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How Bad Could The End of The World Be?

Since I was a kid, “end of the world” movies have been one of my secret little guilty pleasures. I loved watching Vincent Price and Charleton Heston roam around as the last men on earth, so when Will Smith reprised the role in his new film “I Legend” I was excited. But while “I Legend” is a very entertaining film with really great special effects, I found myself leaving the theatre a little depressed. I realized that when I was younger the concept of the world ending was pure fantasy – which made its depiction pure fun. But lately I have been feeling like the earth might be getting a little sick of mankind, and we could be in for some big changes during my lifetime. Maybe not changes that result in the elimination of 95% of the human race with angry zombies devouring the few survivors – but pretty unpleasant upheaval that will really make us yearn for the old days.

I’ve been fearful of global warming for many years. I spend a lot of time in remote areas, fishing around glaciers and in hidden forests, where the impact of climate change is unavoidable. In British Columbia and Alaska you can clearly see the glaciers retreat and disappear every year. Due to the warmer climates, beetles and other parasites that were normally killed in the winter live year round. They infest massive tracts of the forest land – and when the trees die and dry out they become very susceptible to forest fires. And we are all seeing the impact massive forest fires are having around the country. When I went fishing in my home state of Montana last fall year they actually closed the rivers to fishing in the afternoon because the water levels had dropped so low that the rivers were heating up and fish were dying. I called my Father this weekend in Montana. At this time of year when I was growing up we would typically have a couple feet of snow – but Dad told me sadly that it was 50 degrees and people were actually going golfing. Montana (like California) is drying up and blowing away or burning down.

I’m reading a terrific but frightening book right now that is undoubtedly adding to my angst. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman is a fascinating exploration of what would happen to the earth if tomorrow humans just ceased to exist. The point of the book is that the earth would ultimately erase almost every trace of us, but there is an additional message I had not fully considered. During the last 100 years mankind has not only unwittingly ushered in global warming, but in our scientific rush to service an exploding population we have altered our environment and created substances without due consideration of their long term impact. Case in point, in just the last fifty years we have begun to blanket the earth with plastic – a substance that can take thousands of years to disappear. Our oceans are virtual garbage dumps filled with plastic – and not just the plastic you see – but plastic microcosms that our fish and wildlife and plants are consuming. That strawberry body scrub you use in the shower probably contains tiny plastic granules that get washed down the drain and ultimately ends up in our waterways – to be consumed by a salmon that you end up having for dinner – which you ultimately expel – only to have the plastic survive and once again end up in the waterway, and the cycle continues. But what happens if we continue to fill the earth and our bodies with these manufactured substances that never seem to go away? In “I Legend” mankind is destroyed by well-meaning scientists searching for cures for disease – but instead ultimately create an uncontrollable virus. Is it possible that the various chemical compounds we now pump into ourselves and the environment will ultimately lead to our demise?

Perhaps I would be a little more optimistic if the current slate of political candidates seemed the least bit concerned about the environmental disasters that confront us, and the massive social change that we need to adopt to ultimately survive. While they all make reference to global warming, it appears fairly low on everyone’s list. I suspect that tax hikes and fighting terrorism will seem far less important when our coastal cities disappear under a wall of water – and people in Kansas start dropping dead from tropical diseases never before detected outside of Africa.

There is an interesting perspective of the situation floating around on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDsIFspVzfI. An Oregon High School teacher prepared a simple video titled The Most Terrifying Video You Will Ever See. Hopefully some of our political candidates will take a look.

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