I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone talk about the end of the world, or Humankind destroying itself – in a word, the coming Apocalypse.
I once had a discussion with a fundamentalist Christian in which I was trying to find out whether he really believed in the Apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation. At one point he said to me, gleefully,“Oh, it’s coming Alan! It’s coming!”
Not only did he believe it, but he was looking forward to it. That’s what I can’t forget.
Of course Christians have been talking about THE END now for almost two thousand years, and it hasn’t come. We’re still here, causing trouble as always.
And it isn’t just a Christian phenomena. Back in the ’60s I began to notice that most people, religious or otherwise, were convinced that a nuclear war would be the end of the world. If you argued with them, they would become insistent, fighting off again and again any evidence you presented to the contrary.
For example, British author Nevil Shute wrote the book, On the Beach, which described a 1963 post-nuclear world in which people in the southern hemisphere – in the story they’re in Australia – waited hopelessly for a great cloud of radiation that was advancing inexorably from the northern hemisphere, killing everything in its path. It was made into a movie that played month after month in theaters. People never tired of seeing it.
It drove me nuts, for already in my late teens I knew enough science to know that was nonsense. I knew that most people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki who received radiation poisoning recovered. It was the blast and the burning heat, falling buildings and secondary fires that killed most people. Some got cancer yes, but the normal rate of cancer only, on average, doubled. If the norm of a particular cancer prior to Hiroshima was 2%, it went up to 4%.
And radiation in the atmosphere declines day by day, and you can do things to protect yourself from it.
In the early 1980s when the USA and the Soviet Union had their enormous nuclear forces on hair trigger alert, I became concerned that in North America we were doing almost nothing to prepare for it (unlike much of Europe). I wrote an article in which I showed that simply knowing the effects of a nuclear explosion would increase your chances of survival.
A successful journalist whose seminar I attended, warned me that it was unlikely that I could get that published. He pointed out that famous author Doris Lessing had published something like it in the New York Times and she and the newspaper had received a storm of criticism for it. When everyone knew that nuclear war was unthinkable, how dare she suggest that we think about it.
Well, he turned out to be right – not a single magazine or newspaper was interested in my writing.
But it isn’t just the public who have this strange appetite for our extinction. Astrophysicists and astronomers seem to take an uncanny pleasure informing us that one day the sun will start to run out of fuel and expand beyond Earth’s orbit, burning up the planet in the process.
I’ve always been puzzled that our scientists never allow for the scientists of the future who will be more accomplished than they are today. Thousands of years from now they will probably have experience moving planets about. Moving the Earth to a more suitable orbit (it could be just to counter global warming) will be nothing more than an engineering problem for them.
If it looks like the sun might explode, the Earth could be taken out of the solar system altogether. What would we do for sunlight? If I live long enough to complete the sequel to my novel Skol, you will meet just such a planet, and you’ll see how sunlight is supplied.
Anyway, now that Putin has invaded the Ukraine, and begun making his veiled threats about having nuclear weapons, I can’t help thinking that this possibility is warming up again, and we are less prepared for a nuclear war than we ever were.
But if the younger generation today was made fully aware of the complex dangers involved, I think they would be less passive than my generation was, and still is. When there are simple things you can do to protect yourself, even if you’re walking in the street at the moment of an explosion, I think they would want to know.
Maybe I need to dig my notes out and start writing about that again.