What COVID Portends for the End of Days

Throughout COVID, I made a lot of predictions that turned out eerily accurate, and the same method I used a year ago to guess correctly that there would be more than a million dead is telling me how humanity is going to end.

Cheery, right? I know!

I had an epiphany early in COVID. I would chart numbers, shadowing the much more scientific folks at the University of Washington. The numbers seemed deterministic, but I realized: that wasn’t true at all. They were up for grabs. The trajectory of the virus was less about the dynamics of pandemic spread or math and all much more about: us. The projections could turn on a dime or — more to the point — on a change in human behavior.

When I predicted eventual outcomes, it was based on an answer to this question: how were people processing the idea of the pandemic? What were people placing value on during the midst of this novel plague?

The answer by and large was that people weren’t really processing the pandemic at all. For most of us, it just didn’t exist, or if it did exist, it was secondary to me, me, me, me. Don’t ask me to forego my pleasure to help fight a disease. That was even true of people who took the virus decently seriously. People I know — smart people with their hearts in the right places — still ran around doing…stuff. People literally chose “dinner out” over “saving lives.”

Yes, I know the counterarguments by heart. “Eating out wasn’t that big of a deal.” “They’re old. They’re going to die anyway.” “We can’t live life in fear.” “I wore a mask.” All well and good — the point here isn’t to relitigate the past, but just to make clear: we have all become accustomed to living life one small antidote to FOMO at a time and to be catered to like bawling infants 24/7. That’s what became abundantly clear during COVID.

Now here we are, still fighting COVID, and a new threat has emerged that makes COVID look like a walk in the park: recurring massive heatwaves and a megadrought. The entire western half of the United States is turning into an uninhabitable desert, and what are we doing about it?

Well, most people are getting on planes to get in a little R&R or climbing in their cars to drive halfway across the country. YOLO! No one is changing their behavior one tiny bit, because just like with COVID, you have to accept what the guys in the little white coats are telling you and you have to have the ability to imagine something more important than your own instant gratification, which we are now trained not to know how to do.

To anyone paying attention, the trend is painfully obvious: the planet is getting very hot very fast. The scientists have been wrong only by means of understatement, and even if the numbers are in line with predictions, the predictions didn’t do justice to the experience of being on a heating planet. 100+ degrees is alarming. We’ve (air) conditioned ourselves to think it’s livable.

It’s not.

As with COVID, you have to plot two different dimensions to understand where things are headed: the physical reality (temperature, CO2 concentrations) and psychological reality.

The psychological reality is remarkably similar to COVID. On the one hand you have people who not only deny the problem, but who insist that adherence to an ideology of commerce demands intentional negligence. Burn fossil fuels in greater numbers — “freedom” [sic] requires it!! On the other hand, you have people who acknowledge the problem and want to do something about it, but aren’t willing to go far enough to counter it.

I was tempted to say there’s a third group who understand what is demanded of us and who are even prepared to do it, but then I remembered: that’s almost nobody but me. The bad assumptions are so baked into our system, almost no one can escape them. The sea change required in attitudes towards the economy and consumption is so massive, very few people can get anywhere close.

How will this all play out?

  1. Temperatures are going to increase dramatically. Like COVID, we’re dealing with exponential growth in CO2 concentrations, which means: exponential growth in temperatures.
  2. As problems mount, the deniers will demand that scientists and technologists come up with solutions for the short-term outputs of the warming. Solutions for the warming itself will remain off the table. We will insist on maintaining our god-given right to produce and consume massive rivers of plastic knick knacks, because that’s what the bible had in mind when it said we should have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
  3. As things continue to get worse, natural systems will fail worse and worse, and we will become even more reliant on the economy for basic survival, because self-sustaining systems will be replaced by human-sustained systems. Think: fish hatcheries and hothouses, but for everything. We will become even more dependent on a small cabal of self-interested people who are comfortable operating separate from the rest of humanity.
  4. There will continue to be feints at solving warming. We’ll shift to more of an electric-based economy, but it will be meaningless: far too little, coming far too late to do any real good.
  5. People will die, but they’ll die in that slow, institutional way that makes it seem normal. It will mostly hit the poor, and it will mostly hit the infirm amongst the poor, making it seem acceptable, just as in COVID it didn’t seem all that bad that older people died. That’s normal, right? Its what they do.
  6. The human population — along with almost every other population on the planet — will contract dramatically. The remaining population will live almost entirely indoors.

In essence, we are colonizing our own planet in the way we dream of colonizing Mars, because we’re turning it into something like Mercury: hot, inhospitable. We’re already well on our way to this future — we’re just still pretending that everything is normal.

Is this a future you’re comfortable with? If so, I have great news: you’ve already won!

I'm just a humble Italian duke happy to be living in the New World.