End of the world forecasts are often toe-tagged with gleeful expectation. It’s the hope that an asteroid might actually crash into the United States and mash half the country into oblivion. Or the hope that modern agricultural practices will collapse inward and cripple the world’s food supply. Followers of the “apocalypse cult” would never make such morbid admissions, but when wrapped up in a tight embrace with gloom and doom — it can be pretty hard to tell who is doing the hugging.
How and when will the world end? The Atlantic tossed the question to a “distinguished” group of thinkers, authors and scientists. Many of the answers were reasoned, or intentionally humorous, but a few of the responses were candidates for the apocalypse cult.
• From author Deepak Chopra: “The end of the world will come about as a result of the misunderstanding that we and the world are separate. Tidal waves will flood coastal landmasses, resulting in millions of refugees, violence, warfare, and chaos. The Earth will become a boiling cauldron. The human experiment will have failed.”
(A real apocalypse might involve all of mankind actually being forced to read Chopra’s books.)
• From psychic Craig Hamilton-Parker: “By the time the sun becomes a red giant and eats the Earth, mankind will have evolved to realize that the only reality is consciousness, and that consciousness is rooted in the quantum world. This will give us miraculous spiritual power over the objective world and transform us into super-beings capable of bending the laws of physics and living within the sun itself.”
(Hamilton-Parker sounds like he may already be a member in a variety of cults.)
• From journalist and environmentalist Bill McKibben: “In a sense, the world as we knew it is already over. We have heated the Earth, melted the Arctic, and turned seawater 30 percent more acidic. The only question left is how much more fossil fuel we’ll burn, and hence how unfamiliar and inhospitable we’ll make our home planet.”
(Pulled straight from the “We did it to ourselves” boilerplate archive.)
Ecological death may be perched on our shoulders, but’s it’s been 40 years since the release of The Limits of Growth — a canonical text of the apocalypse cult commissioned by the Club of Rome and penned collectively by four authors. Certainly there are others in the canon that preceded it — Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — but as Bjorn Lomborg writes, “The genius of The Limits of Growth was to fuse these worries with fears of running out of stuffs. We were doomed, because too many people would consume too much. Even if our ingenuity bought us some time, we would end up killing the planet and killing ourselves with pollution. The only hope was to stop economic growth itself, cut consumption, recycle, and force people to have fewer children, stabilizing society at a significantly poorer level.”
As Lonborg points out, the ecological ruin predicted by The Limits of Growth never arrived. There have been “massive global improvements in health, longevity, and quality of life.” And modern agriculture has been critical, or at least related to, each improvement.
The apocalypse cult keeps the doomsday clock permanently set at three minutes to midnight — whether it’s a population bomb, asteroid impact, disease pandemic, or agricultural breakdown. The end will always be nigh, and only one more prediction away. Just ask Chopra, Hamilton-Parker and McKibben; they’ll tell you all about it.