Human beings love an apocalypse. These kinds of mythic anticipation are as old as recorded history. Each religion has its own version of what the end-times will look like, when the existential dilemma is finally solved, when we will be allowed to know, for certain, the point of all this worldly confusion and suffering. All the way up to our modern times— now, we’ve got our blockbuster action films about every massively destructive force from tidal waves to runaway robots! Yet, in this age of data, when “the aimless blade of science slashed the pearly gates,” this new incarnation of our collective end has taken an even more frightening new turn.
Staring in the face of the global-warming dilemma, the ecologically minded doomsayers have coined our modern apocalypse. But this one has no redemption attached to it. By contrast to an environmental collapse, in a mythic Christian revelation, Jesus will return, and the Rapture will yield widespread salvation for the good and righteous among us. But in this scientific version, we all lose—the world falls apart, resources grow scarce, whole species fail, and millions of people, animals and plants die. In this prophetic narrative, the Earth spirals downward into a massive Mad Max movie, where gasoline and water are worth more than gold; the world crumbles, and life becomes a Darwinian nightmare where the strong will survive by hoarding the crumbs. I don’t want, or need, to hear that horror-story cautionary tale.
But don’t get me wrong—
I believe in global warming, and I believe the planet is on a dangerous trajectory, and I believe that human behavior is causing it. I also believe we can change what some say is our future.
Just don’t assault my will-to-live with a barrage of ICYMI tweets and news-article teasers about the “Doomsday Clock” or other forthcoming catastrophes. If the people in charge of business and politics in this world won’t solve the problem, then it’s up to us common folk to do it without them . . . Kyoto Accord or no Kyoto Accord.
Ordinary people have got to start this environmental healing process by shouting a massive “Shut up!” at both doomsayers and climate-change deniers. These extremists are playing politics with our lives and the lives of our children. The future of the planet’s natural resources cannot be determined by an economic-environmental fiasco, a la The Lorax, and it can’t be a scare-tactic used to grab readers and drive up ad revenue.
It’s easy for me, personally, to ignore the ridiculous arguments made by climate-change deniers. Unless some graphic artist is manufacturing those satellite images of the waning polar ice-caps, this is really happening. But the doomsayers . . . to the ones whose admonitions are supposedly trying to wake us up to the truth, I also say, “Shut up—” unless you’re going be leaders in a grassroots movement that will turn things around.
Tell us ordinary folk what to do. Leave off your jeremiads, and focus your energy on leading us out of this wilderness. Gather up your scientific and sociological data – the stuff in your articles and white papers – and propose changes to our everyday lifestyles: start composting, using rain barrels, and recycling . . . then drive your car less, charge your phones less often, turn off the AC or heat when the weather allows, and join a CSA. We won’t want to hear your hard truths, but you’ve got to say them anyway, and let those of us who do listen work with our friends and neighbors to get them on board, too.
Just don’t tell me I’m killing the polar bears and the baby sea lions, but neglect to tell me how I can mend my evil ways. How can we do this? you ask. Education is the key.
Journalists, find the facts of wasteful and energy-wasting habits, double-ultra-fact-check them to be sure, and share your findings with us. And give us a positive twist: include solutions! (Heck, it’s not too hard to write a positive article.)
Educators, make Environmental Science a required course to graduate from high school, because cognizant environmental attitudes in the general populace are going to be as important to our perpetuation as literacy and numeracy are to our economy.
People, listen to what you’re told and resign yourselves to amending your habits. Plain and simple.
Politicians, talk to corporate heads and tell them that consumers are getting wise to the effects of pollution and other malfeasance. Business people understand one thing in the boardroom: money. And if they think their status as polluters will cost them revenue, they will listen. And if people are educated enough to make good choices with their buying power . . . then our powerful economy can save, rather than harm the environment.
In the human imagination, the apocalypse will wipe the slate clean and expose the Truth once and for all. The hard part is losing the world we recognize, but the reward is Heaven or something like it. In the Catholic Mass, when we recite our creed, we end by saying, “. . . and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We look forward to it, not out of any morbid desire to see the world end, but because we have faith in a life better than this one. Our human nature tells us, loud and clear, that destruction must be followed by rebirth or rejuvenation, which is what the eco-doomsayers don’t offer us at all.