Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost’s poem has always established my bounds for how the world will end. Extreme heat or extreme cold leaves plenty of latitude for middling particulars.
In an era of global pandemic, climate change, and persistent mass violence, anyone who doesn’t think about how the world will end is—well—not paying attention. I’ve gotten in the habit of asking folks their preferred scenario.
My daughter, the nurse, championed the idea of killer viruses way before COVID-19 arrived. Nature morphs to resist our antibiotics, and we aren’t creating more with any efficiency.
My college roommate, a FEMA flood control expert, proclaims we’re already screwed. The rising tide of global warming is too accelerated to recede.
My son, the river morphologist, thinks loss of species diversity will be our demise. Without the full complement of specialized, niche organisms, nature’s web will untangle.
My niece, the activist, figures that as long as we nurture the fear of our differences over the wonder of all that we hold in common, we’ll just keep shooting each other to death.
My cleaning lady simply thinks we will drown in a sea of clutter.
We do not know how or when the world will end: we are not supposed to know. That tail phrase, “we are not supposed to know,” is my tip-of-the-hat to the beyond. Call it god if you like. The greater force that humans alternately revere and attempt to control.
We do not know how or when the world will end: we are not supposed to know. But most all of us can agree that human tinkering with our planet hastens the inevitability.
Being the mostly upbeat architect I am, I envision a Christopher Nolan end to our world. Inception’s elegant Parisian facades folding unto each other. Time and space and gravity denied. Destruction and death choreographed to swelling music. Devoid of pain and suffering. Not crushing civilization so much as folding into limestone-facade bedsheets of eternal sleep. A vision simultaneously cultured and barbaric.
I suppose mine is the unlikeliest scenario, but even a man who lacks a god with a capital ‘G’ is entitled to some solace.
I am content that the world as we know it will end, by means and moment outside our control, albeit hastened by mankind’s hutzpah. How then do I explain my innumerable quirks of behavior designed to lengthen our breath on this planet?
Why won’t I buy a car, or purchase meat. Why, for goodness’ sake, won’t I indulge in a yummy dessert simply because it is sealed inside a plastic clamshell case? Because I know that plastic will remain long after the sweet taste is gone. Why do I step on the scale every morning and sweat at the gym and eschew putting drugs on my body? Because despite our species’ hell-bent desire to ax itself, each individual creature innately strives to keep on keeping on. Why do I proclaim that Black Lives Matter, lobby for renewable energy, and advocate gun control? Because despite having no control over our world’s end, I still govern my own token actions. And I naively, dumbly believe that my minuscule actions, if multiplied seven billion times, might just nudge another generation or two of human survival on this earth.
The world that sustains humankind will end: by fire or ice; pestilence or flood; hunger or violence. Perhaps even by enwrapping us in our own beautiful constructions. We do not know how or when: we are not supposed to know. All we can do is live our lives as if we bear some responsibility for our fate.