In a guest post Tony Veitch [not etc.] imagines his last few days as the world dies …
You know, now that I’ve finally decided to write something, I don’t quite know how to begin.
Well, that’s not technically correct, both because writing is a purely mechanical process, and because I have already begun. A number of years ago I bought a metal container for another purpose; screw on ends, about thirty centimetres long. It will accept quite a few rolled up pages, I expect.
Ha! Not that I think, these final words, will be long and I’ll try hard to make them not tedious. Not that I expect them ever to be read. But then, who knows?
So, here goes. A little about myself, by way of introduction. I’m nearly eighty-five years old, so you can do the maths and figure out when I was born. Yes, during the Second World War, so that makes me one of the so-called ‘baby boomers;’ the generation that screwed the world. Well, the generation that gets the blame anyway.
At eighty-five, I’ve lived a long life and, I must admit, a pretty satisfying one. I’ve nothing, nothing to complain about, compared to some poor people who lived in more disturbed areas. Oh, like all people who live as long as I have, I’ve had my share of personal tragedy; my wife of forty-three years died in the last great epidemic that swept this country a couple of years ago. And I’ve lost touch with two of our three children, both of whom live overseas. Or lived.
So what I really want to do is just put down on paper for no-one to read (!) the events of the last few years, as I remember them. I may be a bit hazy over some of the sequences and even some of the dates, put that down to old age and the onset of dementia perhaps, though I have some excuse for events have moved fast and . . . yes, furiously.
I think that’s the most disturbing thing; the speed with which the world has succumbed to accelerated climate change.
I mean, let’s go back a dozen years or so, to say 2015. It wasn’t at all uncommon to find people, businessmen, politicians, denying that climate change was even real. One American president called it ‘fake news’ as I recall, and they don’t come any more powerful or influential than an American president. Goodness, he’d be about my age if he’s still alive, which I doubt, all contact with North America was lost over six months ago.
I remember, about the same time, a big United Nations conference saying quite explicitly we had between three and twelve years to fix the problem and, here we are, barely ten years later, over-whelmed by a problem which was still considered fixable.
We still had politicians, ten years ago, talking of making this country carbon neutral by twenty-fifty. And I can recall an election promise to make New Zealand rodent free by the same date. Well, that election pledge is likely to be achieved, though not perhaps in a way the politicians intended.
So, what went so seriously wrong? How could climate change get so out of control that more than ninety-nine per cent of humanity has already perished and the remaining one per cent is just waiting, like me, to die?
Well, I’m just an ordinary person with moderate intelligence and a smattering of learning. Which is to say, I really don’t understand how it all got so out of control.
But I do remember, ten years or so ago, climate scientists warning of tipping points. By this, if I understood correctly, they meant that when one thing happened, another thing was going to happen because the first thing made the second inevitable.
For example, when 400 ppm of CO2 was breached, it followed that the sea ice in the Arctic would also shrink, say by a third. This in turn would affect . . . and so on. All very complicated and scientific. I like to think of it as the snowball metaphor. Small at the top of the hill, it gathers momentum as it moves downwards; begins as just a handful and ends the size of a house and quite destructive.
And that, I gather, is what happened to the climate. Change begat more change, which triggered even bigger changes, which set in motion larger variations and so on.
So, what did happen?
Well, for some time in the mid 2010s there were indications of erratic weather behaviour. Things like the hottest January since records began, the heaviest rainfall in a twenty-four hour period, the most lightening strikes in an hour, that sort of thing. Nothing to be alarmed about, and only incidentally coupled to climate change. At least, not at first.
Another thing I remember is the beginning of the migrations. Nothing, of course, to the vast hordes who were on the move five years or so ago, but seemingly big numbers at the time.
I did read somewhere that even these early movements were caused by climate change; crop failures which drove farmers into cities seeking sustenance and the subsequent breakdown of society caused by the strains of mass unemployment.
These migrations, which seemed to be a flood when they were happening, soon became a deluge in, I think, 2019 or 2020. Widespread drought causing poor harvests across the Middle East and Africa north of the Sahara, and even down into tropical Africa; similar poor crop yields in India and Central America and north of the Amazon basin, drove about one billion people to move. Other factors came into play too, which I’ll mention later, if I remember.
So, during the northern summer of either 2019 or 2020, millions of people were displaced. Europe and North America were the favoured destinations; the Tibetan plateau effectively isolating the Indian sub-continent. Countless millions (and I mean that literally) died of starvation and other factors in India. As many in attempting to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean; hundreds of thousands came to grief on the Mexican border with the United States where, from an American point of view, President Trump’s much maligned wall stemmed the flood for a while.
Of course, the migration (and many many succeeded in getting in) of so many people to Europe in particular, simply overwhelmed the civil authorities in those countries bordering the Mediterranean and further north. Drastic measures, often vigilante in nature, were enacted and practised to block the flow and for a while, in 2021 if I recall correctly, complete chaos prevailed in most of the nations of southern and central Europe. Even the United Kingdom took to sinking (unofficially) refugee vessels in the English Channel!
Such the scale of the problem.
But two other factors, both climate related, impacted on the people of the tropics. The first a phenomenon known as ‘wet bulb’ temperature. As I understand it, this occurs when the body can’t sweat enough to cool itself and simply overheats. If (or when) this happens, people die.
During 2020 and subsequent years much of the tropical area of the Earth experienced ‘wet bulb’ temperatures during the hottest months (which is to say, most of the year). Simply put, to stay was to die.
Another factor was the frequency and strength of hurricanes (or cyclones or typhoons. And tornados on the American mainland). The extreme storm season lasted longer and with such severity that category 5 was succeeded by category 6 and even category 7 was proposed before contact was lost. Many of the islands of the Caribbean, for instance, were so battered by storms they had to be abandoned.
So millions and millions began to move away from these hot areas in search of somewhere to live.
Yet another consequence of climate change had a further impact on these migrations. Areas north and south of the tropics entered a long period of sustained drought. These had been occurring for several years before the worst effect happened. Large areas of the Sudan and Mali and a host of other countries which have now disappeared, the great wheat growing fields of eastern Europe and Canada all experienced a couple of seasons with almost no rain.
By 2020, I think, or maybe 2021, famine stalked the Earth like a grim reaper!
By 2021 too, civil disorder was creating chaos in much of Europe and North America. Millions of migrants died, denied the most basic of necessities like food and shelter by local people already under great food stress.
At the same time, the world entered one of its cyclical times of economic decline. Stock markets withered for months, investment dwindled and unemployment rose dramatically. At a time when buoyant world economies might, just might have coped with food shortages and a huge influx a migrants, most of the world’s economies were stagnant at best, or in full retreat in some cases, notably China.
In subsequent years, 2025 I think it was, communication with the northern hemisphere became, well, let’s just say curtained. Most airlines, for instance, flying from New Zealand to Europe, touched down in Singapore or the Gulf States. But both these areas became early casualties of both outward migration and local over-heated (wet bulb) conditions. Incidentally, parts of Europe also suffered from extremely high temperatures, causing many heat-related deaths. Fewer people, tourists, chose to travel to Europe during periods of riot and revolution. Until this country closed its borders in early 2025, aeroplanes flew nearly empty to Europe and North America, and returned full.
I think by early 2024 even the most obtuse politician in New Zealand and world-wide realised the situation had become dire. Frantic scrambles were enacted to correct the previous neglect, but what could be done?
Then entered another horseman of the apocalypse: disease. Whether migrants carried disease with them, or the diseases themselves migrated from the tropics on the backs of insects, or even something mythical like Mother Nature or God made an effort at the last minute to avert the tragedy, pandemics swept the northern hemisphere and eventually the southern as well. Rather like the ‘Spanish flu’ which killed about as many, I believe, as conflict during World War I, so a type of flu called ‘Asian’ reached New Zealand in late 2023 with horrifying mortality. My beloved wife died but I, for some reason, though afflicted, survived. To my shame, she was buried in a mass grave in one of the public parks here in Christchurch. As many as sixty or seventy per cent of those who contracted the disease, died, a truly terrifying rate. And other diseases ran riot too, exploiting the famine weakened bodies, though none of the virulent tropical ones took hold in this country, except for some outbreaks of dengue fever in the far north.
So, by the end of 2025, behold our little country. It’s migration swollen population reduced, I recall, to less than one million; it’s borders closed; all international trade suspended, watching fearfully, though with already disrupted communications, what was unfolding to the north.
As many as six billion people may have perished from one cause or another by the beginning of 2027. That figure I made up, based on the mortality rate for New Zealand and adding a few hundred millions. There is simply no way of knowing the true death number.
But, and here I am into more supposition, because there is no evidence one way or the other, there would be no reason why one billion people couldn’t have resurrected some sort of new civilization on the ruins of the old. Something else happened; another trigger point was reached and surpassed. That conclusion doesn’t take any amount of genius; a cloud of methane is creeping steadily southwards, extinguishing all like in its path.
Scientists warned us of the vast amount of methane locked in the permafrost of Northern Canada and Siberia. One can only speculate that at some point the temperature got so warm that this methane began to be released, and in increasing volumes.
All of the above begs the question: could mankind have avoided this, the ultimate tragedy?
The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. Oh, I’m sure something could have been achieved way back in the 1970s when the oil companies suspected, or knew, their product was warming the planet. Maybe even in 1988 when some chap called Hansen, if my memory serves me well, warned the US Congress of the consequences of temperature rise. By 2000, or 2010 it was all probably too late. But if we, mankind, had collectively given up all fossil fuelled vehicles world wide around those dates, perhaps. But, as we all know, there never was a possibility of that happening.
So this end, this senseless self-immolation by the human species was always probably inevitable. The other thing is the speed with which our climate went to pieces. Even as late as 2020 myopic politicians were talking of economic growth and of targets in the 2030s and 2050s. None had the foresight to see that it was all going to end in custard; how could any politician ‘sell’ that message at election time? To be fair, not many people were preaching impending doom, not until a couple of years later, in 2022 when the alarm bells were ringing insistently, when the flow of over-stayers into this country precipitated the crisis, a couple of years later, which led, far too late, to the closing of our borders. By then, the first of the pandemics had cut a broad swathe through the population.
The methane cloud is being inexorably driven southwards by the general rotation of the Earth, literally extinguishing life as it rolls over communities. How much longer have I, we, in Christchurch got? Should I move to Invercargill or even Stewart Island, as many have done, putting off the inevitable?
No, at eighty-five I’ve got so few years left anyway, any effort to extend my time by a few days or weeks seems pointless. I feel no sadness for myself; I feel real sorrow for the children and young people. They had no part in the creation of this mess, yet they will suffer consequences out of all proportion to their ‘crime.’
As for myself, I have a bottle of brandy which I’ve horded for just this occasion, and two full bottles of sleeping pills. Unlike Dylan Thomas famously enjoined us not to do, I do intend to go ‘gently into the night.’ Incidentally, I’m amazed so few people chose suicide; probably events moved too fast for them to make the decision to kill themselves. Or maybe there were many more than have been recorded in the chaos of these last eighteen months?
But first, before the gas cloud finally rolls over this city, and I can still breathe outside, I’ll seal this, my last futile gesture, into the stainless steel cylinder and bury it in the garden.
Then I’ll retire to my book collection and re-read some of my favourite works of fiction. I’ll probably grieve a little for the world which has been lost, and calmly wait for the end. It can only be a matter of days.