I wrote this essay in a mindset of anger, fear, and frustration. Frustration and anger over the stubborn, willful ignorance of our society and our leaders, and fear of the tribulations that are to come. I didn’t want to post it yet, I really didn’t, because it is significantly darker in tone than what I’ve written so far. But tonight, the city of St Louis is again on fire. The thugs who enforce the rule of the bourgeoisie once again brought a SWAT team to a peaceful protest, and people are again getting hurt for raising their voices in protest. I can’t wait any longer. What I have to say has to be said. It has to be heard.
If you read nothing else I write, read this. Listen to me. If you want to have a future worth living in, listen to me.
Humanity is at a cusp, and our leaders have done their level best to keep us from seeing it. They’re driving the bus straight towards the edges of the Earth, and they’re keeping the lights up good and bright on the inside so we can’t see out the windows. But if you cup your hands against the glass and peek outside, you can see it. If you look behind the curtains in the halls of power, you can see it. If you take a walk by the seashore or out in the woods, you can see it. You can see it in stagnating wages, in Californian droughts, in mass shootings. Our skies are full of smog, our oceans are full of plastic, our blood is full of Teflon. Civilization is a heat engine, and the heat has nowhere to go. Capitalism is yeast in wort, and the alcohol levels are getting pretty high. Our arrogance, our hubris, that we could take and take and take without consequence was misguided and shortsighted, and the bill is coming due.
This is our cusp, and our very existence hangs in the balance.
Let me make it clear that our civilization is lost. One way or another, the way of life we have all become accustomed to is going to end. It is over. It is finished. It is slowly starving, boiling, and shitting itself to death, and one of those factors will kill it. These are truly the “End Times,” in that sense — but there is no paradise waiting for us at the other end. Our civilization is going to die and there is nothing we can do to stop this.
The climate is changing. No serious scientist is in disagreement with this fact. The data are in and there is consensus — the world is warming and we’re to blame. We’ve put three hundred million years’ worth of carbon and sunlight back into the atmosphere in a few centuries’ time, and the ecosphere can’t cope. Weather patterns are changing and hundreds of species are going extinct every day. These facts are not in dispute. They are documentable. Google it if you don’t believe me. Better yet, visit your local university and have a chat with a physical sciences professor. It’s happening right now, and every time we think we have a handle on how fast things are changing, we find out that they’re changing even faster than we expected.
There is no happy ending to this. Best case, we melt the ice caps, and one-fifth the world’s population is transformed into refugees as their cities flood. Again, that’s the best possible outcome, and it leaves one and a half billion people homeless, without regular access to food, transportation, or medical care. And that’s not even touching on the changes we’ll see to the weather. A warmer planet means warmer seas, which in turn means more violent and widespread storms. These events are inevitable. They are the best-case outcome, and they require immediate, drastic action.
The worst case? The worst case is that the methane traps in Siberia melt, and pump enough methane into the atmosphere to increase the overall temperature of the planet past a certain threshold value. The higher temperatures mean more water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor is an excellent greenhouse gas. More water vapor in the atmosphere leads to more warming, which leads to more water vapor, which leads to more warming. A runaway greenhouse effect. The end result of this is that Earth comes to resemble Venus, with daytime temperatures in the hundreds of degrees Celsius. Once this threshold is passed, that’s all there is to it. Earth dies, forever.
Do you understand what’s at stake?
We’re poisoning the planet. It doesn’t matter where you dump industrial waste — the laws of physics ensure that it will eventually enter the ecosystem. Plastic always finds its way to the ocean, where the action of sun, wind, and wave break it down into tiny pieces which are mistaken for food by shrimp, krill, and plankton. Larger fish and marine mammals and birds eat this shrimp and krill and plankton. In this way, plastics and toxins enter the food chain.
The list of the ways in which we’re abusing our home is virtually endless. Fracking is one of the stupidest idea man has ever come up with — it demonstrably poisons local water supplies and causes earthquakes. It happens over and over and over again, and yet it’s still legal. In fact, in many places, it’s protected by law. GMO crops? Maybe dangerous in themselves, maybe not — but the copious pesticides we spray on them certainly are. Again, this stuff doesn’t just disappear into some magical nega-zone beneath the Earth. It stays in the land and leaches into the water.
The warming, polluted oceans are becoming hostile to fish. Combine this with unsustainable overfishing, as we are doing, and in a hundred years the seas will be unrecognizable, with dead zones, algal blooms, and jellyfish making up most of the marine scenery. The ocean reefs are already dying, and it may well be too late to save them. When they go, they will take unimaginable diversity with them.
We are in the middle of the sixth great mass extinction of species on Earth, and we’re the culprit. Humanity doesn’t exist in a bubble, no matter how much we want to pretend that we do. Everything that we use in our daily lives is ultimately derived from nature. To think of ourselves as independent from it is irresponsible, reckless, and delusional. We are a part of nature, and by abusing nature we are killing ourselves.
Do you see it?
For the last thirty years, the politicians and the bankers and the industrialists in the United States have been waging a campaign to concentrate all of the wealth in the world into the hands of as few people as possible, and they’ve succeeded to an amazing degree. By leveraging hatred, fear, and ignorance, they have placed themselves in positions of nigh-unassailable power, and they maintain this power by keeping the proletariat divided against itself. One percent of the population owns ninety percent of the material wealth in the world. That leaves one-tenth of the wealth split up amongst seven billion people. Seven billion.
American society has been built on the backs of non-white, non-male, non-cis people since its inception. Capitalism requires an underclass in order to function. But you can only exploit people for so long, you can only push them so hard and feed them so little, before they apprehend that they have more power than you do. The larger the imbalance, the more extreme a correction is required, and if that correction cannot be made diplomatically then it will be made violently. This, too, is inevitable — particularly in a country that insists on keeping the body politic armed. Sooner or later, the proles will turn those weapons on their masters, as has happened over and over and over in history.
Or perhaps the warmongers will push too hard elsewhere. We live in a world where a small handful of countries have the ability to destroy literally everything, and rather than trying to move away from this capability, we’re still building nukes. Sooner or later, someone in some position of power will become desperate or unhinged enough to actually use those weapons, and I don’t think there can be any disagreement on what the consequences of that would be.
We are at a cusp. One way or another, our way of life will die. Whether it is killed by hurricane or famine or assault rifles or split atoms is irrelevant. Nothing can save it now.
Nor should we try.
The things that are killing civilization are the things that civilization are made of. If we want to survive, we have to find a new way of doing things. But here’s the rub: we can’t do this individually. None of us can be separate from civilization, because the power of civilization reaches every corner of the Earth. We all must make this choice, or the choice will be death for all of us. We stand at this cusp together. In this moment, we are all God, and the decision we make as we move beyond this cusp will determine whether humanity endures.
If we cannot make this choice, if we cannot set aside hatred and mistrust and greed and delusion, if we cannot learn to do without our wasteful ways of living, then all that will remain of humanity will be crumbling buildings and a handful of tiny, clever robots streaking through a cold, empty void, forever.