Life After People is a two-hour television special created by David de Vries in which scientists and others speculate what the earth, animal life, and plant life might be like if humanity no longer existed, as well as the effect humanity's disappearance would have on the artificial aspects of civilization.
Speculation is based upon documented results of the sudden removal of humans from an area and the possible results which would occur should humanity discontinue its maintenance of buildings and urban infrastructure.
The hypotheses are illustrated with CGI dramatizations, depicting the possible fate of such icons as the Empire State Building, Buckingham Palace, Sears Tower, the Space Needle, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Eiffel Tower.
The special originally aired in the USA on The History Channel on 21 January, 2008. With an audience of 5.4 million viewers, Life After People was the most-watched show ever on the History Channel.
Life After People aired in South Africa on DStv's The History Channel on Thursday 3 April 2008, at 20h30.
Sunday 6 April: 20h30
1 day after people
The special assumes that humanity disappears suddenly and immediately, but does not speculate what would cause such an event.
Fossil fuel fired power plants, which are largely automated, would remain running for a few hours until their fuel supplies are depleted. Within hours, lights begin going out all over the world as electrical systems start failing.
Subway systems like the New York City MTA require pumps to keep the groundwater at bay and without humans to turn them on, most subways will be flooded within 36 hours.
After 48 hours, nuclear power plants will enter a safe mode automatically due to reduced power consumption and will not meltdown. Wind turbines will continue to operate but eventually cease when their lubrication fails. Eventually, areas except those powered by hydroelectric dams lose all electricity.
10 days after people
Food would rot in grocery stores and in refrigerators. While meltwater from freezers or food on counter tops could provide temporary sustenance, pets would need to leave their owners' houses or die of starvation. Those which were not trapped would start to compete for food.
Dogs and cats that were bred by humans for appearance now have no niche in this new competitive environment and will die first. For example, the short legs and small mouths of bulldogs or terriers will be handicaps for them.
6 months after people
Smaller forms of wildlife not normally seen in civilization like coyotes and bobcats begin to inhabit suburban areas. Deer begin grazing in neighbourhoods as well. Rats and mice have consumed our edible supplies and are leaving urban areas to go back into the wild.
1 year after people
Plants would begin to sprout in cracks in streets, highways, sidewalks, and buildings.
2 years after people
The Hoover Dam would stop generating power when mussels clog coolant pipes. Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the last areas with some artificial illumination, would then become completely dark.
The Colorado River downstream from the dam would temporarily dry up as the flow of water through the dam stopped; when the level of Lake Mead reached the spillways around the dam, the normal flow would resume.
Animals would start to notice our absence and they would start to flourish in cities.
Humanity's final radio and television signals which have been traveling through outer space have now deteriorated into undetectable background radiation, according to scientists with the SETI project.5 years after people
Plant life will have covered many surfaces in urban areas with vines, grasses, and tree saplings.20 years after people
The ruins of Prypiat, Ukraine, which was abandoned in 1986 due to the Chernobyl disaster, documents the level of decay which could happen after 20 years of humanity's disappearance.
Despite the radiation levels, many animal populations have grown significantly in areas humans have left. Plants have grown in many structures once used by humans.25 years after people
Sea water floods into cities such as London and Amsterdam which are currently kept dry by human engineered projects. Windows in high rise buildings begin to crack and shatter due to the cycle of freezing and thawing and the decay of window sealants.40 years after people
By this time, many wooden frame houses would have burned, rotted, or been largely consumed by termites. Trees and vines grow into remaining brick and masonry elements, which would also be weakened by salts. Compacted earth dams may begin to fail due to widening leaks.50 years after people
Steel structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge would show signs of strain from neglect. Paint that would normally protect these structures peels off, exposing the steel to the elements, allowing corrosion to gradually weaken them.75 years after people
Many of the roughly 600-million automobiles on Earth would be reduced to barely recognizable metal. Some automobiles in arid climates would not have suffered the effects of corrosion as severely and would still be recognizable. While the rubber tires of cars would have deflated years ago, they would not decompose for centuries.100 years after people
Large bridges such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge would collapse due to corrosion of support cables. Many human built structures would fail during the 100 to 300 year period.150 years after people
Many streets with subways would start to collapse into flooded tunnels below. Many large buildings are completely colonised by plants and animals and resemble a wild landscape.
200 years after people
Large structures such as the Empire State Building, Sears Tower, Space Needle, and Eiffel Tower would collapse due to corrosion, invasive plant life, and ground water destabilizing their foundations.500 years after people
Items made with modern concrete would give way as the steel rebar reinforcing them expands to three times its original size as it rusts.1,000 years after people
Most modern cities would be destroyed and/or covered in flora, with collapsed and fallen skyscrapers becoming new mounds and hills. Manhattan would appear much as it did before human settlement with old streams and bodies of waters returning. There would be little evidence that a human civilization existed on Earth.
Certain structures made out of thick rock or concrete, like the Egyptian Pyramids or medieval castles, might survive with minimal damage.10,000 years after people
The Hoover Dam, one of the last remnants of advanced civilization, would fail due to erosion of its concrete and the cumulative effect of seismic activity.
By this point, any substantial evidence of humanity's former domination over nature would be all but gone. Only a few things would survive, such as large stone structures.
The Pyramids at Giza remain, but would be mostly buried by the Sahara Desert's sands. Portions of the Great Wall of China may also remain intact. The faces at Mount Rushmore might also survive and remain recognizable for hundreds of thousands of years.
Modern forms of information storage like hard drives, compact discs, DVDs, photographic film, and paper would have long since decayed.Fate of AnimalsDogs
Domestic dogs which are not trapped in their owners' homes will survive at least temporarily in the wild. Smaller and specialized breeds such as the pug will likely be less able to compete successfully with medium sized dogs.
Small predators such as coyotes, foxes, and bobcats, which live on the periphery of civilization, may quickly become competitors to dogs. As urban areas revert to their natural states, larger predators such as bears and cougars will return.
Wolves could increase in population very rapidly to become the new dominant predator species in North America as they were prior to European settlement. Some large domestic dogs may be accepted into wolf packs and breed with wolves.
Eventually, dogs may completely revert into their wolf ancestors.Domestic cats
As large buildings are colonised by plants, animals such as birds and mice will follow. Domestic cats may follow them as predators, and imaginative evolutionary paths could result, such as some living their entire lives in former skyscrapers or even evolving the capability to glide short distances like flying squirrels.Zoo animals
Some animals held in zoos may escape their confinement and establish populations in areas outside of their native ranges such as lions or tigers in North America.Terrestrial wildlife
Wildlife in North America, which is currently hemmed into small spaces due to highways, will be able to roam over larger areas in search of food and mating opportunities. Large historic migrations may resume.Seagulls
Seagulls that eat food found in landfills will quickly starve, causing a population collapse. The population will stabilize as survivors return to their traditional niche of eating fish from the ocean.Fish/sea creatures
Pollution and overfishing will cease. Life in the ocean will quickly rebound to levels before consumption by humans. As evidence, the show cites the recovery of fish stocks in the North Atlantic Ocean during World War II when commercial fishing was impossible.Rats/mice
Since mice eat the leftovers of humans, they will devour most of the remaining human food on earth. Once all human food is gone, the mice will return to the wild, where they will return to the bottom of the food chain, and the population will decrease.Cockroaches
Cockroaches will devour available food and then move on to cardboard and paper. When they have exhausted these food supplies, they will return to eating seeds and other natural food items.
Although cockroaches are native to tropical areas, they may survive in cold weather areas of the world by spending winters below ground.Termites
Termites will destroy most of the remaining wooden structures in towns and cities within decades of humanity's disappearance before returning to the wild and eating dead trees.Pigeons
Since pigeons have adapted to life with humans and life in the wild, they will find food in the wild and live in cities. Once trees cover the cities, the pigeons will not need to leave the city.Owls
Owls will build nests in abandoned buildings and hunt for small animals that live in cities.
The program does not speculate about the future of all farm animals after the disappearance of humanity. However, one scene shows a bull being hunted by a wolfdog pack at the remnants of a farm.Human Successors
While "clever" species such as chimpanzees will survive and others may evolve, a truly sentient species may not necessarily emerge as a successor to humanity.
Television and radio signals which were once thought to be capable of transmitting information over interstellar distances actually decompose into static within one or two light years according to research done by the SETI project.
If any alien civilizations observe the Solar System, they may not detect human civilization or its remnants on Earth.