Climate change is really Apocalypse Now

Global Warming Is Accelerating
Water drips profusely from ice formations Getty Images Sean Gallup

“When I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here, the cougar, panther, lynx, wolverine, wolf, bear, moose, deer, the beaver, the turkey, etc, etc- I cannot but feel as if I lived in a tunnel and, as it were, emasculated country.”

     —HD Thoreau 

Some say there was a paralyzing terror mingled with hope around the year 1000. Jules Michelet was one of those historians who painted a dramatic portrait of 11th century France as greedy monks and priests told fanciful tales of the coming apocalypse to the gullible for money and land and power.  It turns out that the date 1000 was more about a messianic kingdom to come rather than a specific date. Rather than hope that God will appear and make a definite impact on our lives, rather than “divine inspiration” engendering “both fear and hope,” a purely human created reality has been molded by human greed and its consort climate change. Humanity is reaping the karmic retribution of decades of ecological denial and ignorance. Exxon Mobil and the other gas and oil companies have indeed helped to sow the fires of our discontent.  

Those who were oppressed and suffered will find favor before God. There are those who believe in the same Apocalyptic prophecies even today. There are those Christians today, 44 percent of Americans who believe that natural disasters are proof of the end time. Very ironically, climate change is proof that Judgement day draws near.  Already 500 years ago “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoke of it through the mouth of Isaiah,” Christopher Columbus wrote in 1500, “and he showed me the spot where to find it.”   

The Puritans were advancing premillennial views in the 1730’s and 1740’s encouraging beliefs, as the Great Awakening was called, in which God was working to establish his millennial kingdom. The radical Whig party during the Revolution fostered “the sacred cause of liberty.”  Filled with optimism and the belief in the perfectibility of mankind, the Great Awakening was America’s answer to the Enlightenment. Christ was to vanquish evil, and enable all manners of reform, abolitionism, temperance, prison reform, and other social advancements.

Decades later, Hermon Husband, a New Light evangelical, former North Carolina regulator, and ardent anti-federalist, while traveling through western Pennsylvania in 1779, beheld the eastern corner of what he envisaged as the New Jerusalem. “I saw therein the Sea of Glass, the Situation of the Throne; which Sea was as clear as crystal Glass. I also saw the Trees of Life, yielding their monthly Fruit; and the Leaves of the Trees healing the Nations; one of which leaves I got hold of, and felt its healing Virtue to remove the Curse and Calamities of Mankind in this World.”

Suffering, or being in God’s favor may explain the right’s partiality to Apocalyptic thinking, but the thinking of late has come home to roost. A million acres burned this week in the West and the heat of late has changed the dialogue with the Earth and the reality of a manmade Apocalypse forever. What used to be a once in a millennium event, may now become the norm.  

America may have won both World Wars, but it is in the process of losing the peace with respect to how it has treated its wilderness areas and the biosphere. To put things in perspective, half of the world’s forests were lost between 8000 BC and 1900. The world has lost one third of its forests since 1900, an area twice the size of the United States. A tragedy beyond measure.

William Butler Yeats’ 1919 poem “The Second Coming” (Things fall Apart: the centre cannot hold, Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world) on the horror of World War 1, was inspired by the narrative of the Apocalypse. Karl Marx foresaw the end of capitalism and Fukuyama, the historian, envisioned the end of history itself. Both may have miscalculated but Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal gives us only a fifty percent chance of making it to the 22nd century.

Humanity has always sought patterns in order to address larger cosmological realities or ways to understand supervening forces beyond our control. Most believed since the narrative was religiously or spiritually based, that eventually, a new order would reign over mankind. Today that narrative is purely ecological with concomitant social strains eating at the fabric of civilization. 

More recent warnings have come from Ayn Rand in her masterpiece “Atlas Shrugged” in 1957, who during the heyday of the Cold War has her protagonist John Galt and Danny Taggart flying over the remains of a once great civilization and Taggart says, “It’s the end,” to which Galt replies,

“It’s the beginning.” In our time, people are looking elsewhere on other planets to place humanity’s aspirations, but it is here on Earth that hundreds of millions will be displaced by floods, fires, tornadoes and heat waves.

What if the heat of the world, the fires in the Amazon, Australia, the Arctic fires, the changing of the Gulf Stream were the incipient stages of a wholly different order? The beginning phase of a wholly changed planet. Maybe the true meaning of the apocalypse as it was used in the New Testament meant a revelation, a revelation about an entirely novel geologic era of being — a wholly manmade epoch, with no need for a godhead, the Anthropocene, forged by far too many greedy, consuming humans.

Despite our best efforts, we are inheriting an era that might become irreversible and ultimately even uninhabitable for many. The pandemic, climate change, biodiversity loss and social upheaval may very well become the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, in ways we could never have envisioned. The grand revelation of our time would show that God is not angry with us, that a greater power is not punishing us, but that we had indeed punished ourselves. We need not look beyond ourselves for environmental chaos. The providence lies within ourselves. That 38 percent of Americans believe that “God” uses nature to punish us and to dispense judgement should tell us a lot about the mental state of this very young country. It is unfortunately a dialogue increasingly used by politicians, on the right, to make a case that locusts, fires, floods, earthquakes, acidifying oceans, and pandemics are all a sign of the end times. Forty-one percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return by 2050. The U.S., a country where Harvard University, the cream of the intellectual crop, is still reluctant to wean itself from fossil fuel investments. Heaven help us.

The question before us: will we have the knowledge, the courage, the heart to redeem ourselves? Will it even be possible? Anthony Barnosky, professor of integrative biology at the University of California in the June 7th issue of Nature, wrote: 

“The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.”

Perhaps the beginning of a biological Armageddon. While no-one knows how close we are to a tipping point or indeed if it is at all inevitable, all indicators are that the Earth is fast changing in many parts of the world such as the Arctic and the Amazon. America, what used to be the promised land for some, such as the leader of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, will no longer be the modern land of milk and honey or opportunity. Already the wheat harvest has declined a full 10 percent. In a generation that may rise even more. The bread basket of the world will be sorely tested in the decades to come.  Who knows. The bread basket of the world may succumb to another scourge of Biblical proportions, grasshoppers have started to eat their way through Western crops. While not as vast as the East African invasions of late, their numbers may increase in the future.

Many scientists in America, through the campaigns spread by the fossil fuel industry have denied climate change since Jimmy Carter’s time. It is one of the main reasons he lost his reelection bid. America, the world could have changed its industrial model and guaranteed a viable future for the children. Three of the last five presidents denied the dangers of the fossil fuel industry. How ironic that a country that was once a beacon of hope for the world, became an industrial maverick that helped lead the world astray. In Arnold Crosby’s words, America led the world with “ecological imperialism.”  The fact that almost half of America is in denial of climate reality, that those people see what is happening as a prelude to heaven, is astounding. What is happening is a prelude to Hell. And America bears a large measure of responsibility for where humanity is right now. America won the great wars of the XX century, but in a very grandiose fashion lost the Peace. The grandchildren of the future, if there are any, will never forgive those policy makers and politicians and industrialists who could have turned the tide of humanity around, but decided to do nothing and simply looked away. We have plenty of Hollywood films about dystopia and catastrophe. Very few of a changed and altered world from the one we have that actually works. Jesus is most certainly not going to judge us. The environment will almost certainly fry us. We are living beyond our means. We are using 1.6 earths worth of resources every year and taking away from the generation unborn. That is the greatest sin of all time. 

If America can lead the way to a different future, it could give incentive to China, India, Russia, Brazil and the rest of the world to do the same. Many people have said why should America change if China still uses coal. Because we can do better and our constitution of the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is unique in the history of the world. Have we lived up to its promise? Or have we taken it for granted? But we have not lived up to the “better angels of our nature.” We have ignored them and some of us are trying desperately to keep people from voting. We have debased the better angels. We wasted 20 years that could have saved civilization and the Earth.  Who did that? Those who refused to see the Earth for the trees that they so lovingly wanted to cut down. Like the Tongass in Alaska and every forest worth its weight in money. It is insulting, criminal and debased behavior beyond comprehension.  20 years that will never come back.  20 years or maybe even 40 since Reagan that could have saved us the world. The “pursuit of happiness” not the pursuit of infinite profits on a very finite planet.

So we are living in apocalyptic times. Apo meaning to take away, and kalypto meaning to cover or to hide. So really we are lifting the veil of illusion or untruth. We can no longer take Nature for granted. Not that the native people ever did. We are being made to see the miracle of things we have taken for granted, that was unseen for generations. Even the lowliest ants or butterflies can no longer be taken for granted ever again. The Earth is forcing us to lift the veil of illusion from our eyes. Pray that humanity listens. Now, once and for all.

Not a single UN target for Biodiversity since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 has been met.  

The upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China, this fall, will, in all probability, be humanity’s last and final chance to confront what it could lose if it doesn’t prioritize life, once and for all.