The end of the world


Well, here we are, finally: 2012, the year that supposedly ends in apocalypse. It’s the end of the world. Although the Mayans may have started it, the environmentalists are certainly keeping the hype alive.

Well, at least they were, for a while. Nowadays, worrying about global warming just doesn’t seem to be cool anymore.

Climate change used to be all we could talk about, as recently as only a few years ago. In May 2008, Prince Charles stated that, “We have 18 months to stop climate change disaster.” Activists warned that, if appropriate measures were not taken quickly, the world itself was going to end. Floods would cover coastal cities nationwide as the sea levels rose; expanding deserts would lead to mass starvation — we were all going to die. Lots of people worldwide wholeheartedly believed in the cause, and there was lots of scientific proof to back it up. Companies may as well have pledged allegiance to Satan if they didn’t try to “go green” in some way, and if you didn’t at least try to recycle once in a while, you were a monster.

Not many other people I met supported the Green Movement as intensely as I did. I’d spend hours debating with my grandfather about whether global warming was caused by humans and, if so, whether we were doing enough to stop it. An avid Discovery Channel viewer, my seventh-grade self knew everything the average citizen could have possibly known about global warming.

I was also vigilant: If someone left a light on in a room, that person would never hear the end of it. I would tell my 6-year-old sister that by leaving the TV on, she was personally responsible for the deaths of seven penguins.

I believed I had to try to single-handedly save the world from global warming. I was going to dedicate my entire life to the environmentalist cause. Though I still deeply care about the environment, and the threats are still very real, for me, as soon as the question of “Do you believe in global warming?” was replaced by “How are we going to fix the economy?,” my interests shifted from environmental engineering to economics.

Human beings can change their minds very quickly with regards to the things that once meant something to them. For short periods of time, we seem so capable of being passionate about an issue, and then — as soon as other people stop talking about it — it’s as if everything goes back to normal; out of sight, out of mind. But is that homeostasis really such a bad thing?

Recently, I stumbled across a quote from atmospheric scientist Monika Kopacz that said although climate change is “subject to opinion,” the problem is “only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’ — and readers’ — attention.”

Sensational exaggeration? Everything I was willing to fight for was sensational exaggeration?

As the hype continues to die down, I can’t help but notice that all the “end of the world” stuff that I myself had been preaching does actually sound pretty crazy.

Conspiracy or not, Gordon J. Fulks, who holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago, explains that “We certainly don’t know everything there is to know about climate, but we do know that Orwellian pronouncements about a catastrophe are dangerous propaganda disguised as science.”

No matter how smart and free-thinking we feel we are, I wouldn’t say I’m so sure. Advertisements help us choose what we want, news stories sculpt how we view the world around us, issues politicians debate are the ones that we care about. We’re constantly told what to think, even by everyone around us. When issues are important enough to us, our opinions are set in stone. We can find evidence to back it up, too; anyone who tries to argue against us is utterly wrong. Occasionally, we don’t simply see opposing arguments as incorrect — they go as far as being selfish, closed-minded or even evil. And that’s really scary.

There are two sides to every story. Maybe that homeostasis, that balance we naturally seem to return to, is actually a good thing. You shouldn’t be so sure of something that you’re unable to see any other options. Extremism in anything, from religion to politics to saving the world, is dangerous.

Life is all about questions — when you look for answers, you only seem to ever get more questions. It’s about not knowing and hoping to someday find out. Yet we always seem to jump to conclusions far too quickly. Before we find ourselves willing to give our lives for a cause that we fully, completely, undoubtedly believe in, we should take a step back to see the bigger picture and make sure we really know what we’re talking about.

We should really try to be careful, especially with things that mean a lot to us, things we believe in. Our absolute inability to tolerate the possibility of being wrong is, in my eyes, much more terrifying than the Mayan calendar’s apocalyptic warning — our willingness to do anything to be right may eventually bring us to something much more ruinous than anything we could have ever previously imagined.