Armageddon. End of Days. The Apocalypse.
The end of the world. Science says it’s an inevitability that one day, a few billion years from now, our sun will exhaust its fuel supply, and the equilibrium achieved between the outward pressure of fusion and the inward pressure of gravity will cease to exist, causing the sun to collapse on itself and explode, vaporizing the Earth in the process.
But don’t worry. It’s highly unlikely there will be humans present. And there probably won’t be any creatures descended from humans around, either. But there will be plastic. Lots and lots of plastic. Well, to be honest, in my fantasy, humans will have found a way to deal with all the plastic before we make ourselves extinct.
And that’s usually what we think about when we think of the end of the world. What we really mean is the End of the Human Race. Earth will be here long after we’re gone. As George Carlin said in his book ‘Napalm and Silly Putty’: “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.”
There’s reason to stay positive, though. Sure, we’re doomed. And there’s little hope, if any, of a solution. We’ve dug too deep of a hole for ourselves. And the end may be approaching soon.
That’s right. I’ve just made a prediction. Like Nostradamus and all those crackpot evangelists, I’m predicting doomsday.
But that’s no reason to be glum. And for God’s sake, don’t bother repenting. I’ve got a better plan, which I’ll get to.
Why bother thinking about this at all? For some reason, the last few books I’ve read have all been about large-scale, cataclysmic events. End-of-the-world-type stuff. Which books? Keep reading.
Let’s take a look at some possible end-of-the-world scenarios. Most people, I think, believe the world will end quickly, a nuclear bomb flash or a high-speed impact from an asteroid. Well, for some people that’d be a quick end. If you’re near the blast center or the impact site, you’d probably never feel it. It’s the aftermath that’s really terrifying, the nuclear winter and fallout from the bombs, or the ash clouds from the asteroid choking out the sun. In other words, there’d be some who die immediately, and many others who’d die much later.
This will all look better in one of my trademark bullet-lists. Here’s my completely non-exhaustive list of end-of-the-world scenarios:
- The Plague – In today’s world, it wouldn’t take much to spread a virus to all parts of the Earth, especially if this virus was some sort of unnatural, man-made product (a virus that kills its host is not a very prolific virus, so I think it’s unlikely this sort of super-virus would happen naturally). This, of course, was the premise behind Stephen King’s excellent book ‘The Stand.’ He imagined a few of us having an immunity to the Super Flu of his story, so there was at least the possibility that the human race would survive. In the real world, who knows? Would we retain the ability to reproduce? Suppose there was a virus that made us infertile. Which leads me to…
- The Population Control – In P.D. James’ ‘The Children of Men,’ the human race is doomed to extinction by our lost ability to procreate. In the book, all of the world’s men had become infertile, but no one could figure out why. With no children being born, the world’s population fell. It’d eventually lead to the literal “last man on Earth.” It would be slow, unfolding over decades, which would give us plenty of time to think about it. What caused it? It’s not explained in the book, but I suppose it could be a virus, or perhaps solar or cosmic radiation. Lead-lined underwear, anyone?
- The Asteroid – There’s a lot of loose rocks in the Solar System. A lot. There’s also comets, high-speed ice balls that orbit our sun and occasionally smash into things. Remember Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9? Broke apart and smashed into Jupiter back in 1994? No? Well, look it up. NASA and other agencies can track some of these objects, but it’s probably just a very small fraction of what’s out there. It was this sort of calamity that served as the backdrop for Ben H. Winters’ ‘The Last Policeman’ and its sequel ‘Countdown City’ (a third is forthcoming, and I can’t wait). In his books, the world has plenty of notice of the upcoming disaster, a huge chunk of rock that will slam into Earth. They know when, they know where, and they know they can’t stop it. The impact itself, science says, is only the beginning of the end. It really got me thinking about what I would choose to do if I knew this sort of thing was going to happen. Probably deserves its own blog post. At least an asteroid can’t be blamed on humanity. Unlike, say…
- The Nuclear Bombs – If James Cameron wrote the History of the World, this would be how we’d all meet our end. As a huge fan of ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ and an average fan of ‘WarGames,’ the thought of a nuclear exchange sort of makes me chuckle. It’s an absurd concept: launch against us, we’ll launch against you, and nothing will be left, ha-ha, take THAT you commie thugs! In reality, if it had happened, the devastation caused by the initial blasts would only be the start of the world’s suffering. Radioactive fallout would be blown around by the wind (although it would die out in a few weeks), ash clouds would blot out the sun, and anyone who happened to be looking in the direction of one of those blasts would be blind. It’d be one messed up place. This is the world of the ‘Fallout’ games, of which I am a HUGE fan.
- The Sun – I almost called this bullet point “The Weather,” but really, it all goes back to our sun. After all, global warming wouldn’t be such a problem if our sun wasn’t so energetic. Polar ice caps could melt, causing flooding (though it would be slow), and global climates could radically change (also slow), or maybe a gigantic solar flare could hit the planet, cooking us like in that Nicolas Cage movie ‘Knowing.’ But likely, our climate will change so much that there will be no way anyone could possibly deny global warming. And by then, it’ll be way, way too late. This is probably the slowest method of extinction (of humans, I mean) that there is. Like pork in the smokehouse, global warming is the “low and slow” method of global catastrophe. How long it’ll take I couldn’t say, but I’m pretty sure the timer’s already started.
- The Alien Attack – I saw ‘Independence Day’ several times in the theaters. I loved it. I’m definitely someone who believes in life elsewhere in the universe, but I seriously doubt they’d invade and attack like they do in the movies. ‘The Andromeda Strain’ by Michael Crichton is probably a more accurate portrayal of man’s first encounter with life from beyond. Tiny little microbes. They didn’t invade, they just showed up on a satellite that got wanged by a space rock and crashed in the desert. And started reproducing and killing people through infection. This we’d never see coming, and we’d probably never even get the chance to study and understand what it actually was. Bummer.
- The God Solution – “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.” Perhaps the world’s best-known work of fiction (yes, fiction, and you can write to the address on my ‘About’ page), the Bible has a whole section dedicated to the End of Days. We’ll be judged, some will be spared and ascend to glory, yadda yadda yadda. Look, if you want to believe this stuff, go for it. I personally believe in God, but the Bible (and by extension organized religion) has nothing to offer me. Too much bad shit’s been done in the name of religion. If He decides the world needs a good cleansing and wipes us out, maybe He’ll make it quick.
- The Collapse – This is the last one I’ll talk about, and the one I’d bet my reputation on happening, if I had any reputation to bet. This is when it all crashes, when the complex infrastructure that keeps us going collapses under it’s own weight. I’m reading this book called ‘One Hundred Times to China’ by Lloyd Kropp. It centers around a regular guy trying to keep his family safe while the world slowly crumbles. So far, it isn’t entirely clear what caused everything to go to shit. Economies crashed, governments fell, and how exactly it all happened seems to be a mystery, possibly even to the author (if that’s the case, I greatly admire the choice). It was published in 1979, back when the Internet was barely a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. Information just wasn’t available like it is today. It’s possible a lot of things – if not everything – can go bad without most people knowing anything about it. These days, it’s possible we’d see it coming. Or would we?
If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have seen me call out a few Customer Service departments for being jerks. I’ve become a curmudgeon. A Social Media Curmudgeon. Really, it’s just me trying to use Twitter to gain some leverage over – and spread the word about – some of the companies I deal with. But I don’t enjoy complaining. Really, I don’t.
Anyway, my biggest gripe with these companies is their reliance on taking shortcuts. Ever build a house? No? Me neither. But it’s not hard to imagine that if you take shortcuts in the construction of a building, that building isn’t going to be very strong, and it’s not going to stand for very long. Build a company – or an economy, or a civilization – with shortcuts, and the same thing will happen. And that’s what I see, mostly among consumer goods and services. Companies make compromises on quality control and put out more and more inferior products (you should see how many partial, individually-wrapped Life Saver Pep-O-Mint candies I’ve been getting in a bag).
Suppose we start taking shortcuts on safety regulations, or in the manufacture of drugs. What happens when your Chef Boyardee Ravioli (which I love) starts shipping with botulism spores in every can because of shortcuts taken in the canning process? Or when a bunch of flu vaccine gets unknowingly tainted while in transit to hospitals and clinics because of shortcuts taken in the packaging process? It can happen. It may seem unlikely, but as Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “The number of unlikely things that can happen is so large, you can be assured that unlikely things are likely.” He may not have been talking about ravioli, but with the way I see things heading, I’d keep an eye out for bulging cans if I were you.
Certainly only a madman would think the world was going to end because of some bad customer service. At my lowest, it’s probably just wishful thinking on my part. I see a lot of ugliness and suffering, and I just start wishing we could start over. Our climate’s in trouble, we’ve got no long-term plans for energy. And with shit getting more expensive, companies are going to keep looking for ways to save money. More shortcuts, in other words. It can’t go on forever. And there may be no good solution. Again: bummer.
So besides admitting to the world that I may be crazy (the jury’s still out on that one), what’s my point in all this?
I’ve never been afraid of the world ending. I know it’s never going to end with a bang, but with a whimper most of us won’t hear. I can remember when I was younger hearing about some guy, a priest or something, who said the world was about to end. It didn’t bother me. Granted, I was a pretty depressed kid. But I’m not so depressed now, and it still wouldn’t bother me, even if it were a certainty. Why?
Because there’s no such thing as a guaranteed future. Ever. And there’s so much crap that can go wrong at any moment. Live it up, folks. Live it up. Because by the time you read on Twitter that the end is coming, it may be too late. And if you haven’t done shit with your life while the world wasn’t ending, you’ve got no reason to get upset.
So that, dear reader, is my plan for the end of the world: enjoy it. Because for all we know, we’re witnessing the end already.
And remember: just because the world’s going to end, that’s no reason to not try to fix up the place. Just try to enjoy yourself while you’re doing it.