Opinion: The end is nigh. Seriously.


In countless cartoons, there’s a guy in a robe and long beard who’s walking around carrying a sign saying The End Is Nigh. The joke is that he’s ridiculous – some loony who takes the Book of Revelation literally.  But what if the joke’s on us?

The June 6 issue of the leading scientific journal Nature contains a ” target=”_hplink”>already happened.  It will be irreversible, “a planetary-scale critical transition” whose consequences may include mass extinctions and “drastic changes in species distributions, abundances and diversity.” 

Its consequences could be as catastrophic as an asteroid hitting the Earth.  But unlike asteroids, volcanoes, plate tectonics and other suspected culprits in the prior Great Extinctions, the cause of this tipping point is people.

There are 7 billion of us now; there will be over 9 billion when today’s toddlers start having kids.  To support that population, we’ve cleared more than 40 percent of the planet’s surface for agriculture and urban development, and that will hit 50 percent by 2050.  Add to that the fossil fuels we’re burning, and the resulting carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere is acidifying the oceans, melting the ice caps, messing with the climate and heading us toward “widespread social unrest, economic instability and the loss of human life.”

So what do we do with news that bad?

The right’s response has been denial – a ” target=”_hplink”>bad news head on.  What if the specter of a global tipping point, an irreversible environmental catastrophe, grabbed our attention as powerfully as the prospect of extinction grips the people of Earth in space invasion movies?  We’d do everything we could to stop it, right?

In the U.S., the scale of action required to prevent such a state shift in our planet’s biosphere can only be attempted by our political system. 

Uh-oh.

Special interests own Congress.  The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision holding corporations to be people, together with the demise of campaign finance laws, puts plutocrats first.  Big media, while raking in billions from political ads, is holding audiences riveted to spectacles instead of holding candidates accountable for lying.  If you think a re-elected Barack Obama could get a decent energy policy passed by the next Congress, you haven’t been counting the Koch brothers’ money or ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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