Post-apocalypse instructions (Open on May 22nd)

So here’s one of those biases that journalists are supposed to keep carefully tucked away in the backs of their minds:  I’m kind of disgusted by doomsayers.

Preachers of apocalypse, almost invariably, are evangelists of over-simplified fairy tales.  And they are purveyors of that most unattractive of social ailments, the Big Cop-ut.

A fairy tale is what you’re hearing whenever someone tells you that the earth is set to end on a certain date.  A fairy tale is a warning that if we elect a certain political party, or pass a certain law, the Republic will come to a crashing end.

And yes, a fairy tale is when someone tells you that the Mississippi flooding is definitely part of global climate change.

Whenever someone reduces big stuff (the fate of the world, complicated science, complex political dealings) to something that fits on the back of a napkin — or a pamphlet handed out at a subway stop — it’s a fairy tale.

So here’s the first instruction for anyone reading this on May 22nd:  You should thank the latest gaggle of apocalistas for educating you about the complex, unpredictable nature of life on earth.

Next time someone shoves a brochure in your hand and tells you to quit your job, thank them very kindly for trying to boil the world down into a nursery-room-level set of talking points, then get back to your life.

The second reason these people peeve me is because their world-view invites the Big Cop-out.  That’s the way of thinking that goes something like this:  “We’re all doomed, so I might as well do nothing.”

Is it going to reverse global warming for you to buy a more efficient car, or eat more local food.  No, of course not.

In the same vein, it wasn’t going to end Jim Crow for one business owner in the South in the 1950s to open his doors to African Americans.

But little steps multiplied by billions of people really do matter.

All of us making small, generous contributions to our shared world make it livable, make it better, make it incrementally more hopeful and sustainable.

So here’s instruction number two:  Next time someone tells you that any particular end-times scenario is about to play out, fight back by doing one cool, generous, positive thing.

Sure, you could go out and arm yourself and stock up your basement with a year’s worth of Evian water and wrap your children’s heads in lead foil.  (Don’t ask…)

But wouldn’t you rather go down with a shovel in your hand?  Wouldn’t you rather see the fireball rise while planting a tree or while cleaning up a park?  Why not go up in smoke at a potluck dinner surrounded by your best friends?

Before I go, let me mention a final reason that doom-sayers creep me out:  Life on earth is actually pretty hard for a lot of people and this kind of stuff makes a mockery of their struggles.

It’s a patently sad fact that most of these outbreaks of hysteria occur among people who are fairly well-off and fairly comfortable.  If I had to simplify, I’d say that a lot of these True Believers are just sort of bored.

Getting up and going to work every day, and raising your kids, and paying your mortgage, that’s all sort of dreary when looked at from one point of view, especially if money’s tight and you’re not sure about your future prospects.

But set all that hum-drum daily stuff against the backdrop of Judgment Day and it begins to look a lot more melodramatic.

That’s why you don’t see the folks staring down the flooding Mississippi or braving the tornado outbreaks in the South standing in their yards with goofy home-made signs welcoming the Rapture.

Those are the real heroes, the people who are facing the real dramas, the real crises that our world often hurls our way.

They’re doing it with hope and faith and grit.  And with that trait that most often helps us to push back the darkness:  a sense of humor.

So here’s my final post-doomsday instruction:  Next time someone asks you to donate to or volunteer for an organization that believes in the end of the world, give a little instead to a group that actually believes in saving the world.

An environmental group.  A community rebuilding coalition.  A church that’s building affordable housing.  A political group that has real plans for a better America.

Yes, building stuff is a lot harder than sitting around waiting for that first Crack of Thunder.  But in the end, it’s also a lot more satisfying.


25 Comments on “Post-apocalypse instructions (Open on May 22nd)”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    Only the Father knows.

  2. oa says:

    “In the same vein, it wasn’t going to end Jim Crow for one business owner in the South in the 1950s to open his doors to African Americans.”
    You’re right, Brian. It took the federal government to do that.

  3. Jim Bullard says:

    I’ll make the same response I did to a Facebook friend who posted that the thrushes had returned to her yard.

    On this day when some are watching earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. and saying the world is coming to an end, there are others who make note of each new beginning, flowers that bloom, birds that return from their winter havens. I’m glad to count myself among the latter rather than the former. For my part when I opened the front door this morning I was greeted by yellow and orange mini-iris that bloomed during the night. If the world is ending, someone forgot to tell the birds and the flowers.

  4. Amaredelectare says:

    Beware! Scotty’s drunk and running around “beaming people up” just to bust on them.

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Still here. It’s awfully quiet on my street. Any of you guys still around?

  6. Jeez M. Crow says:

    Heard on NCPR this morning: A Jack Russell terrier, a sheltie, a beagle and a kitty cat all gone missing. Also missing, a canoe. Everybody else: LEFT BEHIND!

  7. Mark Wilson says:

    Brian, you seem to be creating a straw dog environmentalist position in order to draw a false equivalence to millennialist religious movements. It is a shabby rhetorical trick commonly used by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and a raft of climate change deniers to dismiss the entire rationality-based field of environmental studies, global climate change in particular. If you have a particular extremist environmentalist sect in mind, it might be best to name it outright.
    The fact is many environmentalists might draw a connection between the Mississippi flooding and a warming planet, but indirectly, citing the increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events (e.g. 100-year floods that are now 50-year floods, etc.).
    On another point, I have yet to meet anyone who believes changing a light bulb or driving fewer miles will in itself reverse a global trend. The whole point of the effort is that failure to do so only increases the speed with which adversely consequential change will take place.

  8. Mark Wilson says:

    Have your comment moderators been raptured?

  9. Mervel says:

    But the world is going to end regardless of what we believe theologically or don’t believe. The sun is going to flame out and the earth and everything in it will be totally burned up.

    So the question is how to live until that time because in the end we all believe in doomsday. Knowing that the world is going to end is not a special insight so I don’t really understand why people would change how they acted regardless of when that end will be? Brian is right it may just come down to laziness and boredom?

    I believe we should live every day as if it were our last anyway, so if this were the last day why would I sell my stuff and hide? Wouldn’t we want to really live that day? I don’t live as if each day were a gift and this is what I believe is the root of all sin a lack of gratitude.

    Anyway I hope that the people that were deluded by Harold Camping can recover and find real hope, it has to be very hard for them today though I really feel sorry for those true believers as wrong as they were.

  10. admin says:

    Mark at 3:29 pm asked:
    “Have your comment moderators been raptured?”

    I consider post-rapture Sunday to be a day of rest. No one was left behind to moderate comments until the post-apocalyptic hellscape of Monday morning.

    Dale, NCPR

  11. Bret4207 says:

    Mark, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the climate chance industry and some religions. Both offer “proof” they’re right and both want to “fix” the issue by forcing radical changes and taking control of huge amounts of money. Both require faith in the proof to become a believer.

  12. Brian Mann says:

    Mark –

    I’ve come to believe that Godwin’s law should be expanded to include Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

    You got there pretty quickly.

    The simple truth is that a lot of people do simplify the science of climate change to the point of creating fairy tales and morality tales.

    Of course, climate change is real. And the potential for grave ecological consequences is real.

    But the complexity of the science and the need some people feel to encapsulate the discussion in talking points has led some advocates to embrace some very kooky end-times rhetoric.

    I found this discussion of the linkage between apocalyptic thinking and climate change — in the journal Grist — interesting.

    –Brian, NCPR

  13. Mark Wilson says:

    Not familiar with Godwin, but I used Limbaugh and Beck (and their Fox kin) as the most blatant manipulators of the straw dog rhetorical tactic. From my observation over the years it has most often been used by people in conservative camps to discredit opponents. It invariably involves distortion and a certain degree of logical flexibility.

    While you were generalizing your comments about end-time prognosticators, the timing of your comments was tied to a specific prediction from a specific outlier sect. I felt that for the sake of balance, it would be wisest to present a specific case before making the correlation. My personal preference, of course.

  14. Mark Wilson says:

    Re: Godwin’s Law, Limbaugh & Beck. My apologies. I meant to cite the shabby rhetorical tactics of Hannity, O’Reilly and Bush.

  15. pete g says:

    “It’s a patently sad fact that most of these outbreaks of hysteria occur among people who are fairly well-off and fairly comfortable. If I had to simplify, I’d say that a lot of these True Believers are just sort of bored.”

    Brian the real sad fact is revolutions are not started by the poor and disenfranchised. they are too busy trying to survive, than to start a revolution.

    the wealthy,and bored children of the wealthy have the time and the means to start the revolution. thats the fact here.

  16. Mervel says:

    In this case is that true though? If you look at Harold Campings followers they do not look overly wealthy and bored. I don’t know the demographics of them though.

  17. oa says:

    I wish either the Grist article or Brian Mann would cite one example of environmentalists’ “kooky end-times rhetoric.” Really hate the unidentified lefty straw man placed against the real right-wing example used as a device to display the superiority of the sensible center, which is so sensible that it inevitably throws up its hands and says, “It’s all so complicated,” and “Why can’t we be like those (unnamed) southern whites who without any prodding desegregated their businesses?” (How many of them were there, and how effective were they, by the way?) Whom are you referring to as kooky? James Kunstler? Al Gore? Somebody from Greenpeace? The APA? We don’t know. It’s lazy and unproductive rhetoric.

  18. Bret4207 says:

    Kooky end times rhetoric- that would include the claims the Amazon jungle (it’s not a rain forest by definition as I understand it) was going to be a barren plain by 2000-whatever if the clearing didn’t stop and we’d all die from lack of oxygen, the claims that the sea levels would be 4-10 feet higher by 2000-whatever (it’s come and gone) due to global warming, the claims we were entering a new Ice Age in the 70’s, the claims the ozone layer would be depleted by such and such a date in the 1990’s. And if you want some real kooky end times stuff read Kunstlers “The Long Emergency” and see who he says will be the sole survivors.

  19. pete g says:

    bret, i believe the rhetoric may be accurate, but the time frame is something no one knows or can claim to have the magical equation for calculating. the earth will remain in orbit for as long as the sun lasts, as for us….

  20. pete g says:

    clarification–“as for us.. not too sure ’bout when that train leaves.”

  21. oa says:

    Other than Kunstler, you don’t cite a single specific claimant, so in that sense you’re just like Brian in this post. That’s a high-school freshman composition error. “2000-whatever (it’s come and gone)” could use a more precise citation; as is it’s a straw man that doesn’t really help advance a discussion.

  22. Mervel says:


    I don’t think there is any kooky mainstream environmentalists. I mean you have the quasi terrorists groups burning ski lodges etc. but I would not count them in the mainstream.

    But for me what it often sounds like is that unless we make radical changes at the macro level there is no hope, zero we are going to burn up and drown in the sea as it rises. I think that is the doomsday he is talking about. That is not going to happen there is not going to be massive government imposed radical changes to how we live and use energy. So that would mean the world will become un livable for humans sooner rather than later. That is the doomsday talk that gets kind of old. I would rather hear some logical discussion about how this will likely play out. The fact is some areas will be made better off with climate change some worse off with the overall environment will probably be made worse off, but the world is not going to end because of global climate change.

    I mean countries are already figuring out how to exploit the melting of the polar ice caps for year around shipping and mineral extraction.

  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:


    I think there is a problem of semantics here. I think the environmentalists are not trying to be doomsayers but they are trying to warn everyone that there are serious consequences if we don’t try to mitigate some of the ways we have been living. They’ve been trying to get the point across for a long time but many or most people either haven’t believed them or don’t care and there are even some people who try to create confusion about the message because they actively want to keep doing the things that are destructive to the environment — mostly because they make money doing it.

    I don’t believe there are many who believe the human race is doomed by climate change but it does come at a cost; a cost to the environment as it is, a cost to humans as a whole and a cost to individuals.

    You say that some areas will be better off. I would say that by definition any change that is not naturally occurring is bad, and even naturally occurring change is often difficult to deal with. Maybe some would consider it “better” if Maine had beach weather like Florida but is it better for all the flora and fauna that live there now? Sure many species would adapt or move and some would die out.

    People would, of course, adapt. Maybe they would have to build high seawalls as sea level rose. Maybe they would have to move further inland.

    The problem is that we can’t predict for certain how our actions will affect the world in the decades and centuries ahead, but we can decide that it isn’t right for us to force that change on others if we can modify our behaviour just a little.

    And this is what really drives environmentalists nuts: if people tried a few of the things that are recommended to try to mitigate climate change they would SAVE MONEY! They would be HEALTHIER. They would make our country more self-sufficient and SAFER.

    Nobody is asking you to live like a monk. Just look at what you do that you know is wasteful, that your grandparents would have frowned, and try not to do them sometimes. Or maybe most of the time. Try to save 1 gallon of gas a month, or a week. That could be $208 in your pocket at the end of the year.

  24. Bret4207 says:

    Gimme a break OA, unless you were living in a cave someplace you heard the same rhetoric. What, I’ve got have specific dates and times that someone said something, no matter what it is? That’s bogus.

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