Wilderdom Vignettes
Environmental Activities

What if we Slept for 100 Years?
A Rip van Winkle Proposal for the Restoration of Nature

James Neill
Last updated:
27 May 2007

There is no way back. Only a dreamer can believe that the solution lies in curtailing the progress of civilisation in some way or other. The main task in the coming era is something else; a radical renewal of our sense of responsibility. Our conscience must catch up to our reason, otherwise we are lost.

When a weed appears from a crack in the concrete, I think we all secretly celebrate.  For years now I’ve had eerie dreams of the streetscapes in 100 years, if all humans were frozen in time.  I imagine the streets bulging with cracks, plants emerging, animals grazing, the air, earth, and sea filled with non-human nature again.

Imagine waking to the world 100 years from now - where “nature” had had a chance to be free and grow back.  What would see and feel on waking?  Would we sense the possibilities of a life more in tune in nature – or simply set about exploiting the earth’s natural resources again?

What if doctors developed a fool-proof 100-year sleeping pill for human beings and we all agreed to take the pill?  We could meet together in an eon of silence, sleep 100 years, and awake to a world where nature had regained foothold.

As the years of slumber rolled by new microbes move through the soil and the skies and waterways dissipate their toxins.  Plants and trees would gather their forces.  The sleeping quiet would gradually turns into a 100-year cacophony of birds, water, wind, trees, weather, and animals.  Mother Nature, whilst still wooing her dead, would begin to heal and grow.

And I wonder, then, on waking, what would we do?  Look for food, make a camp, and talking to our family and friends about what to do?  Few would shirk the challenge. 

Starting in a world made afresh by time and nature appeals - we would all be secretly excited by such an adventure.    But would we learn from the past and create ways of living more compatibly with nature?

Such an experiment is also frightening.  In more than one science fiction scenario, plants come to dominate the world, e.g., The Triffids.  To lose control of time and human progress, we fear, could awaken something unthinkable?  While we have our foot on the throat of nature and a noose firmly around its neck, she dare not move (well, hardly, minus the odd tornado, flood, and shark attack!).

But in every crack in the pavement is the signature of nature, her claws of time gradually breaking the earth and structure apart.  Glaciers grind.  Rivers widen.  Rocks fall from cliffs.  And the microbes seethe with the potentials of life.  The most basic elements for life, amazingly, still exist on earth in great abundance. 

Humans, ultimately, are surviving, and so are some compatible forms of life surviving along with us.  But our job of survival will only work in the long-run to the extent that we align ourselves with nature.  If we let the forces of nature into our lives, nature joins in.

If we could switch our madness off for a 100 years, we could wake to world more equitably shared with nature.  Failing that, let's leave a few weeds in the cracks and plants a few more seeds - nature will come and will back if given half a chance.