How to Negotiate the End Times

Please send word. The playoffs are near.

Camille Seaman, Stranded Iceberg, Cape Bird, Antarctica 2006

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

This article is available in:

Every generation has its apocalypse. It may or may not be real, but if you are overcome with a sense that nothing can stop your society from sinking into the abyss of some type of destruction, you’re probably in one. Jesus of Nazareth claimed he lived in the end times and that the antichrist walked alongside him. Entire cities repented when the bubonic plague killed a third of Europe because people were convinced judgment day had arrived. World War I, the war to end all wars, succeeded in sowing the seeds of an even greater war. During the USSR and American squabbles from the next Great War onwards, the globe was gripped in fear that at any moment some unelected fool in a suit could start the megadeath. In 2011 there are even more apocalypses to choose from, an entire smorgasbord of end time scenarios, comets, ancient prophecies, solar winds, Mayan calendars, reverse Earth magnetism, climate change, species extinction and so on. Take your pick. To whittle some perspective out of all these options, you might ask yourself what do the antichrist, nuclear winter, the end of war and the end of the world have in common?

They never happened.

You might now be wondering why?

There are just as many reasons for this catastrophic buzz kill as there are ways to pass the point of no return, perhaps none greater than the idea that a front row ticket to Armageddon is the biggest ego trip going and that, well, human beings like to feel special. Not much can replace the singular importance one feels from living in the end times. Perhaps that’s why the end is always upon us.

Despite predictions otherwise, humans are more resilient than ever in the 21st century. In fact, humans haven’t slowed their pace since they left the Great Rift Valley and wiped out the Neanderthals. Today, just like our Cro-Magnon chums, almost everything non-human is dying. This is cause for reflection about the urgency of our epoch, maybe even reason to believe in the uniqueness of the 21st century scenario. In the past, the great fear sweeping humanity was the death of humanity. Today, however, it’s death by humanity – a slow death each time the heat is turned on, each time a disposable diaper is put on a child, each time the pump is placed in the nozzle, each time a crowd goes to see a show. Maybe all that Greek mythology about matricide and parricide is prophecy not allegory. Maybe the end is only in our heads.

Through the steam of a hot cup of organic shade grown–canopy blend–ethically traded–eco friendly–bird protecting–grass roots–community empowering–fair wage–co-op produced–gender equitable–pro union coffee I can see the new green residential towers in my neighborhood. I wonder how does a person tackle this? More people chasing fewer resources attempting to consume themselves out of the cycle? Each tower is branded with a slogan like nature valley, spring meadow, alpine view, community living and country in the city. My streets even have garbage cans that say, "Keep Vancouver Beautiful." The intention isn’t irony.

I spent weeks trying to find something inspiring to say about ecocide, but in the end wound up on an NHL hockey stats site, internalizing the storyline of a Canadian underdog team trying to make the playoffs. The results for the latter at least provided a degree of agency in individual hands.

When BP turns a profit less than a year after the largest environmental disaster in American history – and no one is in jail – you know the current environmental legal framework is not working. When traditional land tenure systems – the last vestiges of community – are being eroded around the world to encourage privatization and profit, the current paradigm is astray.

Is it possible for humanity to put ecocide and genocide on an even scale? Is it possible for the paradigm to shift and say this land is a part of me? Ecuador recently enshrined Wild Law rights in their constitution, laws that say a stream has the right to flow. Laws that could wrestle symbiosis back from the entitlement of parasitism – if that is even a word. From rights come enforcement and from enforcement comes criminality. At least that’s the big idea. What Ecuador has done in recognizing the rights of Pachamama, Mother Earth, is either the beginning of a new world rejecting anthropomorphism in law, or a progression down the spiral of old world green washing. That Ecuador can’t even protect its citizens from Chevron makes me lean towards the former.

But there is something that I can see beyond the community garden rooftops of the new towers in my neighborhood. It happened almost three years ago. In September 2008, six environmental protesters were found not guilty in a London court of property damage to a British coal-fired power plant. The jury accepted their defense, “lawful excuse.” It is the legal principle that a person can damage property if it is in defense of greater damage to other property. The protesters claimed the pollution from the smokestacks was doing greater damage to the environment than their graffiti did to the factory. The jury agreed.

The headlines read: Green light to Anarchy:

It has been three years and nothing since.

Please send word. The playoffs are near.

Darren Fleet has reported, volunteered, worked and traveled in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and central Russia. Once a Pentecostal missionary, Darren now lives out his days in East Vancouver, playing in a band, Tyranahorse, reflecting on the error of his ways.