There’s a lot of fuss being made about the supposed end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar, although according to those who know, such as John Michael Greer, whose word I trust on these things, it actually predicts no such thing. (Greer’s posts at The Archdruid Report are essential reading http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com). However, it’s extraordinary how fixated people become on these apocalyptic predictions. I myself was fascinated by Nostradamus back in the 80s, and I waited with great interest to see what would happen in 1997, which was supposed to be the end of the world – a giant mushroom followed by a yellow cloud was one interpretation I remember, which apparently indicated a nuclear bomb followed by hordes of Chinese sweeping across the world. In fact, the only thing that seemed to happen was the return of HK to China – scarcely Armageddon.
It’s a depressing fact that, as Molly Scott Cato points out, quoting Slavoj Zizek, people are much more willing to countenance the end of the world than they are the end of economic growth. Maybe that’s because we can imagine the world ending in a single Hollywood-style cataclysmic event, or series of events, such as war or natural disasters or aliens attacking or the good lord swinging down in his sweet chariot to scoop up the good guys, whereas the end of economic growth is an idea that demands we think about economics and politics and energy, and so on. All of which is just too demanding. But underlying the eager anticipation of Armageddon is surely the profound desire for a totally different world to the one we’ve got. There are so few people who really enjoy life to the full that we’re all yearning for some way out of this mess, and for a magic broom to sweep away all the misery and futility. An apocalyptic end to the world in which we ourselves are saved, of course, as we are one of the superior beings, would make life so much more pleasant!
I’m not sure if I really want to bring to mind all of the things about modern life that I find utterly unacceptable, but I think we need some idea of what kind of world we want, and what kind of world we don’t want. As far as my own job is concerned – teaching – I’d love to see the people in positions of power, from heads of departments up to education ministers, show some awareness of what’s happening out there in the real world and ensure that we all incorporate that into our teaching. How can we possibly justify teaching children as if the economy’s just going to keep on growing and technology will keep on improving and life’s just going to get better and better? How can we justify hammering into their heads the utmost importance of getting good exam marks so that they can get to a good university so that they can fit into the economic system like a shiny new cog in a machine without offering any other vision of what might be important, never mind telling them that with climate change, peak oil and the economic swindling that we’re subjected to every day we’re fast approaching the point where their education is going to prove to be useless? How are our children being prepared for a world where the lifeblood of industrial civilisation – oil – is going to be either wildly expensive or simply unavailable? What do they do when food can’t be grown or transported in the cheap, environmentally destructive way that it is at the moment? Just about everything we get as a result of industrialisation is heavily dependent on a continuing supply of cheap oil to transport it around the world. How are our children going to manage in a world where those things can’t be transported around in the same way or for the same destructively low prices? In my school absolutely nothing is done to prepare our students for the kind of world that is coming during their lifetimes: it is simply ignored. Why? Presumably because the teachers are as ignorant of these things as the students are. If they get their information from the mainstream media, which most people do, then they are going to learn precious little about the real state of the world’s climate and even less about the depletion of our mineral resources, and in particular fossil fuels. So, we’ve got our schools ignoring the seriousness of our plight out of ignorance, and the media – heavily financed by the fossil fuel industries – wilfully playing down the suicidal nature of the direction our industrial civilisation is taking.
Trying to do something about this is incumbent upon all of us who know what’s cooking, but it’s so hard to motivate yourself when your efforts are met with blank indifference. My ‘interest’ in global warming is regarded at my school as being akin to having an ‘interest’ in birdwatching: and just as there is no reason for others to take any interest in birdwatching, so too there’s no need for them to be interested in global warming. This attitude is mind-boggling. How can any intelligent person be so ignorant of the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced? If these people don’t care, how do you begin to educate the clowns whose only concern seems to be buying the latest bit of hi-tech pocketware or clothing themselves in the ridiculous rags that pass for designer fashion?
I don’t know. I just try to grow another row of carrots, a cabbage that won’t get stripped by caterpillars, and work at improving the depleted soil on my land. I try to keep my family informed without boring the pants off them, and I have tried to inform people in the local community through film shows and workshops, but that has now ground to a halt, and nobody seems to care. What is that line from King Lear that, to paraphrase, says that as long as you’re able to say that this is as bad as it gets, then it’s not as bad as it gets! Maybe I should take comfort from that.