Did you know the insects are vanishing?
They are. Land-dwelling insects like butterflies, ants and grasshoppers are now half as common as they were 75 years ago; that’s why those of you who remember catching fireflies on summer nights as kids don’t see them much anymore, and why car windshields don’t get covered in dead bugs like they used to.
This is a part of the animal kingdom that the rest of the ecosystem is built upon, and it’s undergone a drastic plummet that we’ve personally witnessed in our own lifetimes. If you were a sapient insect watching it happen, you wouldn’t be thinking in terms of a future armageddon, you’d feel that you were currently witnessing it.
People bicker and argue about global warming and what should be done about it and if it even exists, but climate change is only one of the many ways our biosphere is moving toward death. There’s also been a shocking loss of two-thirds of Earth’s wildlife in the last 50 years, ecosystems dying off, forests disappearing, soil becoming rapidly less fertile, mass extinctions, oceans gasping for oxygen and becoming lifeless deserts while continents of plastic form in their waters, and the aforementioned insect apocalypse. The way the debate fixates solely on temperature and carbon levels is like if someone had stage four cancer throughout their body and they were in a coma and their vital signs were dropping and the doctor said death is imminent, and everyone was stuck on arguing over whether or not low blood pressure is necessarily a bad thing.
Biden appears to fall asleep during COP26 opening speeches pic.twitter.com/az8NZTWanI
— Zach Purser Brown (@zachjourno) November 1, 2021
And nothing’s being done about global warming anyway. Conspiracy types have been claiming for decades that it’s a hoax designed to advance this or that agenda, and during that time the only thing that’s advanced is the temperature of the planet and the ecocidal capitalist systems responsible for it. The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference has seen world leaders issue a non-binding pledge to achieve carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century” while taking naps and tossing coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain for “luck” in addressing the issue they could all solve quickly if they actually wanted to. “Carbon neutrality” is itself a highly misleading and potentially completely worthless neoliberal sham designed to allow the continuation of carbon output but attempting to fix it with more consumption.
Meanwhile methane—a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon in the short term—has started hemorrhaging into the atmosphere from thawing arctic permafrost, and no one really knows what to do about it. This, like the albedo effect of polar ice loss and numerous other self-reinforcing warming effects that have been unlocking in recent years, can potentially cause the Earth to continue warming all on its own regardless of future human behavior.
That’s all on top of the western empire ramping up world-threatening aggressions against both nuclear-armed Russia and nuclear-armed China simultaneously, a multi-front cold war the likes of which we’ve never seen before and which is only just barely getting started. And if we don’t wipe ourselves out by climate collapse or nuclear war, we could still easily do it fairly soon with weaponized AI.
So our species is facing existential threats on myriad fronts which could easily lead to horrifying extinction-level events that we could easily see unfold in our own lifetimes.
And it’s just so very strange how we don’t talk about that more.
It’s like if you knew you had a deadly but treatable disease, and not only did you not pursue treatment, you also didn’t think about it much and didn’t talk about it with anyone. None of your friends even brought it up.
The way we’re just sitting around going about our lives like this isn’t happening reminds me of that experiment where participants sit in a waiting room that’s filling up with smoke without knowing that the experiment is already underway. If the participants are alone they’ll generally take action to do something about the problem, but if they’re in the waiting room with other people who are secretly in on the experiment and have been told to ignore the smoke, the participant will also ignore it. The smoke machine can be billowing into the waiting room at levels that would have killed everyone in it if it were real smoke, and they’ll still remain inactive.
We’re all kind of doing that right now with humanity’s impending doom. Nobody else seems to be worried about it, so why should we? If it were a big deal then surely the news would be talking about it, and surely our leaders would be doing more about it. It’s the bystander effect in action, on a worldwide scale.
It’s what Bo Burnham calls “that funny feeling“, that peculiar experience of watching the smoke pouring into the room while no one does anything, of knowing we’re hurtling toward our destruction while the media run headlines like “Elijah Wood touted a newly acquired NFT. A racism scandal ensued.”
A funny feeling indeed.
But of course it doesn’t have to stay that way. We can help our species fight its way out of our waiting room stupor by taking action to spread awareness of the problems we face and their underlying causes, since spreading awareness is the only thing that ever makes any real difference in such matters anyway. Whether we’re on our way to our doom or not, and whether struggle is futile or not, working to help as a gratuitous act of love is still the sanest possible response to this glorious mess.
And even if we are all doomed and our fate is already sealed, it doesn’t have to be all bad. Some people with terminal diagnoses will tell you they’ve been living more in their last few months of life than in all their preceding decades combined. The fact that this could all end at any time is all the more reason to treasure it with all our hearts, to become big enough to let its beauty and majesty in so we can really appreciate it. To behold this miraculous place with eyes full of wonder. To pursue spiritual enlightenment and then laugh to the heavens when we realize it’s already here.
If you don’t succumb to doomerism and defeatism and really embrace this moment in history for what it is, this is the best possible time for a human to be alive.
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