The Context of Collapse

Back in the 1970s, Carl Sagan popularized the ‘Cosmic Calendar’ method for showing the history of the universe by condensing the fourteen billion years this universe has existed for until now into one year. The clock starts ticking on the first day of January. Sometime in September our solar system is formed around one star, one out of one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. In December life begins to evolve on this ‘speck of dust’ planet. On the last day at about 8pm various species of humans evolve, and for a moment three of those human species co-exist. By the last second (about four seconds after the first Christmas ironically), 99.9% of all the species that have ever existed have gone extinct.

When it comes to size and space, this becomes virtually inconceivable. Those one billion trillion stars take up a massive amount of space, but only about 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of space! We are not ‘centre stage’ either, as Galileo ‘the heretic’ demonstrated with his telescope.

Things come into existence and things disappear. Stars are ‘born’, and stars ‘die’ (one every second). Our little sun has about 7 – 8 billion years to go. But billions of years before then it will start growing and incinerate this planet. But we’re not going to die because of that… oh no… on the current trajectory of biosphere collapse and climate change (human caused and un-natural), all life on this planet will have vanished by the end of this century, possibly in my lifetime, or in that of my children’s. My grandchildren will not die of old age. My great-grandchildren will never exist.

If you disagree with this story, or you are offended by it, it is most likely because of one or both of the following:

  1. Ignorance of science and history, or you have a large amount of cognitive dissonance towards it.
  2. You believe an entirely different narrative of the beginning, what has been going on, and the ‘hereafter’ ad nauseum. In a word, religion.

But for a moment consider some facts about the present state of the planet and life on it.

  1. It is warming, and faster than at any other time in history. We are ‘cooking to death’.
  2. The habitat that all species depend upon for survival is disappearing at a rate faster than at any other time in history (including previous mass extinction events, with perhaps the exception of one). This is mostly due to the first point, and the next.
  3. The human population has in the last half-century increased beyond what is sustainable on this planet with its finite resources. We consume more and trash more, despite ‘green’ sustainability initiatives. Our biggest problem is ourselves. This is a ‘super-wicked’ problem.
  4. Recovery or restoration is no longer possible. The point-of-no-return, the tipping-point, has been passed and the ‘plunge over the precipice’ accelerates.

Doom and gloom? Yes and no.  It was always going to be this way on the third rock from the sun. But we never thought, until recently, how soon and inconvenient it could be.  

  1. It is natural. This coming into existence and going out of existence, like the cycle of seasons, has happened before and will surely happen again. Cosmologists say that it is true of the universe itself… expanding, cooling, ‘dying’, then collapsing and starting all over again. That is the ‘hereafter’. Enjoy the ride.
  2. We’re also doomed because of un-natural tampering with nature. Despite being called ‘homo sapiens’ humans are selfish,  foolish, incompetent, even malevolent.  If there is a ‘supernatural’ being who is also responsible for this in any way, as many believe, they must be even more so.

Acknowledging this relieves me of the delusions of hope and immortality. There is life and death, light and darkness. Both ‘opposites’ are always present and necessary to each other which is why I am a naturalist, a realist, a Taoist… and loving it, or at least what remains of ‘it’.

 ‘The Cosmic Calendar’ is from

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