I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of what would happen to cities and the natural world if human populations were drastically reduced. I’ve had to be content with moronic Sci-Fi Channel disaster movies, where a plucky American nuclear family somehow survives with their values intact. When I lived in the US, I would videotape the movies and then fast forward through the glutinous emotional scenes to the bits where everything gets destroyed and the subsequent urban wasteland is explored.
Aftermath, a Canadian documentary, goes one better. (The American version is Life After People). It’s based on the idea that the whole human race disappears in a split second, describing what would happen as the natural world struggles to cope with our accumulated pollution. No plucky, badly-acted nuclear families emoting their way through the abandoned cities of Paris, London, Berlin, and New York. On the downside, there is a certain lip-smacking narrative tone that seems to relish our extinction, as if the human race were wholly a Bad Thing. It isn’t, and I have no doubt that if dolphins, whales, elephants or anything else were to develop intelligence, they would screw things up just as royally in the process. That said, it was addictive viewing.
I’ve just watched Life After People, produced by the History Channel for an American audience, but with a British narrator. There are some interesting differences. It makes no mention whatsoever of the effect of a power shutdown on industrial plants, full to the brim with polluting chemicals. Aftermath points out that these would have disastrous short term ecological effects.
The other suspicious omission relates to nuclear power plants. Life After People merely say that they would automatically go into “safe mode,” without specifying how that was possible. Aftermath talks about how spent nuclear fuel rods need to be kept under flowing water. Back-up diesel generators take care of this for days or weeks, but when the diesel runs out the pools will overheat, releasing huge amounts of radiation. They do spend some time at Pripyat, the city built to serve Chernobyl, as if to make the point that it’s Commie engineering and our nuclear plants are so much safer. Without ever explaining how the “safe mode” thingy works, or mentioning nuclear plants again. So I suspect the History Channel’s corporate sponsors don’t want people thinking about that sort of thing. Censorship or self-censorship – it’s equally disgusting. Here is Life After People for comparison.