If the world as we knew it were going to end, what would you tell your loved ones? Religious fundamentalists might find the End of Days prospect comforting: Foretold in holy books, it promises a better scenario than earthbound toil and woe. But if you’re not part of that zealous few, you might not want to sit this one out — especially since you can do something to slow, stop or reverse the end.
Survival action is part of Jewish DNA. The Torah commands it: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse — therefore choose life” (Deut. 30:19) — and, we assume, blessing. Jews have survived for 3,500 years by standing up to tyranny and injustice, and by escaping from them to fight another day.
So when everyone from Al Gore and Hunter Lovins to Leonardo DiCaprio and Alicia Gravitz says we need to mobilize on the scale of World War II to turn this tide, we might expect to see most Jews at the forefront. Basically, humanity faces a nexus of dangers that threaten to end life on Earth:
• Exploding human population that consumes natural resources faster than they can be replaced.
• Global climate changes due to carbon and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and decimation of the resources the earth needs to absorb and process them.
• Glacier melt that erases world water supplies for drinking and agriculture.
• Ocean acidification — increasing carbonic acid and decreasing pH as oceans over-absorb carbon result in dissolving reefs and killing sea life.
• Hydrogen sulfide blooms — as masses of fresh water enter the ocean from melting glaciers, ocean currents and oxygenation stop, allowing hydrogen sulfide-emitting bacteria to grow, and move us toward suffocating mass extinction — as has occurred six times over the past 20 million years.
Could things get worse? Of course: As environmental activists mobilize, vocal minorities, politicians and “think tanks” call these dangers “hoaxes,” or parts of natural cycles that humans can’t control. Meanwhile, quiet American majorities do little or nothing, claiming they’re too confused to act, or it’s inconvenient or bad for business — even though we possess the technologies to arrest, or even reverse these developing dangers worldwide.
Curiously, all five dangers arise from a single cause: Emissions from burning fossil fuels. Prior to initiating the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, human population on earth barely topped half a billion. In 1700, humans tallied 610 million; but by 1850, they’d doubled to 1.2 billion — thanks to improvements in science, medicine and sanitation. Adding industrialized production of food, water, clothing and shelter made radical differences in our health, longevity and numbers. Also, until a few decades ago, seasons, animal migration patterns and natural cycles repeated dependably, almost like clockwork. Today, more than 7 billion people inhabit this planet, and most of us refuse to believe an end could be coming. It’s not that we’re optimistic. It’s just how we deal with bad news.
At physical trauma, our bodies go into shock; at mental trauma — it’s denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance — five steps outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Around environmental issues, we can’t seem to break free of denial, anger and depression. Neuroscientists have shown that the “reality” where each of us lives is a mental construct assembled from what our brains can perceive and understand through our five senses. And we simply can’t register what we don’t understand. Thus, journalist George Monbiot, in his essay “Sleepwalking to Extinction,” argued that humans live more in a dream world than in a world that reason would reflect. To survive global crises would require “draconian regulation, rationing and prohibition: all the measures which our existing politics, informed by our dreaming, forbid.”
Gaia theorist James Lovelock’s catastrophic prediction of 6 billion humans dead by 2100 might be a gross exaggeration. But our trajectory and lack of action are fatally evident, and they’ve prompted a host of observers to offer contrary, accepting perspectives.
So, are we going to tell our children and grandchildren that we mobilized, took heroic actions and demanded them from our leaders? Or do we tell them nothing, because we joined the crowd looking forward to the end of toil and woe?