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What Are We Supposed to Do With Our Lives Now That the World Is Ending?

Young people are going to be the ones dealing with humanity's likely horrific future.

Clive Martin

Clive Martin

Collages by Marta Parszeniew

It's become commonplace to say that we "young people" have no future. We blame the financial crisis that's led to brutal unemployment rates; we blame an inefficient government that has no interest in helping us; we blame the Baby Boomers who have refused to bequeath their wealth to the generation beneath them; we blame the corporations that provide only part-time, insecure service-industry jobs. And we're right to.

These problems have set our generation back years and led us into a fruitless, childless existence that we can only escape with drinking games, Taco Bell breakfasts, gut-rotting drugs, and shitty cell-phone games. But what are we going to do when the shit really hits the fan?

Everyone’s been predicting the end of time since time began, obviously. God was going to kill us. Then the Devil was going to kill us. Then the nuclear bomb was going to kill us. And now asteroids, or the sea, or our own shitty behavior is going to kill us. Whatever happens, we know that one day it's all going to end in fire, and for the media this paranoia is a golden ticket, the ultimate paper-selling, SEO-friendly scare story. Most people have at least some passing interest in hearing how and when their species is going to end, which is why apocalyptic religious sects will never go out of fashion. It's grade-A clickbait with a highbrow twist, the Holy Grail of the modern media.

Unfortunately, when you pick up the New York Times or whatever, it’s not cartoonish doomsday prophets waving "THE END IS NIGH" placards—it’s serious-sounding scientists. This gives weight not only to individual scare stories about bird flu or acid rain but to the patchwork of terror as a whole, which suggests that—through a combination of gluttony, stupidity, and cruelty—we really have fucked up the planet beyond repair and the future is looking like a disaster film directed by Michael Bay.

The latest study I read, which was partially funded by NASA, "has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution." That's in the words of the Guardian, a respectable publication that, apparently, can't write "WE'RE FUCKED WE'RE FUCKED AHHHH!" In any case, the article is an interesting, and a somewhat sobering, reading.

The real question, however, is not the degree to which humanity is screwed but what we are supposed to do with this information. Is there anything we can do? Or should we just get the patio chairs out of the garage, put some Budweiser on ice, and wait for our neighbors to start barbecuing German shepherds? I mean, it’s one thing for old people to hear that their planet is fucked and that they'll spend their golden years drinking urine on a makeshift raft à la Kevin Costner, but it’s quite another thing for young people to hear that they have no future.

If you’re 20 now, what’s the point? What’s the point of babies, of careers, of not smoking, of building a family, of education, of anything that takes any effort whatsoever? Why should we spend our post-adolescent lives working toward material stability when that stability is going to begin crumbling in 15 years, no matter what we do? Why not just sit around doing whip-its and having unprotected sex with strangers we meet on Grindr and/or Tinder? Are we just living through Bowie’s “Five Years” but with shitter music?

It wouldn’t surprise me. I’m not sure we’re a generation that's particularly good at confronting reality in any case, and now it looks to me as though we’re the generation dealt the shittiest hand imaginable. The idea of global environmental catastrophe is so horrifyingly hard to grasp that the danger is we'll just be scared into a state of slightly worried stasis and basically continue doing everything we were doing before—i.e., ignoring anything beyond our weekend.

None of us has a clue what to do when faced with the kind of miserable predictions that are regularly coming out of the most respected research institutions in the world. It might be too late to stop the effects of global warming, not that we seem to have any desire to slow our demise; we're just too set in our ways. The solutions either seem impossible, or like too-little-too-late hippie tokenism. We curse our ancestors for fucking it up for us, but then remember that we were the generation that demanded to be driven to school, to have an increasing number of consoles and phones and bullshit gadgets. We didn't start the fire, but we didn't exactly try to put it out, either.

Thus we live in a world in which we are all to blame, and there's nothing we can do about it. News of the imminent apocalypse becomes just another thing happening to somebody else, another thing to be indifferent and apathetic about. What's the point in even acknowledging it? We've known the polar ice caps have been melting for years now, but how many of us have changed our lifestyles because of that? Let's just keep going as we are, and hopefully we won't care about dying when it finally hits us.

Of course, there's been a whole lot of false starts and scares when it comes to the end of the world, a lot of shaky science fiction and very little fact, but the sheer weight of problems we're facing makes you feel like we must be on the home stretch of the path toward destruction.

The problem is that ignorance is bliss when the truth means knowing that you and all of your friends are staring down the barrel of fate. If nothing can be done, then it seems better to just live our lives as we always have: networking, hobnobbing, chitchatting until the sun goes black and the birds start to fall out of the sky.

Apathy is surely the defining emotion of our times. Politically, culturally, everything-ly. So much so that we can't even seem to get worked up when NASA suggests we're merely decades from total social collapse, and just about every other scientific agency suggests it's our own geography that will get us first.

It's fine, though. Chill out. We've got Flappy Bird. We've got Drake and Rihanna. There's a Five Guys opening near us soon. We all die. There's nothing we can do about it, right?

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