“Will 2012 be our last year on earth?” This is the question that blares out from the TV screen. The news lady who’s speaking uses the same bland tone she uses on all her important questions, questions that cut to the heart of our world’s most dramatic dilemmas. Such as, “This year, will you change your toothpaste?” Or “Would you consider raising a llama in your home?”
She’s not the first to ask me about the end of the world. There’s a Jehovah’s Witness, a lady with white hair and a cold English accent, who likes to ask me similar things. Like, “Are you aware that the end times are here?” “No,” I’ll grunt, and take another swig of beer.
She’s followed me from one end of the county to another, from an old rickety house to an old dilapidated trailer. She won’t allow me to escape the end of the world, she’ll dump it right on my doorstep. I could tell her to fuck off, but it’s more amusing to remain an air of unflappable ignorance in the face of her apocalyptic doom. I’ve shrugged and I’ve laughed and I’ve answered the door in my underwear, but none of it fazes her. She is grim to the end, which won’t be long according to her.
She goes on. The end of the world is near. Haven’t I heard? Everybody knows about it. “It’s obvious,” she says, “ with all the things going on today.”
“Yeah, things suck,” I respond.
“And with this…President we have,” she says with a shudder. She can’t seem to bring herself to speak his name. She indicates that Obama is more monstrous than any previous president, but doesn’t say why. Could it have something to do with ethnicity? If so, her pitch probably works well on many of the rednecks around here.
The last time she came by I cut her off short. “I’ve got to go work,” I said, throwing on a shirt.
Her icy British accent shot right back at me. “That’s what people said in the time of Noah. People were too caught up in the things of this world to notice that the end was coming, and they all drowned.” Yes, I’m too caught up in worldly pleasures, like running a forklift in a filthy warehouse, to find time for religious salvation.
She’s not the only one convinced that the end is near. You can’t go anywhere without hearing about the Mayan calendar, which predicts the passing of our era in 2012. Or so I’m told. My Mayan is a little rusty, and I haven’t read the whole calendar. It’s strange that so many Americans should suddenly become interested in the ancient Mayans. They haven’t been this popular in five hundred years. A little apocalypse is guaranteed to get people’s attention. It’s a great way to start a new religion. The Seventh Day Adventists started out as a bunch of Millerites who gathered in upstate New York to witness the end of the world. It didn’t come, but they liked each other so much they decided to start a new religion anyway. Every good religion must contain its own end of the world. It wouldn’t be complete without a dramatic end. We human beings love a big finish.
I’m old enough to remember when 1999 was the Big Year. The end was coming in 1999, war with the USSR, the Antichrist, stars falling from the heavens, or maybe it was dragons falling from the heavens. It was all true, because Nostradamus predicted it. Strangely enough, 1999 came and went, and we’re still here as far as I can tell. Nostradamus used to be exceedingly popular with doomsayers, but you hear less of him these days. He’s in hiding, his 1999 date having failed to come off. Maybe the bookies got him. I remember when Gorbachev was the Antichrist, I remember when Moammar Ghadafi was the Antichrist, when Sadaam was the Antichrist, when Osama bin Laden was the Antichrist. A lot of Antichrists have come and gone, but none of them have pulled off Armageddon just yet.
With all the talk of Mayan calendars, with all the survivalists obsessed with doomsday scenarios that resemble macho action movies, with the fundamentalist fixation on the rapture, you’d think more people would be concerned with the more tangible nightmare scenarios. You know, the ones based in reality?
What about nuclear power, and the very real risks involved? Needless to say, the majority of Republican politicians support nuclear power, but so does our Democrat president. The Fukushima Incident came just after Obama called for $36 billion in nuclear power funding to be included in the government budget. It came just as GE was holding an executive council meeting to increase their participation in India’s nuclear power program. Sometimes even an atheist must wonder if the hand of God is at work.
Just before the quakes and tsunamis hit Japan, Republican politicians were crowing about the uselessness of tsunami-preparedness systems. But the Japanese disasters have shut up that foolishness. Not since the second Bush met his defeat in Louisiana has natural disaster so thoroughly thwarted the ineptitude of American politics. A UPI poll taken the first week of March 2011 showed public support for nuclear power at an all-time high in the U.S. The poll put public support at 62%. But the Fukushima disaster brought back the same old fears that Three Mile Island and Chernobyl did. Later polls put support at 43%--less than it was at the time of Three Mile Island. Ordinarily the combined might of a Democratic President and a Republican House would be hard to overcome. Will public opinion be enough to stop politicians and their industry-funded agendas this time, before more dangerous, staggeringly inefficient plants are built? Maybe, but it will be up to the American people to continue the fight, and it wouldn’t be the first time the American people have chosen to doze off in the face of obscenity. The BP Oil Spill shocked and angered many Americans, even as it did irreparable damage to the ocean floor, to the entire ecosystem, yet oil drilling continues as madly as before. Even if the proposed thirty new plants are prevented from being built, we’ve still got the old ones to worry about. They’re not getting any newer, or any safer.
The U.S. developed nuclear energy, and Japan is paying the price again. First it was the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, now it’s the leaks at Fukushima. Radiation is something that doesn’t just go away.
Any country who buys into nuclear power will have to pay some kind of price sooner or later. When people say there’s nothing to fear from nuclear power, what they really mean is they’re fine with postponing its consequences, with passing it along to a future generation or at least another part of the country. If California goes, better hope the radiation doesn’t reach your own state.
Japan has long prided itself on being earthquake-proof. If earthquakes can do this much damage to them, then what hope do we have? We’ve long ago made the choice to put power ahead of any consequences. But what about at least scaling back on power? You rarely hear anyone suggest we in the U.S. turn off the power for a few hours a day. How much TV do we really need anyway?
One in three Americans lives next to a nuclear plant. Will the next explosion be in your neighborhood?
The word apocalypse has come to signify the Big End, thanks to the Biblical book of the same name, which is translated in English as either Revelations or The Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine, depending on your preference. Maybe instead of fixating on the End Times, we ought to consider the revelation that every environmental disaster brings. The revelation that yes, we can indeed fuck our species up beyond all repair, and we can take all the other animals with us as we go, and that maybe we ought to do something about it before it’s all too late, if it isn’t already. That might do us more good than studying some outdated calendar, or using vague Biblical prophecies to prove that Hillary Clinton in the Whore of Babylon, or stockpiling our guns and moving to Montana to join some militia.
This year maybe more people will make a resolution to stop worrying about the latest religious apocalypse and start worrying about the real dangers that lay all around us, the potential doomsdays that really do exist. But I wouldn’t count on it. Will you notice when the end shows up, or will your eyes be looking elsewhere, to some vague religious apocalypse in the stars?