I hear or read this phrase, or something like it, at least once a week: “It would be great if [insert climate-change-related global catastrophe here*] occurred because then I would have a greater chance at survival; the population problem would be fixed.”
And, this phrase, or something like it, crosses my path about once a month: “I would love it if [insert climate-change-related global catastrophe here*] occurred because then life would be like Naked and Afraid; the population problem would be fixed,” said by people who have seen the show on TV.
So, I thought it was time to address these comments, which alas, have been said to me by classmates, housemates, followers via social media, etc.
First of all, if climate change continues and we experience a runaway greenhouse effect which heats our planet up drastically, we are probably all screwed. At some point, when there just aren’t enough plants photosynthesizing our CO2, the atmosphere becomes unbreathable to oxygen-breathing eukaryotes like humans. So while we are watching the CO2-breathing, oxygen-creating eukaryotes like photosynthetic plants die off in droves from pollution, deforestation, tree-killing insect epidemics, and natural catastrophes like wildfires, we are watching the beginning of an end that we truly never want to see.
Don’t believe me?
Once upon a time, this planet was inhabited solely by prokaryotes, and oxygen would have been considered too corrosive for the majority of life on this planet. Now, we have evolved over billions of years to adapt to the atmosphere which we currently breathe, and we are observing this atmosphere change in a much more rapid way than we as life forms can adapt to (“we” meaning homo sapiens).
So my point here is, the entire planet would be affected. You won’t be running around in a loin cloth like Tarzan, being followed by a producer and camera crew. You’re not going to be heroically monkeying through a lush jungle full of fruit trees and fishing with a spear so you can gloriously show off your kill, retaking shots for better angles, sound bytes, and to avoid the accidental shots of modern civilization in the background. There won’t be a civilized, homeostatic future to return to at any point that you wish to give up, and there won’t be a time frame in which you know if you make it, you will be rewarded with food platters, pats on the back, warm showers, (and possibly also a lifetime of defamatory false-light editing and cyber bullying, if you are really lucky).
No. More likely, if you manage to live on into a hot and barely breathable atmosphere, your days will be unfortunately numbered. If billions of other people, plants, and animals are dead or close to it, you will most likely be searching for a gas mask or oxygen tank. Fruit trees will likely be dead, especially since the bees are rapidly dying off and pollination is becoming less likely.
God help you if a wildfire breaks out nearby. Have you ever lived somewhere with wildfires? The smoke will make you cough black. And of course, there won’t be federal or state funding backing up firefighters to extinguish that fire. Better run, and run fast. Break an ankle or leg? Forget it. You’re BBQ. If you know how to hunt or trap, and there are any fish, lizards, rats, birds left, and they aren’t so toxic that they will kill you or make you ill, you will be lucky, because chances are at some point you will want some bartering chips for all the other remaining survivors who, now that society has devolved into chaos and anarchy, want to eat you.
You probably will be looking for light-weight protective gear which doesn’t make you melt from heat and covers your face and skin from the caustic air and acid rain which is falling from the sky.
If you aren’t hiding in a bunker from nuclear fallout, that is.
What will happen to all our nuclear power plants when the world goes dark? Their cooling systems, what will prevent everything from melting down?
Ever lived out of a car before? Gone a day without food or water? Man, car starvation will seem dreamy when shit hits the fan.
And that job that you no longer have, because everyone you know is dead and society has finally fallen? That job you used to wish you could etenerally avoid, if life could be easy like you imagined it was from watching reality television shows about people “surthriving” in all their naked glory? Boy. You will be wishing so hard that you had that job again. And your house, your friends, your family. You will be wistfully remembering the days when you struggled to pay rent or bike to work because you couldn’t afford gas, because back then the air was breathable and people weren’t trying to eat you.
You may in fact be wishing you were a prokaryotic single-celled organism, like a cute little archaic bacteria, because at some point, those are going to be the only organisms that can survive in our altered atmosphere.
So my point here is, instead of sitting at home, watching TV and wishing for global destruction of the majority of the human race, in some Adam and Eve fantasy that results in you miraculously not dying too, perhaps you should consider the following: What can I do to help save the planet? What can I do to help prevent our entire species from killing itself off, as well as the majority of life on Earth?
These kinds of questions are important. Sitting at home, watching television programming, blasting your air conditioning system, eating meat every day (btw it takes 441 GALLONS of water to produce ONE pound of boneless beef, and therefore 110 gallons of water to produce a one quarter-pound hamburger), and hopping in your gas-guzzling SUV to run petty errands in your own neighborhood — these kinds of daily habits are ruining the planet you so desperately wish you could one day magically inhabit by yourself, but in a way that is more how it was over 150 years ago.
Part of me thinks, this is us all bearing witness to humanity killing itself off. Perhaps this largely held belief that it would be great if most of the other people on the planet were dead, because our species is like a parasite to Earth, is just the reality of our collective consciousness acknowledging this fact. However, this in itself is also a form of collective suicide, so long as we continue to daydream longingly of an end that preserves only ourselves while literally sitting back and doing nothing to prevent mass extinction.
And that, my friend, is a sad thought. That the people sitting in their air conditioned homes, eating steak and potatoes every night, fantasizing over reality programming, while largely continuing to contribute to climate change, are inevitably the ones who can’t wait for everyone to die.