This article was originally published in Adbusters #39 the Jan/Feb 2002 issue. The digital version of this issue has recently been made available for purchase.
It’s noon, Thursday, Eastern Daylight Time, and every human being on Earth has just vanished in one huge and completely unselective rapture. Had there been any warning, people might have parked their cars on the roadside or landed their planes, but no, so immediately the world’s roads become flaming wreckage-strewn ribbons, while crashed jets punctuate the landscape with fireballs. To witness the scene around, say, a freeway circling Dallas, Texas, one would have the impression of a landscape on which 10,000 black tethers have been lashed to the sky.
And then things go quiet, at least for a few minutes – the quietest few minutes the planet has known for centuries, but this doesn’t last long, as everything has been left running. Dams continue to generate electric current, and gas pipes continue to deliver gas and fuel rods remain inserted in their cores. Gas stoves, heating systems, security lasers and Bunsen burners cause houses, businesses, prisons and hotel rooms the world over to burst into flames, followed by oil wells and forests and, most critically, nuclear power stations, beginning with less sophisticated and undermaintained models in the former Soviet Union, as well as those on the Asian subcontinent. The smoke they produce is certainly thick, but the isotopes they release into the jet stream and air sheds is in levels inconceivable to even the most nuclear-paranoid. By midnight, most of the Northern Hemisphere is shrouded in a black, acrid curtain, and sunlight will from now on reach the surface in patches. The Southern Hemisphere fares slightly better in an On the Beach sort of way, but the mist of angry isotopes from the north begins arriving around the 24-hour mark.
Fail-safe mechanisms the world over trigger nuclear volleys that hit targets in no particular order of vengeance.
The first city to go is Liverpool.
The next is Murmansk, after that is Minot, North Dakota.
Then go Sacramento, Montreal,
the outskirts of Rome, Italy; Auckland,
New Zealand; Anacortes, Washington;
Jerusalem; New Delhi, India; Cocoa Beach,
Florida; and so forth.
On Day Two, there are 104 separate nuclear bombardments, and the bombardments arrive at random from then on. Some of the missiles hit their targets, and some merely land or detonate wherever. One cluster of warheads stockpiled in Annapolis, Maryland, detonates simultaneously, chewing out a crater so large as to reveal magma within the Earth’s crust.
Also by Day Two, oil tankers and cargo ships have begun to run aground and fracture, at once coating the oceans with a thick crude crust – also in flames – as well as dissolving untold quantities of heavy metals, solvents, running shoes and canola into the waters.
Colossal lightning activity in both hemispheres triggers fire even in those areas most remote from what was once the human civilization. Residue from pesticide and pharmaceutical facilities quickly sterilize most European, North American and Asian rivers: The Mississippi is now a gummy, acidic broth, not unlike hot-and sour soup, but cut with burnt rubber.
Soot and debris from global burning has landed on the glaciers and ice packs of both poles, the darkness logarithmically accelerating the pace of melting. Railroad derailments across the planet release containers of chemicals into biosystems, wreaking broad-scale freshwater havoc. Oilrig fires the world over mimic those of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.
Rains composed of what is essentially battery acid scour the world. Insects have their brief moment of glory as the incredible rainfall triggers a massive hatch, with locusts and grasshoppers battling each other over what remains of plant life, most dramatically in the central Canadian and central African plains. The few remaining bird species – gulls and corvids and a few penguins – are in severe trauma. Many reptiles have entered a state of deep hibernation, never to reawaken.
Carrion eaters, though, have their field day – viva maggots! –and their smaller organism volume makes them far less vulnerable to death by radiation. They too, though, will shortly succumb.
Much of the northern Canadian and Siberian permafrost tundra endures erratically yo-yoing temperatures, during which isotopes and heavy metals briefly enter the biosystems only to be frozen and rethawed again and again, the end result being a toxic pudding sludge.
Extreme weather is already the norm. Ozone holes quickly crawl down past the 60th parallel. On the island of Spitzbergen in the Arctic Ocean, the first window of direct contact between the Earth’s surface and outer space occurs, flash-freezing and drying marine life within the top 10 meters of the ocean surface.
A high proportion of deciduous trees has shed their leaves.
Most birds and mammals are now extinct.
Only deep marine creatures are relatively untouched,
but it’s only a matter of time before toxins from above flitter their way into the bathyal depths.
A few miles outside of Vladivostok harbor, a marooned Russian warship carrying multiple fusion warheads accidentally triggers a simultaneous on-the-spot detonation; in a gargantuan belch of steam the Pacific Ocean floor is suddenly made visible to orbiting satellite cameras. Outer space then briefly scours the detonation site, freeze-drying the embers while freezing ocean waves in mid-surf. Beyond the space hole, tsunamis ripple outward to crumple much of the Japanese, Korean and Kamchatka coastlines, and later, for what it’s worth, the charred west coast of North America, from Alaska to San Francisco.
By Day Six, warehouses of solvents in most large cities have ignited and/or exploded and drained themselves into the rest of the world. There is no habitable space remaining on the planet’s surface, nor any potable water. Mammals are extinct, save for a few rodents eating vending machine snack food within underground missile silos in Colorado, Siberia and Bonn, Germany. Around noon the last whale floats to the ocean surface off the southern tip of Chile; the last bird, a migrating Sandwich tern, falls to the ground over southwest Africa. Even plankton, sensitive to UV radiation, are undergoing a rapid dieoff.
What can be said? The world is over.
Earth is now not much more than a waterlogged, barbecued briquette.
And all it took was seven days.
Not even that, really.
- Douglas Coupland
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