Apocalyptic Climate Change

The weather has been acting weird lately, hasn’t it? Right now, Europe is in the throes of extraordinarily freezing conditions which show no signs of letting up. The benign images of ice-skaters playing on frozen Dutch canals belie the seriousness of the situation, as hundreds of people have died across the continent. This is part of a longer trend of extreme weather worldwide. Europe suffered from an intense winter last year, as did the United States, where the East Coast and Midwest were hit with major blizzards. Since then, there have been severe droughts, wildfires, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and cyclones in various parts of the earth.


Welcome to our new climatic reality. The effects of rapid human-induced climate change have arrived. It is no longer some abstract, remote possibility that we’ll only have to face in the distant future. Moreover, it’s too late to stop. We’re past the point of prevention. Modern industrial civilization has given us (at least, those of us privileged to enjoy it) one heck of a ride over the past two hundred plus years, but it’s all coming to a halt. Quite simply, it’s the end of the world as we know it.


Such apocalyptic rhetoric is off-putting. It conjures images from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, which predicted the “end times.” By using such language, I’m certainly open to the charge of alarmism. There is no reason to exaggerate the dangers and unnecessarily prophesize calamities. Pessimism breeds hopelessness, which in turn disengages people from making positive changes. Suffering from such deep anxiety regarding our collective prospects, I have often felt that it’s better to keep such feelings to myself, lest I alienate others. But fatalism is no solution. So how can we climb out of this pit of despair?


One counter-intuitive strategy is to actually embrace the apocalypse. We need to reclaim the meaning of that excitable word and return to its original, ancient Greek definition, as in a “revelation” or the “lifting of the veil.” In such light, the apocalypse takes on a positive connotation, as it lays the necessary groundwork for radical social transformation. People, especially those in the United States, need to wake up and see reality. Of course, reality checks can be notoriously despairing, so we mustn’t stop there. Acceptance, and then action, must follow. Another world is possible, and we must create it, but the problem in front of us first has to be acknowledged. That requires a collective awakening, a massive “lifting of the veil” that has disillusioned us into thinking that there is no alternative to the modern world system and its catastrophic consequences. As deadly and destructive as these extreme weather events have been, and will continue to be, perhaps they are just what is needed to shake us from this slumber.


Submitted by Jeff Benvenuto


The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of Rutgers University or the Division of Global Affairs.

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