Today, I’m revisiting an old post, in the light of our current situation. With a third of the world’s human population on lockdown, we’ve seen a definite reduction in global carbon emissions. We’ve also seen the natural world thriving as humans take shelter and reduce their day-to-day polluting activities. I wonder if all of this will give us pause for thought when we come out of lockdown? We can choose between two drastically different futures: I wonder which path we will take?
To my Dear Descendants,
You cannot be my direct descendants, I accept that. Most likely you are the descendants of some unholy coupling between a giant cockroach and the last President of the United States. For this, you have my sympathy.
I wanted to tell you about the world as it is now, in the hope that it will never again be quite so terrible. Of course, you may never get my letter, or even if you do, it may well be beyond interpretation. But I am writing it anyway, because it is the one thing I have left that I can do.
I hold the dubious privilege of belonging to the last generation of the human race to inhabit the Earth. I may even be the last surviving member of my race: ‘El Último Hombre.’ That, I have no way to know. I know that there aren’t many of us left, because there are no more radio broadcasts. That’s how I kept up with the news, in the last days. Before that there was television, but I suppose all the radiation in the air scrambled the signals. The simpler radio format continued for much longer, like a wartime broadcast from a bygone era.
It’s quite ironic, that I am possibly the last survivor of a mass extinction, given that my life’s work was to study mass extinctions of other species, and try to prevent these from happening. It’s also ironic that of all the doomsday scenarios we worried about when there was still a point to it, we worried about this the least. We witnessed the die-off of so many species, but we didn’t see that we needed that level of biodiversity in order to survive. Few people foresaw the demise of the human race by mass starvation. Or, most likely the CIA and the NSA and the GRU saw it, and thought it better not tell the rest of us, in order to keep what they could back for themselves. If any members of the governing elite survive, I imagine they are, like me, living off of baked beans and bottled water. Maybe they have some tinned foie gras as well, but that gives them no great advantage over me.
When I was a child, and I went for long drives with my family in the summer, our car windscreen would always be covered in dead insects. There was an abundance of insects filling the air. By the time I was a teenager, most of them had gone. I wanted to find out why, and so began my work as a conservationist. The answer was not good: we were destroying our own food chain. There were campaigns, of course, against deforestation and the use of pesticides, but no one in charge took them very seriously. No one else took them very seriously either, until the crops started to fail. This was noticed in the Developing World first, of course, where most of the raw materials were produced. But pretty soon the supermarket shelves in the West were devoid of bread. Then things started to hit home for us, the lucky ones, as well. But by then it was far too late.
In an attempt to avoid starvation, wars broke out at a local level. Money ceased to have value, because there was nothing to be bought with it. It was simply a case of the strongest taking what remained. I saw some ugly footage on the TV broadcasts which were still available at the time – like in the former days when people brawled in supermarkets over a discounted TV – but now it was serious: they were fighting for survival.
Of course, these minor spats turned into countrywide wars, and then the international heavyweights waded in with their nuclear arsenals. There was devastating TV coverage of mushroom clouds, where cities used to be; of irradiated corpses and the unlucky survivors set to endure a more painful and protracted death. Then the TV broadcasts ended. So I tuned to the radio and mostly picked up warnings of nuclear air-raids, with advice to seek shelter wherever possible. Then even the airwaves fell silent.
Now, there is only peace. Nobody touched Antarctica. Evidently, the air is not so poisoned that I can’t sit out at night and watch the Aurora, all alone. It is eerily quiet, without even my former friends, the penguins, for company. But I have my music. I have my tins of beans and bottled water, for a short time at least. And when the time comes, I will not have to die of starvation. I have an emergency first aid kit which includes morphine, enough for me not to have to suffer. I am lucky, in a way, I have to say. And I have my Thermos. I will place this letter inside, and bury it deep down in the ground, as deep as I can dig. And there it will be covered in the snow that still remains, to be discovered by you, when nature has rallied and replenished the depleted earth.
If you have the intelligence to decode and understand this message, then you might one day be faced with the prospect of your own extinction. I hope, this time, you choose to avoid it.
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