In a small way the plight of the British in 1940 resembles the state of the civilised world now. At that time we had had nearly a decade of the well-intentioned, but quite wrong belief that peace was all that mattered. The followers of the peace lobbies of the 1930s resembled the green lobbies now, their intentions were more than good, but wholly inappropriate for the war that was about to start.”
~ James Lovelock, The Vanishing face of Gaia
(quoted in ‘the end of more’)
In the early years of the twenty-first century, reports from the global scientific community started to take on a more dire tone as Arctic amplification melted the ice sheets and glaciers of the North Pole, deformed the jet stream, and altered oceanic currents. The Arctic treeline marched northward gaining footholds in land now unlocked from its frozen slumber. Animals, insects, viruses, and pathogens, which were driven by the warming planet to migrate northward, wreaked havoc on native species. Heatwaves also became more common in the lower latitudes where the bulk of humanity lived. Seasonal transitions became less gradual and more abrupt. Extremes of weather, flood and drought, started to occur more frequently and with greater destructive force. Perhaps the only business of Homo economicus to speak candidly about the reality of climate change was the insurance industry only because its business model could not hide or externalize the high costs of climate chaos. Humans had built their entire global civilization and profligate lifestyle upon the burning of rich, energy-dense fossil fuels. To change the course of this behemoth ship was well beyond the scope of any one nation or group of people. Talk of modern civilization running on so-called renewable energy ignored the fact that such alternative sources were only extenders of the faltering fossil fuel age, and such a transition was too late anyway. The seeds of our downfall had been sown over a century ago when man accepted the Faustian bargain of exploiting carbon-based energy whose power came with the price of a wrecked planet. The marketing ploys of “green” and “organic” were no fix for the unstoppable wave of eco-destruction unleashed by disaster capitalism. The leaders of all countries knew there was no politically viable way to stem the human population explosion which was also at the root of the ecological crisis.
We have become Vishnu and Shiva, the ancient Hindu gods of creation and destruction: As we create more of us, far more than we now understand the planet can sustain, we are creating our own destruction, both terrible and beautiful. Our scientists, exploring the frontiers of our knowledge of the world, have gathered enough data for us to understand that our consumption and proliferation have set in motion a planetary change in our relatively comfortable envelope of climate.
In the last few decades the climate of the Earth had defied all the overly conservative, human-centric estimates that were designed to maintain the suicidal path of business-as-usual. Of course most scientists were shocked at the rapidity with which the climate had spiraled out of control. Nations which were the major producers of the world’s food soon halted exports in order to feed their own frightened and hungry populations and stave off revolt. Those countries heavily reliant on imports for their sustenance quickly devolved into anarchy and killing fields. Politicians were the first to be done away with, drawn and quartered with their heads placed on spikes. The thin veneer of civilization dissolved under the brutal reality of power outages, food riots, and climate chaos. Some countries with nuclear plants suffered Fukushima-like meltdowns due to the loss of their power grid while others, who were able to keep a lid on the disaster by maintaining electrical power under a state of marshal law, carried out accelerated decommissioning of their reactors. Nevertheless, with the collapse of the electric grid large swaths of the Earth were rendered uninhabitable by leaking radiation and toxic rain. The sudden downward spiral of civilization was also punctuated by the detonation of a few nuclear bombs in countries like Pakistan where arsenals had fallen into the hands of radical groups. In the eyes of the believers, Armageddon had finally arrived.
For hundreds of miles north and south of the equator a death zone of searing heat, barren land, dry riverbeds, and lifeless ocean encircled the Earth, but a few places at the poles still held small pockets of human communities who practiced subsistence farming and fishing as well as the art of scavenging technology from the past. Even though the rusted steal hulks of factories, cars, airliners, ships, and other relics of CO2-spewing industrialization now lay motionless in fields of tall grass or at the bottom of the ocean, the effects of the CO2/methane bomb unleashed by modern man would last for millennia. Sea level rise and the chaotic weather of the planet had displaced all the elaborate infrastructure that had been built to take advantage of once predictable growing seasons, fertile soils, and river systems. Gaia had pulled the rug out from under man leaving him scampering for cover like bugs from beneath an overturned rock, and there was nowhere to run. The few humans who presently eked out an existence at the poles were simply the flotsam and jetsam of the great collapse. The coddled elite who had actually planned for this eco-apocalypse committed suicide long ago when their stash of fine wine ran out and their gold had no value to anyone.
The sound of human voices no longer filled the air. As a matter of fact, the sound of any living thing had vanished. Nearly all the monuments of human achievement and ingenuity had crumbled away like sand castles before a rising tide. Only a few ancient relics still stood like the pyramids in Egypt and long segments of the Great Wall of China. Not much remained of the “disposable society” of modern times except for a few large construction projects such as Hoover Dam. Repossession on the humans was the only option Gaia had for a species that had built up mountains of environmental damage with no intention of ever changing its omnicidal ways. The slate had to be wiped clean before the slow, million year process of remediation could begin…
Vast, flat expanses of viscous ooze, unbroken by waves, covered all of what once were vibrant oceans. Great belches of toxic hydrogen sulfide would occasionally break the calm of these oily, purple-colored plains stretching far into the horizon. The deadness of the these poisonous waters was mirrored by the stillness on the land which now was exposed to the full forces of UV radiation through a destroyed ozone layer. High overhead, thin wisps of clouds slowly moved along a pale green sky. A fetid, noxious smell filled the air and the silence of extinction was everywhere.