This article spells out exactly what I have been strongly feeling these last few years, especially with all the recent mad weather around the world and the accumulated news of such things as the melting of the Arctic icecap, the Antarctic icecap, the permafrost in the Arctic, and of glaciers all around the world; the sudden failure of millions of seabirds in the North Sea to lay eggs, of sardines to arrive at their spawning grounds in the Pacific, of the mass plague of wood bore beetles in the Arctic, destroying entire regions of forests; the record snows falling just here in Japan, the monster storms hitting the coasts everywhere, the huge mudslides in rainy climes, enormous flooding, deserts expanding, rain forests falling, islands disappearing under the waves…
You see all this… if you take the time to gather it together in your arms… and you wonder, “What exactly is wrong with us?” It’s like we’re mesmerized by the lights of Vegas, unable to pull away from the slot machine, even though we’re about to find ourselves destitute. Does it take the vast hand-swipe of God to bring us to our senses? The awful part of it is that we seem to deny the reality of the natural world like some peevish teenager; it still never occurs to us that we are not the center of the universe, that the world will erase us as casually as we step on cockroaches or spray mosquitoes. Our absence will be missed by no one and nothing. Only we make so much of ourselves that we would risk our own existence and the stability of the planet to hawk our wares. The utter callousness and stupidity…
I have written about this often enough to know that a great many people will pooh-pooh me for being too alarmist and pessimistic. But I think it is that so few people want to open their eyes and see just how bad things really are. Or, if they do, they will vigorously shake their heads, clap their hands over their ears, and shout, “No! No! No! No! No! No! No!“. They say, “Miguel, why do you have to be so depressing all the time? Life is hard enough without worrying about things we can’t do anything about.” We have the symptoms of terminal cancer, but by God, we’re going to defeat that notion out of sheer optimism and to hell with the doctor!
I have diabetes. It is incurable. I will most likely die from complications that it causes. And I know what it is to deny an awful truth in yourself. People who love me tell me, “You have to be more positive about the disease, Miguel. Fight it!” Of course I fight it. What else can I do? And yet the kernel of truth resides within me and there is no denying it. It is a hard, impersonal truth, with no feeling this way or that whether I live or die. God, nor any other god, is not going to step in and save me.
I think that’s what the world’s populace is waiting for, some deus ex machina to come floating down from the clouds to grant us absolution and sprinkle fairy dust over the land, curing all wrongs. But volcanoes and earthquakes and floods and hurricanes and tsunamis act like the gods… supremely indifferent to our existence. And like the gods, when the mortals deem to insult them, the retribution is terrible. The Elders of our tribe long ago understood this intrinsically. We make fun of them today, calling them ignorant and backward.
Perhaps it’s, as Lovelock pronounces, too late. If so, our entire civilization is about to end. Can we even grasp that? And if the reality hits home, what can we do about it? Or more importantly, what can we do about ourselves? Is there dignity in extinction?
6 replies on “The End of Our World”
Miguel, I just wanted to say that although it is a depressing thought, it is something that becomes more abundantly clear every day — that global warming is reaching or has already passed the point of no return. The consequences of this can only be disastrous for modern civilization and perhaps for all human life. These are almost incontrovertible facts that no one really wants to think about, probably because to admit them makes us feel nothing but powerless, helpless to do anything meaningful that might help.
I remember reading something by McKibben in the late nineties (maybe Hope, Human and Wild but maybe something else) in which he basically said we had to voluntarily turn the clock back in terms of our technology and the global character of our lives. The image he painted was of people using solar cells and growing their own food and riding horses. I knew then that if that was our only hope, we were doomed, because people (and more importantly my (U.S.) government) would never voluntarily do any such thing. Never. We’re simply not capable of that kind of vision and sacrifice, at least not without a concrete catastrophe and truly legendary leadership (and global warming provides very few of the first and the likelihood of the latter in this culture seems almost nil).
I don’t know if we can do anything about it, if we can accept that everything is going to collapse and change and end. Human beings may very well survive (we’re a hardy, adaptable, and mobile species) but as barbarians only, savages concerned only for survival. I want to say that these people wouldn’t be what I think of as human, but the fact is, we’re only marginally more than that for all are veneer of sophistication. What frightens me most of all is how easy it would be to recognize these animals we are about to become as ourselves.
God, I think I’m even more pessimistic than you. Sorry about that.
Andru, it is good to see you here. It’s been so long since I’ve updated the blog that I have no idea what everyone has been doing. I was surprised to find that your own site had been put on hiatus for now.
I think you and I are equally pessimistic about what is happening. Just trying to be a little more pleasant on the site. It’s strange to think that we have discovered that the planet is not at the center of the universe, that we revolve around the sun, and that we are made up of miniscule particles that render us abstract, and we seem to be able to accept these things, but we still haven’t seriously engaged the idea that we are not the highest form of creature on the planet, or that our extinction is as possible and as likely as any other creature’s.
I don’t think there is anything we can do about what is happening. The only thing we can do something about is our own attitude and philosophy. So many people talk of warlords and barbarians, in the Road Warrior tradition, as the inevitable face we will present when our end comes. But why? Whole civilizations in the Americas chose to disappear into obscurity when they discovered that their effect on the land was destroying their culture, and they didn’t end up with this attitude of greed and violence; why must we? If there is nothing we can do about the end our civilization, why not just accept it then and live out our remaining time the best we can, with respect for one another and love of the planet upon which we were born? Dying doesn’t have to be a rash and panicked thing.
I actually put my site on hiatus because I started teaching internet saavy children and wanted to maintain some air of mystery. Frankly, I didn’t trust them. I may start it up again soon, as I won’t be teaching this term.
I think when you say ‘we,’ you mean the human race, but the problem isn’t the human race, it’s Americans (and to a lesser extent, Chinese). Are you really confused as to why post-consumerist America can’t be more like pre-Columbian America? I doubt that. American identity is built around consumption and destruction. To give those up would be to give up ourselves, and I just can’t see Americans doing that — the self is almost a deity in our culture. Besides, most Americans would say that living as if there is no tomorrow is living out our remaining time as best we can. Dying may not have to be panicked, but neither does it have to be surrender (we might say).
I feel exactly the same about without being so called pessimistic (I’d rather say realistic).
I believe this consumption ralley -which is one of the causes of global warming- is really an aspect of the human race itself rather than caused by one or more countries in particular.
It’s the selfish human self which is never satisfied and always wants more and to, eventually, reach further than God.
Being aware of this pattern has nothing to do with giving up ourselves – in its essence it’s just being aware of this instinct… and letting loose… without thinking about economical or maybe even social consequences… world leaders should speak out in favour of the entire human race instead of planning -not even implementing- short term solutions… but I know this will be wishful thinking forever…
Hm… that’s funny…
Crossed out sections should be read like placed between brackets instead of crossed out…
Sorry about that…
A link from a link from a link, a randomness on conciousness (from a moleskine site i think)
I have diabetes too, God won’t change this, nor will he step in for the tree’s /=
you’re tree tale was touching, the fact that you worry about your diabetes is too.
The only way to fix it, is for us to do something, “all it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing”, watching governments have mutli million dollar meetings about the problem instead of fixing it.
Human race will keep on screwing it up and complaining, wanting to claim benefits and health and dental etc etc, too lazy to put in a hard days work and care about the environment, the people around them etc
sorry to rant, but I agree with you ^_^