am no geographer, or indeed a climatologist, but I know that certain plants grow in certain conditions. The same goes for trees (it is why we do not have an adundance of large cacti growing along our roadsides in Britain). The narrator, at one point in the programme questioned whether large trees usually found (I think) in Asia would grow in London. It is ridiculous fatastic questions such as this which indicates to me that the makers of this programme really knew little about what they were talking.

I am not sure the point that the programme was trying to make. Was it trying to blame mankind for somehow infringing the rights of nature? Was it trying to make us aware that despite our best attempts, nature will always win? Or was it just some CGI boffins demonstrating what they could do in the ‘end-of-the-world’ genre? In all the programme was poorly conceived, poorly delivered and poorly thought out. There were many pressing issues which the programme failed to adequately deal with, notably climate change, working with the flawed presumption that without humans there would somehow be an automatic stop to the climate changes which are going on.

In history we were taught never to presuppose something. That is, for example, never suggest that had Britain had a different tactic in 1915 the war would have finished quicker. This thinking works on the broken premise that Germany’s reaction would remain constant, obviously a point which is false. I think the same logic applies to this programme. The writers worked with the assumption that everything would continue to be the same as it is now, with the exception of the lack of humans. Obviously though humans contribute a lot to global affairs, to simply take them out of the equation leaves something very unbalanced. Everything would change without humans, make no mistake about that. The writers of the programme are perhaps the ones on another planet if they think otherwise.

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3 responses

27 05 2008
Harry Enfield

They lost me when they got to the flying cats, flitting between skyscrapers. I guess you have to remember that this sort of prog, slickly-produced though it is, is aimed at American prime-time viewers who usually have the attention-span and education-level of a chipmunk.

28 05 2008
Tim

“…the sheer logistical difficulty of transporting some 6 billion people to another planet renders this option impossible”

Really? If Xenu managed to bring all the humans here in the first place, I’m sure He could get rid of them again.

Scientology aside, it was a crap programme that had a narrow-minded perspective on a global impact that, if it were to happen, would have far wider-reaching effects than a few plants growing over buildings and a drop in the rodent population.

Aeroplanes falling out of the sky? Oil tankers colliding with coastlines? The release of radioactive gas from nuclear power stations?

And later: A return of those great big animals that humans liked to shoot. The eventual evolution of apes, given that there are no longer any humans to chop down their cosy rainforest homes. Finally (and this would take a while) the next wave of human society?

28 05 2008
Luke_D

Such a development is an interesting one to theorise about. In all honesty I have long thought that at some point in the distant future such a degree of evolution would happen again, that is, apes would evolve to become something comparable to modern day humans. After all, we are told that we will keep evolving (into some very tall and very small people), so why will the rest of the planet not do a similar thing? The trouble is, how long does such a thing need to happen, and will there be enough planet left for it to happen on? By the stage apes would be evolving, is it not feasible that the world could have been ravaged by a combination of nuclear wars and natural disasters?

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