I have just finished reading a novel that focuses on surviving in a future ripped apart by war. It’s never made explicitly clear how long after the war, but I got the idea that it was a couple of generations at least. It was an entertaining book, and there were a couple of parts that nearly made me put the book down. I was impressed with the level of editing the book had received, only finding one mistake in a novel these days is pretty remarkable. My copy of Harry Potter has more than one typo! Anyway, I stuck with the book until the end and only have one niggling little quibble with it.
The setting is New York City, specifically a greatly expanded Central Park. Now, even 25 years after a population-altering event, the underground pumps would have stopped working, and New York would be very, very wet. New York is actually already very wet. A team of men and 753 pumps struggle every day to keep the underground river from rising, and their efforts become even more focused and determined when it rains hard. Even as little as 2″.
According to Alan Weisman, a man long considered an expert in what might happen to our world without us, 650 gallons of water rush not too far below ground in Brooklyn. One supervisor of Hydraulics Emergency Response has been quoted as saying that without electricity those pumps would shut off and stay off. In a half hour, the subway tunnels would become so flooded, trains could no longer run. Within 20 years, Lexington Avenue would be a river.
Trees change faces too. The Chinese ailanthus tree would take over, as would weeds and native greenery. Seeds of weeds would blow in from various parks and take root. With no one to maintain the weeds and grasses, New York would not remain a sterile, concrete world. There would be more than just herds of zebra, bears and wolves for any remaining humans to deal with.
So while I recognize that the novel I finished yesterday is only fiction, and meant to be entertaining, I do wonder if the setting might have been better researched.
Regardless, all of this got me thinking while I couldn’t sleep at 2 A.M.
Let’s say for the sake of conversation that something horrible happened and mankind was not completely wiped out, but our numbers were dramatically reduced. Life has become day-to-day survival. Due to that same reduced population, there is no more power grid, no one to keep the internet running, not enough people to man the oil refineries, or make steel, or cigarettes or music, or any of the other dozens of things we’ve become accustomed to living with. Because I live in Northern Ontario, I, of course, turned my pre-dawn thoughts to how such a scenario would play out up here.
The closest city to me, an hour away by vehicle, would be taken over by the woods that surround it. The city was originally carved from the bush (as we Canadians call it), and a substantial wood-lot still resides at its heart today for educational purposes. (It is owned by a local college) It isn’t unusual to see bears in town, or fox, cougars have been known to come calling, coyotes and even a lynx has been spotted. So the local wildlife isn’t waiting around for human-kind to relinquish our grasp on the city. They’re already staking their claim. There is already a rat problem, and while some theorize that without our trash, the rats would die off due to an altered diet and hungrier predators…I’m not so sure.
I think the city would quickly become wild and while there is a river on one side, there’s not a lot of farms. Some, yes, but even if we had a well-established agricultural presence, those farms need people to till and plant and water and harvest. With a reduced population, farming would become subsistence-driven. Every survivor for themselves, as it were. For the sake of this mental exercise, I imagined I would survive (somehow), and then further tried to imagine exactly how I’d live.
Day-to-day existence would become a constant search for water, food, shelter, and safety. No more coffee, no more bananas or avocado. Once the trucks had ceased bringing food in, there would be no more shipments to the grocery stores and quite likely no one to run the stores anyway. After a while, there would be no more need of town and I would quite likely attempt to establish a refuge in the woods north of the city.
What do you think would happen with a drastically reduced population? Let us know in the comments!