On the Perks of Being a Catastrophist

Andrew - Spencer, Indiana
Entered on November 22, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I have a rather unusual solution to a somewhat common problem. When I go to sleep at night, and I can’t detach from life’s bombardment of information, obligations, and potential worries, I take a few deep breaths and remember that someday the Earth will crash into the sun.

Or maybe be hit by a giant asteroid.

Or have a massive volcanic eruption.

I’m no scientist. The details are inconsequential. What draws me to scenarios like this is that they suggest that Earth seems to have come conveniently equipped with a giant reset button.

I believe in constant, occasionally catastrophic, change. Panta rei as the Greek Heraclitus noted, always in flux. The short of it is that no matter what we do or don’t do, the giant hand of nature waits in the background to shake things up like a giant Etch-a-Sketch.

When I tell people about this belief, which is rare, it is most often met with the assumption that such an outlook points me towards an extreme egoism or hedonism, a certain devil-may-care flippancy about life. Not at all.

Being a catastrophist does not alleviate any moral imperatives; I still recycle, drive an efficient car, volunteer in my community, and vote my conscience. Being a catastrophist just takes away the pressure. Call it overcoming the “Smokey Bear problem” – when “Only you can prevent forest fires” it feels a little selfish to worry about your 401k. Catastrophism is all about balance – I know that I am responsible for my life in the short term, but the fate of Earth does not lie in my actions.

Global warming is a natural place to apply castrophism. In regards to debates over global warming, I can honestly say, it’s purely academic. I somewhat doubt our ability as humans to alter the Earth in geological time – say the next million years. I take comfort in the idea that at some point, a catastrophic event will occur and Earth as we know it will radically change. I also believe, however, that we are affecting our earth and climate in major ways in the here and now, more like the next 1000 years or so.

Being a catastrophist allows me to retreat from the context of ultimate causes and effects. Here I can apply a simpler “Don’t crap where you live” writ large approach to environmentalism. You don’t have to be an Inconvenient worshipper to see that 20th and 21st Century American consumerism spread globally through China, India, and other rapidly developing economies is a ride to environmental collapse. We can affect these developments, without resorting to sandwich board, end-of-the-world alarmism.

The world will end; but not because of me, or you.

The perk of being a catastrophist?

Responsibility without all the guilt.