Explaining the end of the world is exhausting

Consider this analogy to the current predicament of the humans of Planet Earth:

There is a long flat stretch of railway track that runs for a hundred kilometers then rises over a little hill beyond which is a three kilometer downhill run. At the bottom of the hill is a hairpin bend in the middle of a bustling town of 200,000 people.

Picture a freight train with 20 carriages filled with light sweet crude oil – a highly volatile and combustible fuel. The train is heading along the long flat stretch at 50 kilometers per hour when the driver gets a call from his engineer: the brakes are faulty.

Upon hearing this news, a reasonable person would slam on the brakes or ditch the oil tankers, because once the train goes over the crest of the hill, there will be no way to slow the train before the hairpin bend.

Travelling at anything other than dead-slow speed, the train will tip, leading to an explosion. The faster it tips, the more of the oil cylinders will explode. If the train hits the bend at full speed, the whole town will be leveled – killing most, or maybe all, the inhabitants in the vast percussion and oil-flame of the explosion.

Now, consider that the train is the fossil-fueled global economy, and that the town is human civilization and the nine key biophysical systems (planetary boundaries) that ensure Earth is a suitable home for humans.

Where do you think we are on the railway track, today? One hundred kilometers away from the town? Or over the crest of the hill?

How do you think the drivers of our global economy are responding to the news of the imminent crisis? Let me tell you…

Would you be surprised to hear that the engine is already over the crest as well as some of the oil tanks, heading down towards the hairpin bend, trailing all the rest behind.

However, instead of ditching the oil tankers and hitting the brakes, our global elite – the incumbent political and business leaders – are adamant to add more oil tanks and to make the train go faster. This means grow the global economy based on fossil fuels.

Thus, our imminent future all laid out before us… A global calamity, man-made, and wholly unavoidable. Will we be killed or merely maimed?

It has taken me a little while to process this information, but it is now inevitable that human civilization will suffer multi-meter sea level rise, wildly increased weather extremes and the shifting of agricultural rains – leading to sharply worsening food security. We have ‘baked in’ an unavoidable global calamity.

Yesterday, I was preaching an option for sustainability & happiness. Today, I fear that I need to change my script: the best we can aim for is harm minimization. The oil tankers are going to tip. The question is, how many?

Some would tell us that the imminent explosion will take out everybody in the town. Here is doom-meister Guy McPherson on a NZ TV show.

Others would hold that we have been out of ‘right relationship with reality’ so long that a reckoning is imminent. The question is, how bad will it be? Couched in the language of Christian theology, Michael Dowd tells this story with scientific discipline and the passion of the evangelical evolutionist that he is.

Here is US Senator Bernie Sanders using the appropriately stern tone to demand that the US Government ditch the oil tankers immediately and hit the brakes. In this context, it means to shift away from fossil fuels to radical energy efficiency and renewable energy.

I have invested a lot of effort into my happiness and sustainability message, so I am not going to ditch it straight away. Instead, I will gradually tweak the language to bring the appropriate amount of alarm, so to be honest, but not to spook the neophytes to this conversation.

We western people, have, after-all squandered our unprecedented freedoms (political and economic) to create an infantile bubble of soap operas and sports heroes. Precious few of us can take the medicine without a sweetener. Precious few of us actually know even what I am talking about. It’s like living the Matrix having taken the red pill…

Not only is this wholly avoidable human calamity deeply saddening, it is emotionally exhausting. What do the Eearth People have to do, to bring about a change? When the end of the world is your day job, it can be hard to go home and unwind.

Listen to Tim Christopher and Chris Hedges talk about the coming climate crisis and mechanisms to cope with reality. Think about this tonight, after you have read every page of the Eearth website and signed up to ‘Waxing Gibbous‘, the Eearth Newsletter… What will happen to all the Bangladeshi’s when the oil tankers start to tip??? Maybe they will try to emigrate to your town, assuming yours has yet to be hit by the oil tanker.

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