Suppose the sun came up tomorrow morning...but no one was here to see it rise? That's the fascinating question that a new show on the History Channel, "Life After People," takes two hours (1:28 if you skip the commercials) to explore.
I regret not posting on this sooner; it first aired last weekend, and it aired a few times this week. The last scheduled broadcast is this afternoon at 5pm Eastern --- and I'd highly recommend you set your VCR or DVR to catch it. (For my many readers who don't have cable/satellite or even television...it's available at Apple's iTunes store for $3.99. Just follow that link and do a search on "Life After People".)
The program assumes that something instantly wipes out every human being; we never learn what it was, but we don't see any bodies. It's kind of like the Final Judgment came at 6:59am, we were all taken to Heaven or Hell with our bodies, and God decided to let the solar system continue doing its thing for awhile. The program opens in rather disturbing fashion, with an alarm clock going off at 7am --- and no one is there to turn it off. Everything inside the house is imaculate and orderly...and then we see the family dog trotting around trying to figure out where everyone has gone.
And it was right there that I decided this would be too intense for our kids. The first casualties of our absense will be millions and millions of dogs. Many will be trapped in houses and starve to death. Most of those that get out will discover they've been bred with traits humans desired...but which are severe handicaps for surviving in the wild.
We go hour by hour, then skip to days and weeks, methodically looking at which things will shut down and break down --- and when the wildlife will start to return to cities. (The computer-generated graphics aren't Hollywood Blockbuster quality, but believable enough.)
There is only a passing reference to farmland being easily reclaimed within a year of our absence, and I find that very believable based on what we've seen fields do when allowed to sit for even a few months. And how quickly farmhouses crumble when abandonded. What is completely skipped is any discussion of farm animals, and how many millions of head of livestock will perish in their confinement "farms." What will happen to the unmilked cows? What will the concentration camp egg factory will look like ten days after the people are gone? Because if you think dogs have been bred with some unnatural traits, the livestock are even worse. Easily 99.9% of turkeys will die within days; they are so oversized, they can't even mount each other to mate, let alone find enough food to sustain their girth. Some breeds of chicken and duck (like the ones on our farm which still have enough instinct to brood their young) will do reasonably well, but most will be easy pickings for coyotees. Most sheep are far too stupid to know what to do without us, but I'd put my money on Icelandics (assuming they could migrate a bit further south, where there is more winter forage) and the Gulf Coast Natives still being around decades from now. (There are other fairly self-sufficient breeds of sheep and goats, but these are the ones I know most about.)
As years passed on the program, and infrastructure after infrastructure crumbled, I was struck by something: What an amazing creature man is. How completely different we are from animals. We have so thoroughly re-made our environment to serve our needs and build a flurishing civilization...and without us around to maintain it, it crumbles into dust. There is nothing "accidential" about us or what we've achieved. As we've explained to our kids: dogs and cats have fur, birds have wings, and fish have scales and gills. Human beings don't have any of those things. But what we do have is far greater: an intellect and a free will, which allows us to manufacture clothing and houses that keep us as warm as any animal, build airplanes that fly farther and higher than any bird, and design ships that let us cross the sea.
But the most fascinating questions are raised toward the end, thousands of years in the future, when there is no sign (save, possibly, the Great Wall of China) that we were ever here. Some talking head comes on to philosophize (I'm paraphrasing): "What if intelligent life never re-evoloves? What if humans were just an accident, and there's never another creature that can gaze on the stars and wonder."
I couldn't help thinking: What a sad and impoverished understanding of humanity this guy has. Despite all the letters he probably has after his name, he can't (or won't) acknowledge what it is that makes human beings unique on this earth: our immortal souls, which are spiritual and therefore couldn't possibly have a material source. Spiritual souls cannot evolve within material beings; they can only have their origin in what is higher than ourselves, and higher than the material order. In short, they must have their origin in our Creator. And therefore human beings must be here for a purpose which is higher than satisfying our bodily appetites and building these enormous buildings which will eventually crumble under their own weight.
I could go on and on about various segments of the program that were particularly fascinating, but will leave that to your own discovery. Suffice it to say that this is the sort of "brain food" that the History Channel does best, and I highly recommend it.