One persistent theme I see on social media from people of my age range is the idea that the world won’t exist in the next 10-20 years. This is actually a standard trope of left-wing thinking and joke material. The logic seems to be that the environment has gotten so bad, political strife has gotten so turbulent, and white supremacy is so rampant, that there’s simply no way society as we know it will exist by 2050 or so.
To some extent, they are right. Society will not exist the same way in 2050 as it will in 2021. The same way society in 2021 does not exist the same way it did in 1981, the same way society in 1981 did not exist the same way as 1951, or 1951 to 1921.
The environment is seen as the bleakest threat, and let’s not sugar coat it, it’s bleak. Mass population clusters and major cities will cease to exist. The economy as we know it is not equipped to handle this level of economic disaster. Los Angeles is likely to see thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands displaced due to an earthquake within the next 20-30 years. New Orleans could be completely underwater within the next 50 years.
As bleak as the environment and political strife is, no scientists are, at the moment, arguing that human beings will be extinct within the next 50 years. Even today, as the UN warned of catastrophic climate change by the end of the century, extinction was not discussed as a possibility. We absolutely need immediate and mass action on global warming, which we likely will not get. Even if the U.S. was to change its policies drastically, China will be an even bigger problem. But even the worst case scenario will not be the end of humanity.
Apocalyptic thinking is not new to my generation. The prospect of nuclear apocalypse, which is still a non-zero possibility, led people to believe that extinction was inevitable in the 50s and 60s. In the previous generations, fascism and Nazism were so prevalent that it was assumed the tides were already turned, and that it was too late. We have mounds of art, journalism, and academic research that argued as such. If you think if the mass deaths associated with a major city being destroyed are the end of humanity, consider Konigsburg, Dresden, and Tokyo. They were devastating losses of life and the cities were completely demolished. But humanity continued.
What I hate about doomsday thinking is that it leads to apathy, self-destructive behavior, and mental health issues. People are legitimately arguing that people under the age of 40 shouldn’t save for retirement, because humanity is doomed. Combine that with the prospect of slashing social security, this could lead to a nightmare scenario caused by our own nihilism.
Doomsday thinking also is linked to conspiracy theory thinking, which can actually enable the white supremacist forces that many on the left are actively trying to curb. It can also lead those who are legitimately suffering from mental health issues to feel validated, as opposed to seeking care.
I encourage you to build an emergency preparedness bag with as many supplies as you think are necessary. I encourage you to fight for politicians to enact policies for radically curbing climate change, and make changes to your own life to both prepare for and help prevent a truly horrific series of events. We are already seeing the devastating effects of the choices of our species. It will only get more extreme in the coming years. But defaulting into “humanity is doomed” thinking is short-sighted, harmful to the very causes we worry about, and, scientifically, just plain wrong.