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A Thousand Haiyans

At the Edge of the Apocalypse

by ELLIOT SPERBER
Though severely limited by the vast carnage Typhoon Haiyan spread throughout the region – destroying roads and reducing entire villages to fields of rubble – relief efforts are underway across the devastated islands of the Philippines. And as the Climate Change Conference (the COP 19) proceeds in Warsaw, Poland – and as the representative from the Philippines, Naderev Saño, continues the hunger strike he vowed to maintain “until a meaningful outcome [to the ongoing crisis] is in sight”, more and more people across the planet are beginning to recognize that, in order to prevent further ecological catastrophe and misery, radical, structural, political-economic changes need to occur.

As virtually all climate scientists agree, and as report after report confirm, it is a practical certainty that Typhoon Haiyan and other extreme weather events (like last year’s Superstorm Sandy, and Typhoon Bopha) not only result from climate change, climate change is anthropogenic. That is, not only are extreme weather catastrophes caused by climate change, climate change is caused by human activity. What should be added, as well, is that the activity that contributes to climate change is not just any activity. It is human activity of a particular type.

Much of the human activity of indigenous cultures, for instance (which in many respects recognize the degree to which our lives are intertwined in the larger enigmatic world, and consequently exhibit a degree of respect and care for the natural world – one at odds with the efforts of our present economic Order to turn every natural resource into a commodity) do not, in any significant manner, contribute to climate change. To be sure, many of these groups are at the forefront of battling it. Nor do these cataclysmic, extreme weather events result from various forms of sexual activity – as numerous superstitious preachers contend. Rather, these catastrophes are largely the result of activity that is inextricable from an industrial, profit-based, commodity economy. And as economies continue to grow, deforming the forests and mountains and other natural resources of the world into so many plastic cups, and hamburgers, among other things, these extreme weather catastrophes – as a necessary counteraction, or byproduct – are only increasing.

Indeed, even as relief efforts are proceeding in the Philippines, the traffic of the cities of the world, and the CO2 spewed by the meat industry, among other forms of diffused violence, are presently concentrating into entirely new superstorms. As the status quo continues, storms certain to be more massive, and more deadly, than such record-breaking storms as Haiyan and Sandy are being produced. And unlike, for example, the potential destructiveness of nuclear weapons – which only ever manifest by way of some sort of accident, or deviation from a norm – the catastrophes attending climate change will continue, and will continue to grow, unless a genuine change or deviation from the norm transpires.
Alongside the metaphorically and literally toxic commodities this economy produces, and the occupational and stress-related diseases, such as cancer and heart disease – not to mention poverty, malnutrition, sleep-deprivation, police violence, and the other injustices it produces – it systematically produces still more. For these alone this political-economic order should be discarded. When coupled with the recognition that the political-economy responsible for the proliferation of these harms is also causing the deadly weather events witnessed the world over, the existing system should be stripped of whatever vestige of legitimacy it has managed until now to retain. In many respects, this loss of credibility is just what’s unfolding. And it is in this context – the context of the existing Order’s legitimacy, or lack thereof – that we should briefly examine the concept of Apocalypse.

Derived from the Greek term Apo, which means ‘away from’, and Kalyptein, which means ‘hidden’, apocalypse literally means ‘away from the hidden’ – or, in other words, Revelation. But just what is being revealed? And how does this primary meaning of the term apocalypse fit with its secondary meaning – with its identification with the end of the world?

When our very way of life (organized by a coercive, plutocratic political-economic system) is revealed to be the utterly destructive, unsustainable, system that it is – that is, when what is still, to some degree, a secret becomes a broadly accepted fact, the first type of revelation will lead to the second. The revelation of this Order’s fundamental injustice will lead to the dissolution of popular support; and, as history repeatedly demonstrates, when popular support for, and faith in, a given order evaporates, that concrete order quickly collapses. In other words, apocalypse should not be construed to simply mean the end of the world. Rather than the end of the world in general, apocalypse refers to the end of a particular type of world: the unjust world. And as we breathe, this unjust, reckless, exploitative world is peeling away; and the real possibility of a new, just world is being born.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com. He lives in New York City, and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com, and on twitter @elliot_sperber