Cooler than this?

In the days just before I turned eighteen, many people were wondering if my birthday would mark the end of humanity as we know it, and I don’t mean because of an epic birthday rager thrown by me.

You see, I turned eighteen on December 21st, 2012. This was the day the folks in ancient Maya marked on their Long Count calendar as the end of…well…something. As you can imagine, a lot gets lost in translation over a few millennia, so there was a lot of speculation surrounding what would actually end on that day. Naturally, the human race decided to get melodramatic somewhere down the line and assume it was civilization.

It will be no surprise to you as you sit reading this blog post that when December 21st, 2012 rolled around it was business as usual. I remember it being a pretty low-key birthday. I might have gone to IHOP? That sounds like something teenage me would have done with his friends. Wild times, I know. Other than that, I really can’t remember what happened that day.

What I do remember, however, is that I was a little disappointed that the catastrophe promised by our Mayan friends didn’t happen. I can already see some of you scratching your heads and saying, “But Sully, why would you be disappointed that you didn’t live to see some sort of apocalyptic event?” I think the answer is pretty obvious: it would have been EPIC.

Think about it. The catastrophic, earth-shattering event in any story is always one of the coolest parts. We didn’t want to see Harry Potter and Voldemort calmly discuss their differences and reach a compromise. We wanted to see everything go crazy with spells and explosions before the backdrop of a burning castle. When the Battle of Hogwarts came after seven books of build-up, we were so ready. People don’t go see movies like Independence Day because they’re feel-good flicks. They go because they want to fear for humanity while extra-terrestrial horrors run amok and wreak havoc. Say what you want about the last season of Game of Thrones, but don’t tell me that the Battle of Winterfell (complete with a literal zombie apocalypse) didn’t have you on your toes.

“Look, sister. Isn’t this cool. There is no way this plan will go badly.”

With these epic cinematic scenarios running through my head, I was certain that my eighteenth birthday would be a spectacle the likes of which none of us had ever seen. Cracks would open up in the ground and swallow cars (empty ones because my imagination isn’t a monster). Skyscrapers would teeter and fall, scattering debris like confetti. Fires would rage through town, burning the buildings none of us would miss such as the DMV, the J.C. Penny outlet store, and the K-Mart that had been closed for three years.

Of course it was no coincidence that all this exciting tumult would happen on the anniversary of my birth. In my fantasy, the alignment of my birthday with the Mayans’ doomsday meant beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was the chosen one destined to save the world from certain annihilation. I never actually imagined how I would do that, but rest assured it would happen.

My boring, natural disaster-free eighteenth birthday taught me two things:

  1. Because of the movies, we expect our disasters to go big or go home. The showier it looks, the more legit it is.
  2. Just like the characters on the big screen, we look for heroes; the chosen ones who prevent the most formidable disasters.

Our society’s cinematic way of viewing life means we look so hard for showy natural disasters that we don’t recognize a real earth-shattering catastrophe right under our noses. *longish dramatic pause* I’m talking, of course, about climate change.

It’s easy for people to ignore humanity’s current catastrophe because they don’t see explosions, carnage, or giant lizards stomping down city streets. A subtle natural disaster was off the syllabus.

Many of those who preach the very real effects of climate change, however, are scientists. And y’all, I kind of think we should listen to them if for no other reason than that they have science degrees. It’s right in their ballpark. If the future of life on this planet hinged on interior decor and dinner parties, I hope we’d be listening to Martha Stewart’s take on the subject. If humanity’s long term well-being involved singing high notes and being charming and warm, I’m sure we’d all rush to Julie Andrews’s house to see what needed to be done. As it so happens, the future of the world rests on our knowledge of environmental science, so my money is on the scientists.

I joke, but wouldn’t it be wonderful? “Follow me, good people of earth. As I’ve always said, a spoonful of sugar helps the apocalypse go down.”

And you guys, I get it. We’ve seen enough movies to know that the end of the earth as we know it should be cooler than this, right?

Epic movie disasters are cool. There’s no getting around it. But you know what else is cool? Venice. Venice is awesome. I have been there, fed the pigeons, and run from them when they wanted more food. It was a great time and I am a huge fan of Venice. Unfortunately, Venice recently experienced its worst flood since 1966, and experts are saying it was a result of climate change. I like gelato, pigeons (the non-scary kind), and happy-go-lucky gondoliers enough that the thought of Venice sinking into the sea never to be seen again makes me a little sad.

I don’t know who you are, public domain pigeon girl, but I applaud your courage.

You know what’s almost as cool as Venice? Fishermen. Don’t tell me you don’t see it. For one thing, their sweaters are awesome. One of my favorite articles of clothing is an enormous wool fisherman’s sweater given to me by a dear friend upon his return from a study abroad in Ireland. It’s like wearing a Brillo Pad, but it is the warmest and most comforting garment I own. Sadly though, it’s not looking too good for fishermen at the moment.

The village of Tombwa, Angola, for instance, is coming to terms with the disappearance of multiple species of fish from its waters, including anchovies. Anchovies, you guys! The best pizza topping (if you are one of those people who puts pineapple on your pizza, kindly stop reading here and leave this page. I cannot deal with that kind of toxicity)! The temperatures of Tombwa’s waters have risen more than three degrees Farenheit in the last forty years. That’s a lot, my friends. The little fishies couldn’t help but move camp. The worst part of this whole story is that the country of Angola is only responsible for .1 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions every year. Come on, y’all! Angola is doing a lot of the work on this project, but because of the rest of us, they’re going to get an F.

Here’s the deal. I am not Venetian. Nor am I a fisherman. I’m not a penguin or a polar bear or a seal (though I sometimes waddle and I have my fair share of blubber). But I do have a home that I love and a job that provides income for food, shelter, and healthcare. I can’t imagine the grief I’d feel if I were faced with the possibility that my hometown was sinking into the ocean. I don’t want to think about how I’d make ends meet without the security of knowing that I could do my job.

There’s no getting around the fact that, in a society where so much of our worldview is dictated by movies and television, disaster is a least a little bit cool. It’s epic and cinematic and spectacular.

But heroes are cooler.

Here and now is our chance to be heroic. We are the chosen ones. Our adversary is formidable to say the least. We are the underdogs in this movie and it’s going to take a lot for us to stand even a small chance of coming out on top. But this earth is my home. And yours. And the Venetians’ and the Angolans’ and the Mayans’. And it’s worth a shot.

If you aren’t sure where to start in the fight against climate change, I hope these links will get you going in the right direction:

Works cited (because if any of my teachers read this blog, I want them to be proud of me. And yes, I know this is not MLA or Chicago):

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