Coming soon, the Apocalypse, maybe

By Pepper Trail

Just about every video game, young adult novel and buzz-worthy streaming series agree that we need to prepare for a post-apocalyptic world. Up ahead, around a sharp curve or off a cliff, it is waiting—The Apocalypse.

Maybe not “the complete final destruction of the world,” but certainly “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale,” to quote the two definitions in the Oxford Online Dictionary. Not yet, but soon.

This has me wondering: How will we know when we move from pre- to post-apocalypse? This summer, my hometown in southern Oregon was crushed under a heat dome, sweltering in triple-digit temperatures. A fire across the state line ignited and within 24 hours exploded to become California’s largest wildfire this year so far.

The two mountain lakes that provide water to our valley orchards and vineyards are at 2% and 6% full, that is, 98% and 94% empty. Last year, an even more severe heat dome pushed temperatures in normally cool Seattle and Portland to record-shattering levels, wildfires burned more than a million acres in Oregon and 2000-year-old giant sequoias perished in fires of unprecedented severity in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Catastrophic extremes are becoming normal. The Great Salt Lake is at the lowest level ever recorded, spawning toxic dust storms. A mega-drought has shriveled the Colorado River, with the beginning of major cutbacks in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada. Elsewhere in the West, flooding devastated Yellowstone National Park in June, collapsing roads and leading to the evacuation of over 10,000 visitors.

Widening our view, Dallas is currently inundated with what is described as a “1,000-year” flooding event, following similar flooding disasters in Las Vegas, St. Louis and Kentucky earlier this summer. Across the Atlantic, Europe was scorched by the highest temperatures ever recorded this summer, triggering massive wildfires, the collapse of a glacier in Italy and over 10,000 heat-related deaths. India, China, and Japan experienced record heat waves this year.

I could go on, but no doubt you have read the news, too, about climate-caused apocalyptic events. Closely related is the global extinction crisis, with over a million species at risk by the end of this century. Bird populations in the United States have collapsed by one-third in the past 50 years, and the world’s most diverse ecosystems, including tropical rainforests and coral reefs, could largely disappear in coming decades.

Let’s also not forget the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 6.46 million people worldwide and sickened 597 million. That pandemic shows no sign of ending as the virus continues to evolve new variants. Meanwhile, the new global health emergency of monkeypox has been declared. And polio, once eliminated in this country, is back, thanks to people who aren’t vaccinated.

What about America’s social fabric? According to a poll taken this summer by the New York Times, a majority of Americans surveyed now believe that our political system is too divided to solve the nation’s problems. The non-profit Gun Violence Archive has documented 429 mass shootings so far this year in America, with “mass shootings” defined as at least four people killed or injured.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has led to a rapid and stark division of the country into states that permit abortions versus those that outlaw it. Republicans and Democrats increasingly live in separate media universes, with both sides concerned about the possibility of a civil war.

I admit this is a staggering list of “damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale,” but I’m not ready to declare myself a citizen of the post-apocalypse. We don’t have to live there. Instead, let’s accept that humanity and the whole planet are “apocalypse-adjacent.” The apocalypse is before us and we can see it clearly. But the world is not yet ruined.

Human beings do have this redeeming and also infuriating trait: We are at our most creative and cooperative when it is almost too late. We can — we must — pull each other back from the brink. To fail is to condemn our children to live in the hellscape of a dystopian video game. As they will tell you, that is no place to be.

Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the Range,, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a naturalist and writer in Ashland, Oregon.

Photo by Intricate Explorer, Via Unsplash

This column was published in the following newspapers:

08/29/2022 Logan Herald Journal Logan UT
08/29/2022 Sky-Hi News Granby CO
08/29/2022 Beaverton Valley Times Beaverton OR
08/29/2022 Columbia County Spotlight Scappose OR
08/29/2022 Hillsboro Times News Hillsboros OR
08/29/2022 Tigard Times Tigard OR
08/29/2022 Vail Daily Vail CO
08/30/2022 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
08/30/2022 Summit Daily frisco co
08/30/2022 Lake Powell Chronicle Page AZ
08/29/2022 Livingston Enterprise Livingston MT
08/31/2022 Glenwood Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO
08/31/2022 Sterling Journal-Advocate Sterling CO
08/31/2022 Fort Morgan Times Fort Morgan CO
08/30/2022 Jolt olympia WA
08/31/2022 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
08/31/2022 Aspen Times Aspen CO
08/31/2022 Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City UT
08/31/2022 Moscow-Pullmand Daily News Moscow-Pullman ID
08/31/2022 Montrose Daily Press Montrose CO
08/24/2022 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
09/02/2022 Summit Daily frisco co
08/31/2022 Daily Interlake Kalispell MT
09/01/2022 Craig Daily Press Craig co
09/01/2022 Taos News Taos NM
09/01/2022 Twin Falls Times News Twin Falls ID
09/02/2022 St. George Spectrum St. George UT
09/01/2022 Moab Times Independent Moab UT
09/04/2022 Casper Star Tribune Casper WY
09/02/2022 Park Record Park City UT
09/05/2022 Pikes Peak Courier Woodland CO
09/05/2022 Bandon Western World Bandon OR
09/06/2022 Del Norte Triplicate Crescent City CA
09/08/2022 Moscow-Pullmand Daily News Moscow-Pullman ID
09/07/2022 Delta County Independent Delta CO
09/08/2022 Curry Coastal Pilot Brookings OR
09/21/2022 Ashland News Ashland OR
09/14/2022 Pagosa Springs Sun Pagosa Springs CO
09/14/2022 Idaho Mountain Express Ketchum ID
09/17/2022 Helena Independent Record Helena MT
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Rebecca Lawton
1 year ago

An excellent summation of the apocalypse, maybe. Well done, and inspiring. Thank you.

Coming soon, the apocalypse, maybe — Writers on the Range #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround – Coyote Gulch
1 year ago

[…] the link to read the article on the Writers on The Range website (Pepper […]

Judy Hoy
1 year ago

You forgot the devastating effects of pesticides falling everywhere on earth and working synergistically to cause birth defects and mortality in invertebrates and vertebrates at increasing levels. If all the other animals go extinct, people won’t hang around for long. In some places 80% of the insects that were there are now gone. It won’t take long for the remaining 20% to be gone. Most vertebrate species depend in some way on invertebrate species, especially for food, so no invertebrates equals no vertebrates. It will take only about 20 more years for everything to be gone. There is an easy way to save ourselves, just ban the use of the pesticides that are doing the most harm, like all of the neonicotinoids, glyphosate based herbicides and the deadliest fungicides, like chlorothalonil (Daconil), which studies have shown work together synergistically to kill both vertebrates and invertebrates up to a thousand times faster than any one of those alone. Or keep ignoring this deadly reality and let most life as we know it go extinct – apocalypse, no maybe about it!

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