Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.39.2: THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH

V039-02_noahshummarkFAnd soon it won’t do any good to repent.

 

We humans seem to delight in doomsday scenarios, and that’s probably because we always seem to conjure them in a way that we can escape their dire consequences. A favorite is the “invaders from outer space,” who are usually invading us because—even though that have a superior technology and intelligence—they have screwed up their own plant, and now they want ours.   Martians are the usual culprits because we can see their planet and it looks like one giant slag heap.   We have gotten to the point where the Mars attacks scenario has become comical, but those Alien movies were really scary.   Even though we humans battled them in outer space se could imagine what it would be like if those heartless, rapacious bugs ever got a claw-hold on terra firma.   Few people see these films and make any connection between those bugs and, say, the little mosquito that kills millions (and may, see below, increase its lethality).  

 

These alien invaders sometimes just come here to wipe us out and, now, that we have computer animation and nerds socialized by computer games, the monsters get bigger, badder, and uglier. It’s a much more popular theme than the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where they invade by not just taking over our world, but our very bodies (Eyiiiew! Yuk!). This must be the reason they seem to be doing all those alien abductions—you know the ones where they have this rather prurient interest in our genitalia.

 

Sometimes we create some ET type creatures, a la Speilberg, that are cuddly and   might be our friends, or at least friendly. But usually, and quite understandably, they want to “go home,” and let us get on with letting things be screwed up by Republicans. These critters—the almond eyed ones with spindly little bodies—are usually benign and, in California at least, we still have bunches of whack jobs waiting on hill tops waiting for their mother ship to come and whoosh them away “from all this.”   Along with those other whack jobs, the Christian “rapture” millennialists, who believe that the end of the world is foretold in Revelations, our hilltops are getting rather crowded. The whole religious “end of the world” thing is, of course, the “mother” of all “end of the world is nigh” scenarios, but we will save that one for the special treatment it deserves.

 

Then there is the evil bastard scenario, a favorite for the James Bond, Mission Impossible, and other techno-thriller genre. These are all an outgrowth of Manhattan Project and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the Cold War that followed it for nearly fifty years. Since then, the two main directions this one has gone are the evil bastard scenario and the radiation unleashed scenario. The evil bastard scenario appears in the form of Goldfinger, and this or that rich or greedy Dr. Evil, who is hell-bent, and out to own or destroy everything, and he needs to be vanquished by somebody who looks like Sean Connery or (snicker) Tom Cruise.   One can discern that this is a conjunction of the Western movie with the world of high-technology, with six-shooters replaced by lasers.

 

Radiation unleashed allowed for all sorts of endtimes scenarios.   There is the classic that follows straight on from the bomb.   That’s On the Beach , the grinding inevitability of a world enveloped by lethal radiation unleashed from nuclear explosions—the inexorable march, death by death toward a dead planet.   Then there have been the ravages of critters—giant tarantulas, Godzillas, and other monsters—made outrageously (and incredibly) outsized by the same radiation.   These monsters have a marked predilection for rising out of the sea, or coming up from underground to clomp through cities smashing buildings, tossing around cars and busses, and generally having a good whack at the symbols of that old two-edged bugaboo, technology.   Curiously, it is usually technology that is literally and figuratively the deus ex machina that comes to the rescue, typically in the form of military technology, and sometimes, paradoxically, in the form of the atom bomb.   What goes around comes around.

 

For most of my life I have been amused and bemused by these various expressions of doomsday. There is something dramatic about a story with an ending and it has been part of human hubris to think that the world, the universe, existence itself, would be defined by the destiny of humanity.   That we could be a minor drama in a rather remote corner of the universe, whose existence matters less than a hiccup is beyond us.

 

But I am beginning to be a believer, and even, in my own hiccup of time, a witness, to what might be a real, down and dirty, end of the world (not the universe), certainly as we know it, if not extinction. What I’m referring to is no secret; it’s that we have been blithely screwing with the thermostatics of our globe.   Yup, global warming. I think we have finally found something that could bring about our end. It is almost as though we have been preparing for it. Look at our television; programs like Survivor, Lost , and Stunt Junkies that shows people doing stupid things and taking death defying risks as if there were no tomorrow, and stupid America’s Funniest Videos with children emasculating their fathers with various missiles and implements.  

 

We see on the news some glaciers calving more rapidly, and big icebergs breaking off around Antarctica, or the rapid pace of desertification in Africa and Australia.   These things seem like they will take a while to cause inundation of coastal cities or get around to us personally. Why not just leave those to our grandchildren, you know, like the humungous debt the Republicans for their war and tax cuts for the rich? Maybe that’s what a lot of people are thinking when they buy that Hummer.  

 

But you have to read some meterological history to appreciate that things can happen much faster. With even modest changes in mean temperatures some species will die off; others, like mosquitos, the biggest killers around, will expand in number and range, skin cancers will increase, diseases that we haven’t seen in centuries will return, and fresh water—even more precious than crude oil—will become more scarce.   Relationships in natural systems we never took cognizance, much less care, of, will become painfully evident.   And so, humans being humans, the end could well come well before you need a kayak to get across Manhattan, because we don’t deal very well with scarcity. Rather than sharing the powerful will attempt to grasp as much as possible, or eliminate the competition.   Hence, unrest, genocide, and the possibility of nuclear war become greater threats.   If we need a lesson in the relationship between scarcity and war we need only look elsewhere in the news, to Iraq, to the oil that we covet so that we can produce the CO2 to warm the planet . . . well, it’s really all part of the same interdependent system.

 

So we may go out with a whimper, but a bang is even more likely if history is instructive.   Either way, it’s “Game Over.”

 

Well, not really.   Nature is surprisingly resilient.   From out of the rubble and radiation will scramble those redoubtable critters, the rats and the roaches, and probably a few left over Republicans, nasty critters all.   They will probably be in a condo in Montana; the rats and roaches figuring our how they can feed off the Republicans, the latter being too busy figuring out a way for history to blame it all on those damn liberals.

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©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.8.2007)

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