By Matt Bauman, Point Park News Service:
In the spirit of thinking about the apocalypse for this symposium, naturally I turned to the news. It does seem like the end of days is a current event, doesn’t it? We have problem after problem surface in front of our own eyes, only to forget it once its successor, a problem equally large and equally ominous, takes over the media cycle and so on and so on. To make a weather analogy, each concern is all a snowflake, each issue is unique and something we’ve never experienced before, and having a few is palatable and natural, but once they start accumulating, that’s when cars slip off the road, houses are buried, and people are frozen in their tracks. This blizzard of infinitely diverse issues is blowing around us, and it seems to be getting worse, right?
There’s a character on Saturday Night Live that Cecily Strong portrays called “The Girl You Wish You Never Started A Conversation With At Parties” where she rambles on and on about minute problems such as how war torn Middle Eastern children don’t have access to Yeezys or how Santa is always portrayed to be a straight white male. I understand given the subject of my speech topic, I very well could end up becoming “The Guy You Wish You Never Gave Time To Speak At The Literary Arts Symposium” but I hope that’s not the case. I hope instead of coming off as rambling and ranting about world issues, by the end of this, I hope you will instead see my concern about what is happening around us. That it very likely that the apocalypse could be about to start, or even has already started.
The way I see it, using the weather analogy again, is that we are in the middle of a perfect storm. “The Perfect Storm” for those who haven’t seen it, is a movie based on the novel of the same name about two fishermen, George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, who go fishing in the ocean until two separate storms run into each other right over the boat, and then to make matters worse, a hurricane then shows up. These storms each have their own name. The first is apathy toward the environment. The second is an increasingly voiceless democracy. Finally, a culture controlled by the internet.
Apathy toward Environment. That’s our first track in this apocalyptic mix tape. It’s a grand sweeping number filled with depleting animals, food shortages, and rising temperatures. It bears many names such as “Climate Change” “Over Polluted Oceans” “Acid Rain” “Added to the Endangered Species List” or most dramatically “The Holocene Extinction”. That word alone, extinction. It is a horror worse than you can fathom. Extinction, where every last human, everyone you love, every one you’ve had a conversation with, everyone who have slept with, everyone you wish you had slept with, everyone who taught you something about yourself, everyone that you have looked up to, everyone that has looked up to you, every person you have passed on the highway because they were driving too slow and possibly have flicked off, and the billions of people you were not graced with meeting due to them living in another continent, another country, another state, or even someone that works on a different floor that you’ve never shared the elevator with, and all of their friends and family. Gone. Dead. Extinct. The Holocene Extinction sounds like a great title for a blockbuster action movie or a title to an epic Armageddon comic book, but this isn’t fiction. This is happening and that word extinction, carries a lot of unrealized weight behind it.
Why is this happening? Why are we going extinct? Simply put, we are why. We are killing animals faster than they can replace themselves. We are poisoning the air we breathe while simultaneously pretending we are not. We are dumping plastics, oils, metals, and residue into our only oceans because we fail to recognize they are not eternally expansive. We consume and produce waste. We take a beautiful tree and turn it into a “National Enquirer” magazine. We take a beautiful cow and turn it into a Double, and turn that into a clogged toilet and an upset stomach. We are why we are going extinct.
52% of our oceans are fully exploited due to overfishing. 17% are over exploited. 20% are moderately exploited. 7% are depleted. A mere 2% of our oceans are protected. Only 1% of our oceans are in a state of recovery. From 1950 up to 2011, we have depleted our fishing stocks by 90%. 67 years to reduce by 90% is unsustainable. We will run out of fish at this pace in a matter of decades.
Just last year, the international landmark The Great Barrier Reef off of the coast of Australia, the colorful one-of-its-kind underwater habitat for tropical fish turned bleach white due to the water’s rising temperatures. There is a patch of chemical sludge and plastic the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. We sat and watched while British Petroleum dumped a record 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into our Gulf of Mexico, then had them pay a fine so small it only accounted for around 10% of what their average yearly revenue is, because of it. The nuclear reactor in Fukushima is still leaking to this day off the coast of Japan, unloading nuclear radiation into the waters, fish, and aquatic plant life. Our oceans are dying. In the great American song, the lyric will no longer be ‘from sea to shining sea’ but rather ‘from garbage patch to shining oil spill’.
Since the 1990s we have lost 90% of our bee population. The animals that give us strawberries, tomatoes, spinach, raspberries, lettuce, sunflowers, sunflowers! They’re dying because our pesticides and our chemicals that we spray on them to kill them by the hundreds because we’re afraid of being stung. I, for one, am not looking forward to a world where there is only rice, potatoes, and meat to eat.
The bees aren’t the only animals on their way out of existence. Rhinos, Elephants, Porpoises, Jaguars, Orangutans, Tigers, Polar Bears, Sea Otters, Lemurs, Red Pandas, Ocelots, and Mandrills (also known as Rafiki from The Lion King) are all endangered with dismal signs of recovering their population. Soon the zoo will be the last place you can see them. Then one day without warning, you won’t see them ever again. You will read on the news somewhere that “the last Elephant was killed last night and had its tusk sawed off; the poachers are still at large”. Or instead you might hear that “the last orangutan did not wake up in captivity today, zookeepers were very upset”. What is tasteless is that this news bulletin will probably be followed by “In other news, the new iPhone will be released next fall.”
Finally, in regards to our apathy for the environment, the temperature is rising. We are live pigs in an oven being baked for Easter supper and even though we can feel the heat and see the flames, we still debate whether the oven is turned on or not. The temperature on this planet is increasing at a rapid pace that we have not seem before, and it is increasing due to the massive amounts of Carbon Dioxide that we humans release into the atmosphere through our cars, our factories, our coal refining plants, and even our cigarette smoke. It’s getting hot, and our animals are dying, our ice caps are melting, our oceans are rising. We cut funding for the EPA. We’re removing environmental regulations for all of our corporations. We’re pigs in the oven, and we are shouting to the chefs “turn up the heat!”
So this storm seems pretty bad. But combine it with the second storm, an increasingly voiceless democracy.
Where do I even begin when on the discussion of Political Incompetence in America? Let’s begin with what we are competent with. We are very competent with allowing mass shootings to happen. We’re number one in the world. We wear that with pride too. At least we appear to wear it with pride, because we sure don’t do anything about trying to change it.
University of Texas in Austin, 1966, 18 dead. McDonalds Restaurant, San Ysidro California, 1984, 21 dead. Post Office, Edmond Oklahoma, 1986 14 dead. Lubys Cafeteria, Killeen Texas, 1991, 23 dead. Columbine High School, Colorado, 1999, 13 dead. Virginia Tech, 2007, 32 dead. Aurora, Colorado 2012, 12 dead. Sandy Hook 2012, 27 children dead. San Bernardino 2015, 14 dead. Orlando 2016, 49 human beings dead.
We’re very competent with allowing these sorts of things to happen. After Sandy Hook, where, once again, 27 people were killed, 86% of the United States population was in favor of universal background checks for gun purchasers. Today, that percentage has not changed. 86% of the American public supports universal background checks for all gun purchases. Because we are a democracy, one would think that we would have Universal Background checks. This is not the case, and that is what I refer to when I speak of our political incompetence.
This isn’t the only instance where the voice of the people comes nowhere close to matching the voice of the people representing the people. Recently the current executive branch administration has cut funding to PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts despite a majority of the country wishing to not cut funding for either.
Further threats of improper representation of the people include the debate over Planned Parenthood. 69% of the public and 54% of Republican voters wish to keep funding Planned Parenthood, yet the current executive branch has threatened to defund it entirely. The voice of the people was loud this past January, not during the inauguration, but the day after. The largest protest in the country’s history without any arrests, led by women, where millions poured into the street, and it went international. Their message was for more women’s rights. The next day the current executive administration ceased funding for certain women’s right groups, almost as if the day before never happened.
Why is this? Why do our representatives fail to do what they are paid to do, and represent? It has something to do with money. We have laws in place underneath “Citizens United” that allows corporations to donate as much as they want to a politician. And we still expect our voice to be as loud as theirs. Fahr LLC, a hedge fund has donated 90 million dollars in the 2016 election alone. Other large donations include 52 million from Renaissance Technologies. 44 million from Las Vegas Sands. And 38 million from the Adelson Drug Clinic. It seems impossible that the voice of the average American citizen is at all equal to Big Coal, Big Tobacco, Smith and Wesson,
Powerful lobbying groups are pushing private agendas rather than the will of the people. The profit-seeking corporations have replaced the elected government as the most powerful entity in the country. And on top of all that, Donald Trump is president.
We are hopeless when it comes to out democracy it seems. Dying environment. Dying democracy. And last but not least, in this apocalyptic perfect storm is a dying culture. We have lost our culture to the internet and allowed it to shape us into different people.
This is the part of the speech where I begin to sound like an angry old guy.
It is true though that a huge chunk of our culture has disappeared. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Netflix have all consumed our lives. There are instances where I am hanging with friends, and something unique original and funny happens. Someone then pulls out a phone and says “do it again, I need to get that on snapchat”. And so like a group of mental patients, we reenact exactly what has happened so it can exist in video form for the next 24 hours. Tinder is another cancerous culture killer. No longer do people need to push themselves to gain bravery to ask someone out and experience becoming truly vulnerable, where they might get rejected. Now they simply swipe once and the character building, self developing, process is forgotten out of fear of refusal and ease. Twitter and Vine are compressing ideas into smaller and smaller ease. We used to write volumes of books, then they got smaller and smaller until we shortened them into 140 characters. Similarly, we used to make 8 hour movies, then shorted that into 3 hours, then 2 hours, now 6 minute vines. And to say nothing of the fact that memes exist, and force us to all spread ideas like wildfire whether they have sustainable merit to them or not.
So it really does seem like the world is ending. Our environment is killing us because we’re killing it. Instead of doing anything about it, our government acts the opposite way because our voice in democracy is being silenced by money. And the people can’t be bothered to do it themselves because we’re all staring at screens binge watching television shows. It’s pretty horrific, and frankly a creative way to go. A dystopian novel should be made about it for sure.
So, I take this all in and I think “this must be the end, there’s no way we’re not done for, there’s no reversing what has happened.” I become convinced that I have five to ten years before my death. I give up. I acknowledge my apocalypse now as it surrounds me and moves at the same pace as time.
I feel defeated. And I want to shout to God “Why the hell did you give me life now! Why was I born just to experience this whole thing’s end!”
But then I feel sunlight on my knees the first day you’re able to wear shorts after the winter. Then I hear an album that contains a piano part that I think sounds like heaven itself. Then I eat a delicious pork belly taco that has a semi-spicy semi-sweet molasses BBQ sauce on it. Then I spend a night with my family who supports me no matter what I do. I spend a night with my friends who are the best people I could ever have the opportunity of meeting. I read a book that speaks to me more than I thought a book could. I realize I can breathe comfortably. And that anger I had goes away. I feel thankful that if this is the apocalypse, and God did place me here, he at least showed me heaven’s gate before it all ended. And for that I could never be happier.
This piece is part of a project on Apocalyptic writing. Bauman presented it at the 8th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, April 21, 2017 in the Center for Media Innovation on Point Park University’s campus.