2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Nine

As intriguing as it is to conjure up many doomsday scenarios, one common worry is the likelihood of them. But one scenario is especially disconcerting because it’s entirely plausible and based on recent events all too likely. What is it? What is the greatest threat? Why us, of course, and it need not be anything exotic, all the ingredients for an apocalypse are right here.

Doomsday Scenario No. 4: Our Own Worst Enemy

Take a pick, there are so many mundane yet deadly ways to bring about our downfall. The result may not necessarily mean humanity’s extinction or the end of the world but our way of life, our society, order itself can easily topple due to the following:

Social Unrest & Despots

Look around the news and see all the upheavals and strife throughout the world. The Middle East as always seems to be on the precipice of Armageddon with all the saber rattling, riots and terrorist attacks. Here in the West we think we’re somewhat inoculated from all that anarchy. But it’s always there. In the U.S. there is brewing antagonism between those on the left and right. It is a powder keg that isn’t going away. All it takes is for some protestor or anarchist or an overwhelmed officer or citizen to light the fuse. Back in the 1960s the controversial Vietnam War nearly led to a civil war in the U.S. In fact, throughout U.S. history there have been many tenuous moments with the worst being the Civil War. The country and others will always be dealing with keeping order. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine there was a two-part episode “Past Tense” where Ben Sisko accidently time travels to the 2020s and takes part in the social movement called the Bell Riots. It’s stated in those episodes that the aftermath of that deadly period of time led to positive societal changes and ultimately the founding of the Federation.

Though social discourse can lead to positive changes, other times it can usher in dark historic chapters. Sad examples of that includes Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda where evil despots and their minions rose to power and unleashed horrendous genocides against others.

In science fiction, there are countless novels and films dealing with future dictators coming to power and creating totalitarian societies. One of the more famous sci-fi dictators is Khan from Star Trek, but the original show often made references to future human despots named Krotus and Lee Kuan. The most famous dictatorships is in George Orwell’s 1984, where citizens live under perpetual surveillance and paranoia. In Allen Steele’s Coyote novels, North America is ruled in the late 21st century by an extreme right-wing government and later by a left-wing power. Both of which spurred the migration to the habitable moon Coyote. The popular book and film The Hunger Games details the totalitarian country Panem, which arose from the ashes of the U.S. sometime in the future. In The Handmaid’s Tale, a theocratic dictatorship rules what was once the U.S. and persecutes its citizens. Another instance of harsh theocratic rule comes in Octavia Butler’s Parable Of The Sower where non-Christians are placed in re-education camps in a North America withered by poverty and scarce resources.

Scarce Resources

One underlying cause of war and societal stress boils down to resources. Right now, energy is the primary resource that is driving and hampering our civilization. There is the issue of oil and finding a viable alternative. The problem with oil is that it is becoming scarce and contributes to global warming. Until a successful alternative is found, we’re stuck with it. The Persian Gulf War was fought because Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait and threat to Saudi Arabia would’ve affected oil production and global economies.

There is a special that often runs on the National Geographic channel called Aftermath: When The Oil Runs Out that explores what would happen if that event occurred. Basically, civilization is turned upside down as martial law then conflicts and famine strike the world.  In the Road Warrior, major battles are fought between factions over dwindling gasoline supplies.

But energy isn’t the only resource to fight over. There is food, land, and raw materials. Native Americans were driven off their ancestral lands by Americans in order to exploit the riches found in those lands. Avatar was of course a metaphor for what happened with the Native Americans. However, a now plentiful resource is on its way to becoming scarce and tomorrow’s most sought after commodity: water. Many predict that wars will be fought in the near future over dwindling water supplies. Cameron Stracher’s book The Water Wars depicts a future where the scarcity of fresh water decimates society.

Economic Meltdown

The U.S. is in the grip of Great Recession while Europe is facing an economic collapse. This is a genuine cause for alarm since the specter of an economically devastated nation will have a cascading effect. Just look at the Great Depression to get an idea of what will happen. Mass migration, social strife, riots, overwhelmed communities, the list goes on. And it’s a prime opportunity for radicals and dictators to gain power. Basically chaos will reign unhindered. Many sci-fi works like the TV mini-series The Fire Next Time predict that economic collapse will come from extraordinary events, with The Fire Next Time it was global warming. In the TV show Dark Angel, the U.S. was in the midst of a crippling depression caused years before by an EMP detonation. While those factors will indeed destroy economies, mundane events like the current housing crises can just as easily disrupt our global economy.

In Norman Spinrad’s novel Russian Spring, America is a nation in economic decline while Russia is experiencing an economic renaissance and has become the de facto super power in the world. The consequence is that some of the main American characters wound up leaving the U.S. for better opportunities abroad.

On the other hand, there is a fear that corporations will dominate our governments. Many would say that has happened already. Transnational corporations control the world in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and this concept was seen in the film Rollerball. If  governments give up sovereignty to companies, what would happen to our rights?

State Of War

The idea of world peace is a noble one, but no matter how many times it seems to be on the horizon, our dark side emerges. Today many are rightfully concerned by the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and a military response. It’s believed this could cause World War III. But the Middle East isn’t the only tinderbox to potentially ignite a Third World War. One could easily begin in Asia as China gains more power. Already there are new tensions between China and Japan. Then there is the issue of Taiwan, the U.S. is committed to protecting it from China. Plus, look at North Korea, the people there live in complete despair yet seem all too eager to die for their insane leaders.

The fictional Oceania in 1984 always seemed to be in some state of war as its citizens were constantly whipped up into a war fervor over that country’s rivals. H.G. Wells novel The Shape Of Things To Come, showcases a world under the grip of a decades-long, alternate account of World War II that lasted much longer than in real life. Eventually civilization collapses and is reformed under a so-called benign dictatorship that brings order.

Conclusion

The above are just some issues that our society faces. Humanity needs to undergo a fundamental change to purge dark impulses. Perhaps an evolutionary step is needed where it becomes ingrained not to give in to our hatred and fear. That will take a very long time and much more misery. Maybe a cataclysmic event will do it, which is what happened with the Vulcan culture in Star Trek. The Vulcans are renowned for their peaceful ways but only true fans know that once they were a barbaric race that nearly killed themselves off with nuclear wars. Only by turning to a new belief system, in their case logic, did they save themselves.

Looking back at history, it’s apparent that society is always straddling between order and peace and war and chaos. The fact that we’re aware of our faults and are trying to fight them is a reason to hope for a better tomorrow.

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2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Four

In many ways, the idea of a total annihilation of our civilization due to war is the most terrifying doomsday scenario. Imagine the horror of the initial nuclear strikes that will destroy entire cities, wipe out millions if not billions of people in mere seconds and leave behind an unlivable radioactive wasteland. What probably makes this scenario so chilling is that the possibility of this happening is very real. Sure the Cold War ended but the threat of an all-out nuclear war still exists.

Doomsday Scenario No. 9: Nuclear Armageddon and Aftermaths

We all fear using nuclear weapons because of the effects of just two atomic bombs used in Japan at the end of World War II. The horrific sights and looming radiation made many realize how devastating these weapons were. Many have come to the conclusion that a full-scale nuclear war would destroy our civilization and way of life. But there are some who think that a nuclear war would be survivable and winnable, though what kind of life is there to live after that event? Is it worth surviving?

The Nuclear Dawn

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, countless books, films and TV shows have explored the post-apocalyptic world left after the nuclear mushrooms have dissipated. There have been somber, intellectual works and outrageous parodies that covered this concept. With the former early notable films include Five, The World, The Flesh And The Devil, and On The Beach. These early works naturally got many details incorrect. For instance, with The World, The Flesh And The Devil, our hero (played by Harry Belafonte) is the sole survivor of World War III (at least for the first half of the film) and winds up in an abandoned New York City where all the buildings are intact and there aren’t any bodies anywhere. The film tried to explain it away with a silly line about radioactive isotopes that dissipated after five days. Despite its scientific inaccuracies, the film was an interesting look at how a person would cope after surviving the apocalypse. At least in the movie Five the dangers of radiation are shown, the same with On The Beach. The latter was more of a character study about how we would face our untimely end (the film and book took place in Australia where an American submarine crew took refuge from the fallout of World War III but radioactive winds will soon reach the continent, dooming everyone living there), while Five showed how we can try to carry on emotionally after a traumatic event. The TV series The Twilight Zone had several episodes dedicated to nuclear war, some of the better known ones included “Time Enough At Last ,” “Two,” “The Shelter,” and “The Old Man In The Cave.”

The Day After Wars

As we studied more the concept of nuclear war and film/TV effects budgets increased more graphic and accurate depictions came about. Probably the most famous one is the TV film The Day After. It started off with the typical daily routines among Kansas City residents then midway through it, the world was jarringly torn asunder as the city was reduced to rubble with corpses everywhere,  people succumbing to radiation and civilization collapsing.

The Day After was one of many emotionally draining presentations. Some of the best ones were Threads (a British film that also graphically depicted World War III and the end of humanity), When The Wind Blows (an animated piece about an old couple eventually dying from radiation following nuclear war) and Testament. Taking place in a small suburb outside of San Francisco, in Testament, its residents aren’t hit with any nukes but are affected by the radiation and being cut off from the outside world. It’s particularly gut wrenching to watch the main character-played by Jane Alexander-tenderly nurture her dying children.

Opposite The Day After and Testament, there some ludicrous presentations. They include Invasion U.S.A. This Is Not A Test and Panic In Year Zero. Wildly inaccurate and poorly executed these films from the ’50s and ’60s couldn’t convey what would really happen if the unthinkable happened. Two more recent efforts include a “comedy” that aired on Fox called Whoops! about nuclear war survivors and Jericho which aired on CBS. So much of what happens in the show is unbelievable. Here are a couple of examples: townspeople put out an open-air picnic after a radioactive rainfall (!); a spoiled rich girl throws a party because her parents are out of town and won’t give up her generator to the police-who stand idly by as she parties! In reality, the authorities would’ve taken the generator by gunpoint.

Aftermath

Then there are the films, books and stories that take place either shortly or long after a nuclear war. Too numerous to name here, these are just a sampling of books: The World Set Free by H.G. Wells (written in 1914, it correctly predicted the use of atomic weapons during war), Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank,  A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., The Long, Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker, The Last Ship by William Brinkley, The Postman (also made into a film starring Kevin Costner) by David Brin, Swan Song by Robert McCammon, Warday and Resurrection Day. With Warday, Whitley Strieber writes about a United States that has been crippled economically and spiritually by a “limited” nuclear exchange with the Soviets. Partly a travelogue, the main character goes around America that is struggling to recover years after a war. The same thing happens with Resurrection Day by Brendon DuBois, the twist is that it’s an alternate history novel that follows the U.S. a decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis led to war.

For movies as with books there are too many to list. They include Damnation Alley (based on a Roger Zelazny book and is complete with giant killer roaches!), Def-Con 4, the Mad Max films, Radioactive Dreams, the 1960 film version of The Time Machine (it featured London destroyed by atomic bombs) and Peace On Earth-an MGM animated short release in 1939 featuring a world devoid of humans, who killed themselves off in a final war.

At The Precipice

Everyone knows about how close we came to war with the Cuban Missile Crisis and are now finding out about accidental close calls and near wars that happened before and since that crisis. As recently as 1995, Russia mistakenly believed a rocket launch by the U.S. was the beginning of a pre-emptive strike and almost retaliated. In 2001, India and Pakistan nearly went to war with each other and were prepared to use their nuclear stockpiles against each other.

Today we lose sleep over rogue nations like Iran developing nuclear bombs. It seems as if we are at the dawn of a new arms race where everyone seems to want to have their own nuclear stockpiles. Then of course there is the specter of terrorist groups and nut jobs getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. One thing that prevented all-out war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was the concept of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) which kept generals and leaders from losing their cool and automatically launching missiles for any reason. It’s unlikely many of these nations and terrorists will hesitate to use a nuclear weapon.

 

What is disturbing about this scenario isn’t the possibility of it happening but that it’s something that can be prevented. Some point out that nuclear weapons have to date kept the world out of full-scale wars like the First and Second World Wars. In a way they are right, the devastating nature of these weapons reminded world leaders not to brazenly use them…to date. But the reality is that the genie is out of the bottle. Trying to wish away nuclear weapons and reduce stockpiles may be a pipe dream. The capacity for war will exist within us for a very long time and so is the will to develop deadlier weapons. Perhaps one day, when humanity has matured past the point of war will it be feasible to put aside this nightmare.

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Three

This premise may sound silly, and what doesn’t help are the ludicrous scientific explanations given in many films and shows. It’s probably why it’s not something that comes to mind when dealing with doomsday. But it’s now spring so let’s think about nature.  At one time, particularly during the 1950s and 1970s the concept of humanity’s comeuppance via nature wasn’t considered far-fetched by many. Usually the film would have protagonists encountering freaks of nature that threaten humanity if allowed to run rampant. Sometimes the creatures practically destroyed major cities. Tokyo and New York were preferred targets. Often, the culprits behind the mutations were byproducts of pollution or radiation. Godzilla comes to mind, actually he’s a prime example of…(drum roll please, add in an ominous voice)

Doomsday Scenario No. 10: When Nature Strikes Back

Sounds like the title for a Syfy Saturday night movie, doesn’t it? No surprise since the channel is now infamous for airing schlocky grade z sci-fi/horror films about mutated animals. There isn’t any need to list any of them here, just tune in to the channel say every third or so Saturday night to find one.

The heyday for nature striking back took place in two different eras; the 1950s when everyone lived in fear of nuclear weapons (we still do but for different reasons and it isn’t nature we fear but madmen determined to get WMDs) and the 1970s when pollution was the pc catchphrase for the decade.

Atomic Giants

In the 1950s people worried about the long-lasting effects of nuclear radiation. Many films reflected this fear with stories about nuclear bombs unleashing gigantic monsters that were either prehistoric or animals that were mutated into mammoth proportions. Filmmakers ran the gamut with the kinds of ordinary animals that were deadly when grown larger. Probably the best film dealing with giant animals was Them! It was about ants gigantically mutated by atomic tests that emerge out of New Mexico and wind up in the sewers of Los Angeles. Other films include The Deadly Mantis, Tarantula, and The Giant Behemoth. Quickly these films gained poor reputations as inferior filmmakers churned out low-grade movies to capitalize on the craze. These kinds of films tapered off years later but do pop up from time to time. Only the cause for the gigantism isn’t because of radiation but pollution or other reasons. They usually ranged from the ridiculous Night Of The Lepus  (which was about giant killer rabbits…seriously) and Empire Of The Ants to somber and violent films like Prophecy  (featuring a giant mutated bear) and Mimic (mutated, man-eating hybrid insects) to more tongue-in-check efforts like Eight-Legged Freaks.

As shown with Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, atomic bombs woke up prehistoric behemoths slumbering for millions of years. But Godzilla wasn’t the first such creature unleashed to threaten humankind. The original nuclear dinosaur was the fictional rhedosaurus from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. But it was Godzilla that jumpstarted the giant monster craze from Japan that brought forth kaiju films that starred popular monsters like Gamera, Mothra, Rhodan and so on. They are still popular even though Toho, the company that produces the Godzilla films, stopped making them. There are plans to make another American version of Godzilla, but let’s hope they get it right the next time.

Things quieted down in the 1960s as fears about atomic mutants gave way to civil strife and cultural angst. Still, there are a couple of films in the time period that addressed the theme of nature fighting back. The best one was Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. For no explanation ordinary birds start attacking people en masse. Many of the scenes were quite chilling and show how helpless people can be against nature. It’s too bad the film studio didn’t let Hitchcock keep his original ending where flocks of birds have taken over San Francisco and presumably the world.

Another film is the original Planet Of The Apes. It doesn’t have an overt man vs. nature theme but it’s there and runs throughout the other films in the series including the recent Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Simians in the latter film were experimented on and they escaped to wreck vengeance on their human foes. Throughout the series, it’s stated that civilization falls when apes gain the upper hand against humans.

Pollutant Spawns

In the 1970s the big fear was man-made pollution and its effect on the environment. Godzilla even got into the act with Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster where he faced off against a giant mutated slug that oozed deadly pollution. The premise in these nature-run-amok films is that humanity was being punished and the sentence was extinction. Of course, it rarely got that far but many of the offerings were interesting. Take this obscure film The Day Of The Animals. In this one, the ozone layer is depleted and increased ultraviolet radiation somehow brings upon animals, living in an altitude above 5,000 a rabies-like illness that makes them violent. Or how about this nugget of a film, Frogs, where animals sharing an island with a cantankerous landowner have had it with the constant pollution and take out the guests at the landowner’s birthday celebration. It was goofy yet creepy at times. Other films from this era include Squirm (killer worms), Kingdom Of The Spiders (William Shatner vs. you guessed it killer spiders), Ben (about swarming rats and yes Michael Jackson sang the title song), and Phase IV. The latter is about ants that evolve a hive mind and begin a successful dominion of the Earth.

These types of films aren’t as numerous as before probably because it is hard to pick out genuinely good films from so many awful ones that get more attention. Look at 2008’s The Happening which is about killer plants that cause people to kill themselves. It was so bad that the film’s star  Mark Wahlberg later publicly ragged about it. But they’re still being made because while most people realize that radiation and pollution won’t create monsters overnight there is still the fear that we are upsetting nature’s delicate balance and one day we will truly pay the price.