Doomsday Express?

But first: Killer Spinach, the Inside Scoop.

One of the biggest news stories during my recent time in the states was the E. Coli bacterial contamination of bagged spinach which led to killing one person and sickening nearly two hundred others.

E Coli is commonly found in cow’s stomachs as well as ours. We generally are able to fight it off without problems; however, the strain in question is especially virulent. What’s most pertinent in this case is that that particular bacteria is associated almost exclusively with cows who are fed grains rather than real cow food, that is, grass.

It’s cheaper and faster to fatten cows on a corn-fed diet, so the practice is widespread. Raising of animals has become an industrial process in America, as a result, large and concentrated amounts of manure are produced, traces of which are then carried off by rainwater into nearby streams. That manure could be properly treated and prevented from contaminating waterways, but that costs money, so there is a strong incentive for producers to do the wrong thing.

In the case in question, it’s most likely that the spinach field was irrigated with tainted stream water. When you then place the spinach in a plastic bag, which provides a perfect environment for bacterial growth, you have an explosion of the nasty stuff.

This lead in to the topic of doomsday is relevant on two levels. First is the destruction of the environment inherent in our present economic system. It isn’t god sitting up there giddily sending down thunderbolts of havoc to torment us with, it’s just us. Secondly is the insidious nature of dependence on corporate media which has no desire or interest in telling the whole story. The American people could theoretically make more enlightened decisions regarding the environment were they graced with unbiased information.

I have a tendency to throw around the word doomsday quite casually: The end of the world is nigh! Well, no, not the end of the world, only the end of the world as we know it. And what thinking person would actually want to keep the world going in its current mode?

          We are doomed!… to extremely trying times. In the biblical account, one-third of the world’s people do not make it. Some of you reading this will bristle at mention of the Bible, but it’s an entirely plausible prediction, as good as any. While recognition of what’s happening will come to the world at large very suddenly, it’s not as if the genesis of the problem appears out of the ether – the warning signs are everywhere – or that many individuals won’t be tuned in beforehand.

We’re facing a perfect storm of the combined effects of climate change, resource depletion and environmental degradation. Where does that leave us as individuals? I’ve already been quite unequivocal about the helplessness of individual action in the face of the glorification of excessive wealth and the worldwide mania for growth at all costs. Shall we then all bury our figurative heads in the sands of indifference?

There are, possibly, people who could change the paradigm, our leaders, but we would be foolish to depend on that. While anything is possible, there is an implacable inertia built into the existing global system.

So why bother? Well, whether you’re spiritually oriented, like myself, or a humanist, we are all beholden to do the right thing. That’s a very broad statement; what might it mean? It doesn’t mean you can no longer use your car or take an airplane because they are prime causes of CO2 and global warming. It’s important that we all stay aware of the impacts of our actions, but it does no good obsessing over every nuance of life. I need to make a long distance trip to the US from Cambodia every year, and when I’m there I need to drive a car or I’d be unable to accomplish half what I need to. I feel no guilt associated with those actions. I didn’t create our world of minimal healthy alternatives; I can’t sacrifice the good things I can do in my life on the alter of guilt over things I can’t change.

However, that doesn’t mean I take waste casually. I’m extremely parsimonious in using resources in my personal life - outside of that annual flight across the Pacific and the need to drive when I’m in the states. It’s just my way; and besides, I think it’s a fundamentally healthier way to live. It also, incidentally, affords adaptability for the coming turmoil.  

There’s also a tremendous amount of learning and adaptation that needs to take place if we ever are going to live sustainably on this Earth so we might as well get serious about it now. If that learning isn’t enough to substantially change the current situation or exempt us from hard times down the line, it will still give us a head start for when things come back together and, for our personal lives, make the lead up to the difficulties much easier. In other words doomsday scenarios come in multiple stages. For instance, when gas hits $5 per gallon in the US, it will cause serious problems and disruptions to daily life, but it won’t be the end of the world. Neither will $10 per gallon gas; however, at that level a lot of Americans will find their lifestyle has become largely dysfunctional, maybe even untenable. When it reaches above $10, cost will be less important than availability. Oldsters like myself remember waiting in long lines for gas back in the seventies, and that was merely a manufactured shortage.

Where will you be when that happens? Walking distance to work and shopping? Next to a light rail train? Well, then you’ll have a much easier time than someone who lives far out in the boonies, who needs to drive their car for every facet of life. When the shit really hits the fan, it almost won’t matter where you live (unless you are out in the country and essentially self-sufficient). However, from now to the point when the world’s society/economy/ecology deconstructs could involve a long transition. It will make a very big difference where you’ve placed yourself during those years.

 Moreover, paradigm shifts do happen: Eastern Europe threw off communism almost overnight. The world can, at least in theory, change. I’d love my doomsday predictions to be proven wrong. Anyway, we need to continue doing the right thing in the unlikely event of a mass rise in consciousness. Likely or not, it certainly can’t happen without the foundation of a critical mass of people thinking and acting correctly. In other words, the collective WE has to believe it’s possible before it can become possible.

Meanwhile, we have to be prepared as individuals to know when to move. I’m reminded of a story told by a friend who’s family narrowly escaped deportation to a Nazi extermination camp. A day before the police came for them they fled and went on a global odyssey before winding up in America. This requires a belief in the cosmic energies and a certain level of detachment from the material plane. It doesn’t require a formal belief, only the ability, even if it’s subconscious, to tune in, and respond.

Obviously, if you’re a hunky-dory type person who thinks it’ll all just work itself out, then you clearly will not be prepared. If you are indifferent to the portents, oblivious to the signs, unable to adapt, then you won’t know what hit you. Hardship or not, there’s no reason to give up. Despondency will get you nowhere. If, as predicted in the Bible, one-third of the world’s people don’t make it, that doesn’t mean some places won’t be much worse off than others. Or that some situations will be far more tolerable than others.

If we have to ultimately simplify our lives to an extent that would seem extreme now, that doesn’t mean our lives won’t be rich and fulfilling. Or provide any less happiness. In my observation, Cambodians are as happy as Americans though their per capita income is one hundred times less than Americans. That doesn’t mean that many of them aren’t frustrated by the indignities of being really poor, the inability to make simple improvements in their lives. Just that life can be enjoyed with far less than the typical westerner thinks is essential. The ability to adapt is key.

Under any circumstances, assuming my prediction is correct, we are in for a rough ride: the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” come true... for the world.