Armageddon movies generally involve flames, guns and lots of panicked people running through the streets as buildings collapse around them.
There’s usually a pretty girl, a heroic man (American, naturally) and occasionally a loveable dog. The threats facing humanity vary but all these movies share one common theme: the people in them are really, really worried about the end of the world.
What you don’t usually see in Armageddon movies is a completely disinterested population flicking through their iPhones and generally doing their best to ignore the impending collapse of civilisation.
The dramatic moment the world’s leading scientists confirm the scale of the threat facing the planet would be sometime diminished if the lead characters read about it on the lower half of page 17 of the ‘world news’ section the following morning and quickly flicked through to check the football results.
Bizarrely, this is the situation we find ourselves in.
Last year the world’s leading experts on planetary health got together and produced this assessment: “Climate change is projected to increase…heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise and storm surge…The risks [include] substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on human activities and limited potential for adaptation.”
Dr. James Hansen, who has spent the last 20 years trying to generate public interest in our own impending doom, was even more blunt when he said that the current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – unprecedented in 800,000 years – is no longer compatible with the planet “on which civilisation developed and to which life on Earth is adapted”.
This is remarkably strong language for scientists to use – probably the strongest since Ms. Geoghegan ejected me from biology class and demanded I report to the headmaster’s office in what was, frankly, a stunning case of mistaken identity.
While Ms. Geoghegan proved that scientists can sometimes be wrong, it’s highly unlikely that all of the world’s leading experts who have signed-up to statements like the one above are mistaken.
But we’re just not bothered. There is no other issue in the world so serious that inspires such apathy.
The global apathy towards our own doom is currently being played out in Paris, where political leaders from over 190 countries are meeting to attempt to come up with an agreement to lessen the impact of climate change.
The very fact that they are “attempting to come up with a solution” is illustrative of the fact that many of them really aren’t bothered and would rather push ahead with the destruction project. Like a group of psychopathic nihilists in suits, most of them seem to be using this as an opportunity to water down an agreement that could save us from the fiery pits of Dr. James Hansen’s hell.
The apathy was evident when the President of Tuvalu got up on stage and said that failure to reach a suitable agreement would mean that his country would cease to exist, only for most of the delegates to look like they were being subjected to a Powerpoint presentation at a sales meeting in the Red Cow Hotel. He asked them to “put yourself in my shoes”, which they might have were they not liking each other’s Instagram shots at the time.
Sometimes being a climate activist in Ireland feels a little like being one of those people who wear sandwich boards predicting the end of the world. You end up watching the hands of people you’re talking to in case they’re reaching under the desk for the security button.
Some of the problem is semantics. “Climate change” is isn’t exactly a term that inspires concern. It doesn’t summon our inner Will Smiths. “Change” isn’t always a bad thing. South Africa underwent “Apartheid Change” and everyone was fairly happy about that.
It’s far too understated a word to describe “substantial species extinction”. Maybe if the UN Climate Summit was called the ‘UN What The F*ck Have We Done Summit’ it might have got a bit more buy-in.
It’s not the seriousness that puts people off. People are worried about a whole host of serious things but climate change isn’t seen as an immediate threat, which is of course nonsense. If ISIS ever figured out how to kill as many people each year as climate change does they’d celebrate by kicking back with one of their famous musicless, joyless 6th century cave parties.
Yes, the finer details of climate change are complex, challenging and a little bit boring but so was the Hunger Games trilogy and people still flocked to that like mice onto an unattended slab of Dairylea.
Just because the ultimate effects of climate change – the show-stopping, end-of-days scenario outlined by our scientist friends – is perhaps a century away doesn’t mean that the impacts today are not causing absolute havoc. Tell a farmer starving to death in a barren field in Malawi that climate change is the next generation’s problem and see how he reacts.
Thinking climate change is a far off distant concern is a like saying there’s no need to worry about vomiting blood because it could be years before you actually die from it.
We’re absolutely terrified about disease epidemics and terrorists because they are what we have been trained to be scared of. The side-effects of our slow poisoning of the atmosphere? No thanks. Maybe if carbon dioxide realised awfully produced movies where it paraded the flags of all the countries it plans on drowning we might sit up and pay attention.
Maybe if thought this was a film we might actually show some interest in it.