The Absurd Apocalypse

Reflections on a strange world.

The literal apocalypse that is the climate crisis appears to have been relegated far down everyone’s list of priorities in light of the pandemic. Whilst we’re all holed up indoors, the crushing weight of ecological collapse has been understandably replaced with far more tangible threats. Like many others I’m sure, I found myself totally subject to circumstances far beyond my control. A strange feeling for those of us privileged enough to navigate the world with current events rarely causing inconvenience or grief to our once busy routines. For the first time, headlines had a deeply visceral and for some, devastating impact on our day-to-day proceedings.

So, I’m almost certain that those of us inclined to harbour deep anxiety about the future haven’t really been envisioning a climate catastrophe, my apocalyptic daydreams have become that of a hypochondriac’s. But amidst all the virus-related doom and gloom, reminders of humanity’s war with our planet came in strange, varied forms. Coming together in some kind of absurd kaleidoscope, it urged me to remember the severity of the crisis that looms amidst all the chaos of 2021.

For the first time, even the most privileged are finding themselves constrained by circumstance.

The first was when I picked up Dune by Frank Herbert. The first page reads: “To the people whose labours go beyond ideas into the realm of ‘real materials’ – to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration”.[1] I was fascinated by such palpable reverence for a pretty specific profession prefacing a sci-novel, written in 1965! It seems like an alarmingly relevant bad omen read in retrospect. The setting is a feudal intergalactic civilisation. The plot is centred around one vicious planet, covered in deserts and completely inhospitable to human beings. Descriptions of their hostile surroundings are plentiful, and the complex politics of their world are continuously driven by the conditions of the planet. At a time where the geo-political arena is increasingly impacted by climate change, Herbert’s “effort at prediction” seems to be thus far, pretty successful.

Another one came on one of my regrettably frequent TikTok binges. Two men in hazmat suits, doing one of the famed dances, accompanied with text that read a startling fact: Man-made materials now outweigh Earth’s total biomass. Sick. Such haunting information contrasted with the playful disposition of video only enhanced the growing feelings of absurdity that had begun to plague me; Tiktok can be pretty bad for existential angst. I sit in the comfort of my living room, sheltered from the miserable weather and the raging pandemic, and let a bearded man in his mid 30s take me on his adventures to the beautiful mountains of rural Canada. Then, a woman with a suspiciously calming voice gives me a gentle reminder to drain my lymph nodes, she says I’ll sleep like a baby. Next, teen girls in London are taking me to a secret, idyllic picnic spot, only 30mins away on the Tube! And just when I think I’ve had enough, a man in Norfolk with his 40 excitable bloodhounds shows up. He tells me why they have such long ears.

The overstimulating nature of the app lends itself to a pretty chaotic virtual experience, but a very inviting escape from reality. The many POVs, the often highly produced but seemingly raw content, the attractive backdrops, all make a Tiktok binge the ultimate form of virtual escapism. I sit and scroll, letting strangers take me elsewhere. Then, one slightly intoxicated trial of VR left me postulating the possibilities for days. Why would I wilfully subject myself to the outdoors, which resembles a Baltic tundra, when I could just slip on a pair of goggles, and be instantly transported to a place with kinder elements?

As a remedy for my existential crisis fuelled cabin fever, I seek refuge in my daily outdoor excursions.

These absurd interactions with the reality of climate change, coupled with being overstimulated by virtual content, and having a far from normal Christmas itinerary away from home plagued my surroundings with a deep, heavy strangeness. I couldn’t help but panic over how unfamiliar my world had become. As a remedy for my existential crisis fuelled cabin fever, I seek refuge in my daily outdoor excursions. In the bare, skeletal trees on Lade Braes. In the pounding, uninviting waves on East Sands. The sublime intimidation of Earthly delights, that to us, appear as salvation from the manmade farce that is our lived reality in 2021. I go outside to escape the chaos that unfurls as soon as I read the news.

But the beauty of the outdoors, we must remember, is superficial. A projection of serenity imposed on landscapes that are in actuality, suffering. Look closer, and you see the murkiness of the waters, that is at a glance, hidden by the force of the swell. The glaring evidence of an overwhelmed sewage system. Beyond visual cues, the increasingly turbulent weather that’s characterised the last few months, that will only continue, should be recognised as only the beginning of climate change’s very real consequences.

When our busy lives resume, don’t be coaxed into indifference once more. Let your rage be productive, let it let you dream of kinder realities.

I sense a growing desire amongst people my age to retreat into simpler existences, a newfound appreciation for ‘the little things’ in life. The volatile world we live in on the cusp of adulthood seems impossible to navigate. For the first time, even the most privileged are finding themselves constrained by circumstance. Any semblance of agency seems to have been dissolved by external conditions. A world in decline, on almost all levels, has understandably killed ambition. In this sense, the growing desire to abandon modernity and live in a cottagecore fantasy seems justified. But we have to remember that treating nature as a place of solace is an increasingly unrealistic ideal, given the climate apocalypse that continues to manifest in more tangible forms each year. In the UK and like many elsewhere, we have been failed by a government that refused to act until it was too late. The consequences have been far reaching and will be felt for many years to come. If the same attitude of lethargy continues regarding the plight of our planet, we will find ourselves suddenly plunged into chaos, as we all did in the spring of 2020. But this time, there may not be an end in sight.  

I, like many others I’m sure, have adopted a disposition of total apathy about the circumstances I find myself in, as a coping mechanism for craving realities other than my own.  You can’t be disappointed if you seek joy in things that are totally under your control, like your daily cup of Earl Grey. Or your freshly baked sourdough. Or your ritualistic sunset walks.  But such pleasures are temporary and must be diagnosed as a refusal to acknowledge a reality of adversity. I don’t shame such simplistic existences; finding happiness in such dire circumstances is a complete necessity amidst another lockdown. But I urge you to let the absurd times we find ourselves victim to fuel your anger. Fuel your desire for change. Fuel the unrelenting thirst for a different world. When our busy lives resume, don’t be coaxed into indifference once more. Let your rage be productive, let it let you dream of kinder realities.

[1] Herbert, F. (2005). Dune (50th anniversary ed.). Hodder & Staughton.

Art by Alex Rive

%d bloggers like this: