This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
I moved around a lot when I was a kid, mostly because my father was in the military and the Air Force liked to keep its people and their respective families mobile. One of the most unusual places I lived was a tiny radar base in the middle of nowhere in central Saskatchewan. CFS Dana was a part of the Pinetree line, NORAD’s third string of early warning detection bases that scanned the skies for Russian Migs and bombers. The base proper was little more than a radar tower perched on a hill, surrounded by a trailer park (known as PMQ’s or Permanent Married Quarters), a school, a few offices and some sporting amenities (curling rink, swimming pool, rec centre) all surrounded by a chainlink fence that could only be accessed through a guarded gate. It’s existence depended on the threat of war and yet, in the end, it wasn’t a bomb that destroyed CFS Dana, it was Glasnost. The premise for these world changes was rather simple: No more cold war…no more Pinetree line (but probably better spy satellites)…no more radar bases…no more CFS Dana. So the place where I once watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon, learned to swim and ride a bike, picked buckets of Saskatoon berries for my Mom’s pies and saw the best lightning storms of my life, was no more. It was simply abandoned and left to the elements.
Last summer I visited the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. What was once the largest city of Meso-America, with an estimated population of 425,000 at its peak, was little more than an impressive archeological site in the midst of ever-encroaching jungle. Although still famous for its spectacular temples, this metropolis, which had been inhabited for over 1500 years, was completely abandoned by 900 AD. The once-great Mayan civilization failed as a result of climate change – a prolonged drought decimated their ability to feed themselves, and their complex society of religion, government and trade collapsed with the demise of their agriculture. To put it in the the simplest of terms: No more rain…no more food…no need to appease the harvest god Chaac…no incentive to adhere to rigid laws and religious dogma…no more Mayan society. Who knows if the Mayans actually realized that they were in the twilight of their existence as they endured those final years of drought, famine and the anarchy that ensued – but the world as they knew it did come to a definitive end.
There’s a lot of talk about the end of the modern world going on right now and it probably won’t be the first or last time that we hear about it in our respective lifetimes. But it’s not the comets of mass destruction, the apocalyptic plagues, the end of the Mayan calender, or even the nuclear bombs that we need to worry about – it’s the everyday ignorance we exhibit as we run this planet into the ground. The premise is quite simple: Exploit the Earth for profit…create more carbon dioxide than our tiny biosphere can absorb…watch the inevitable acidification and demise of our oceans…witness the end of most living creatures, ourselves included. No one really knows where that proverbial ‘tipping point’ lays and yet it is that environmental point of no return that we really need to be worrying about – and if we don’t, we just may be facing our own end of the world as we know it.