by Garrett Oppenheim
And Other Fun Advice
[W]hen he had opened the sixth seal, and
lo, there was a great earthquake; and the
sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and
the moon became of blood; and the stars
of heaven fell unto the earth . . . And the
kings of the earth, and the great men, and
the rich men, and the chief captains, and
the mighty men, and every bondman, and
every free man, hid themselves in the dens
and in the rocks of the mountains.
— 6 Revelations 12: 13, 15
Fascination with the apoca- lypse is nothing new. From the Fall of Troy to the Rap- ture, our ancient ancestors had a morbid curiosity about he end of civilization. Even a cursory glance at popular culture
today shows our curiosity has never diminished.
Whether it’s incurable plagues, climate change,
invading aliens, nuclear war, wayward asteroids,
hordes of brain-hungry zombies, or radioactive
lizards the size of skyscrapers, name the apocalyptic cause and there’s at least one popular show
on TV about it right now.
Everywhere one looks, the end is nigh. And it’s
not just Hollywood screenwriters titillating us with
tales of the End of Days. A recent project by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, using models created with a grant from NASA, warns
that due to unsustainable resource exploitation
and unequal wealth distribution, global industrial
civilization could truly be on the verge of collapse
within the next two decades. 1 Other recent studies in the United Kingdom suggest that a “perfect
storm” of crises — including lack of food, water, and
energy — could bring society down by 2030.2 I did
the math: that’s just 16 years from now.
From our 21st-century, first-world perspective,
societal collapse outside of the big screen might
seem far-fetched, but no Roman citizen in the middle
of the fifth century thought that a barbarian tribesman would soon be his emperor, either. Civilizations
have collapsed into apocalyptic conditions time and
again in human history. The mysterious Sea Peoples
wiped out the ancient kingdoms of the Near East.
The Khans left mountains of dead across the high-water mark civilizations of China and the Middle
East. The Black Plague swept through Europe. Ideas
of democracy and communism infected the people
of France and Russia, convulsing great civilizations
into revolution and causing havoc for common folk.
Nazi stormtroopers marched across Europe, leaving