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The Great Fall of the American Empire

Nature makes a comeback

The Chrysler Building, 2083

After the great fall of the American empire, many people living within what used to be populous cities dispersed into more rural, mountainous and coastal regions. By 2043, New York and Las Vegas became barren as humans realized concrete and steel did not meet their primal needs.

The great fall started with the United States dollar going completely digital in 2026. This was deemed a great success that came with Tesla universal WiFi. People burned their worthless paper money in the street and embraced this new monetary system. But, no one predicted the large solar flare of 2033 that wiped out modern power grids, communication systems, and monetary value all in one.

First, came the initial shock of no electricity and no societal expectations such as work or education. Next, citizens began to realize their government could not help them out of this natural disaster. It was just too big and too destructive. The government became nonexistent in a month’s time. Looting of designer stores happened in the beginning, but that quickly faded as people realized that their material possessions were worthless. Canned food became the new currency and hiking boots were considered to be as valuable as a brand new Jeep in 2020.

Human instinct began to kick in after laying dormant for 200 years. And slowly, people started to remember where food came from, and without water there is no life. As the human population struggled, died off, and learned a new way to live. So too, did the animals.

Environmental protections that were once in place were quickly forgotten and with no one to enforce them, wildlife became targets for the hungry. Only nocturnal animals were semi-safe, and they retreated to the urban areas that were now devoid of humans.

This post-America world was different and dangerous. As the reserve of refined gasoline ran out within six months, transient groups became the norm. These new American Wanderers traveled vast distances on foot. Some Wanderers had bicycles towing carts of goods, children and the elderly. These groups of people traveled together seasonally, looking to trade homemade baskets and sandals for food. Though easily avoidable since the Wanderers kept to the major river systems, a lone traveler would not want to meet one of these groups.

After a few years of turmoil and mass human migrations, farmers became numerous once again. However, only the 19th century technology worked; scythes and sickles were reclaimed from museums and put to work. What was once considered the boonies became the most valuable places to live (if you could indeed quantify value in a world without capitalism). The new material wealth consisted of defendable land and a constant source of water. Many people dealt with the issues equivalent to the 1930s dust bowl. For 21st century monocropping of corn in the Midwest had depleted the soil and artificial nitrates were no longer available. With no living roots to hold it down, the Midwest 21st century agricultural food belt became sand dunes.

Usually around riverbanks, post-American citizens found places with soil adequate enough to grow corn, beans and squash. They stayed for a few months until moving on with the seasons. This “new” way of life actually was reminiscent of an ancient way of life. For thousands of years, prehistoric human ancestors lived in a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, moving elevations with the seasons and following migration patterns of wild animals. The ancient (and new) way of living reflects compatibility and sustainability with the natural world. Adversely, the course of human history has shown that sedentary life leads to environmental destruction and human overpopulation.

So the 21st century way of life was no more. The massive food and transportation systems that once held precedent were disrupted and cities left vacant of humans. But, what was left of the natural world started her urban comeback. Grass began to break through the concrete, vines climbed the buildings, and trees began to grow in empty lots. Insects emerged to eat the plants, small mammals arrived to eat the insects, and larger predators appeared to prey upon the small mammals. Slowly, ecosystems thought to be long gone repaired themselves easily without the constant human intrusion.

New York City always had a history of urban animals living within its walls, subways, and antique buildings. It was not uncommon in 2006 to see raccoons, feral house cats, squirrels, rats, pigeons, mice and even an occasional fox creep along the sidewalks looking for human food waste. There were also always raptors that lived symbiotically with humans in the urban setting. They would perch high upon skyscrapers and swoop down to capture a pigeon or rat within their talons.

These nocturnal animals didn’t disappear with the fall of America, in fact they took over what was once New York City.

One specific kind of bird of prey- the barn owl- reclaimed the (prior) Financial Capital of the World without the notice of post-America humans.

Barn owls were not doing too well before the great fall, but now they thrived. In the 20th and 21st centuries, silos and historic barns were once important habitat to these night predators. But with the decline of family farms, and the lack of historic preservation of these specific examples of agricultural arcitecture, the population of barn owls also declined. But with the great fall of the American civilization, came the great rise of the barn owl population. They now had unlimited habitat consisting of vacant skyscrapers and unoccupied apartment buildings.

The Chrysler Building, once one of the most famous tourist destinations in NYC was a target of vandalism directly after the fall. The art-deco triangular windows that surrounded the once-prestigious tower were broken out in the early days of the collapse of the empire. This did not go unnoticed by the NYC barn owls, and overtime they occupied the top levels of the once-iconic building, making nests in the offices of the once-wealthy and hunting mice and reptiles on the grassland strips that were once called Broadway and Wall Street.

So though humanity was forever changed by the great fall of the American empire, not all that happened was negative. Pollution cleared from the skies, monetary wealth could no longer be hoarded, humans once again started living off of the land in a natural transient way, and barn owls started to thrive in New York City By 2083.

The (beginning) of the end.

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Kaycee Prevedel

Environmentalist and social justice warrior.

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