by Pablo Moraga 12.11.18
Over the course of this semester, I have had a series of revelations about our collective
destiny through my learning about and living in an apocalypse. I will recount my enlightenment of our planet’s condition starting with the student experience during the California Camp Fire and the effects of the UN and White House reports on the political community’s response. Then, I will express the connection I have found between the fictional apocalypse’s we have read in Marisol and in Angels in America to the real-life apocalypse of today, brought about not by a spiritual entity but by the power of our world leaders during this Anthropocene era. Finally, I will respond to Alan DuPont’s theory of the “Strategic Implications of Climate Change” and Michael Moore’s Film Fahrenheit 11/9 as they are an urgent warning of the oncoming changes
in political culture. From these thinkers, two cultural reactions of climate change are likely: 1) an active drive to change leadership for progress towards saving the planet from climate change and 2) shortening of the political imagination to maintain a traditional view of the state affairs. While both are rooted in populism, the former is prevalent among leftist activists such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the latter is concentrated in right-wing Trump ideology. The reaction that will prevail, I cannot know. But, it will determine the fate of our democratic institutions and whether this apocalypse is fulfilled.
Reading disturbing news reports of natural disaster has become a common occurrence for people in the digital age. But, “disturbing” is a misnomer for how people feel. The disasters are notified to us by our news apps, displayed on TV screens and reblogged on our timelines so much that we have become desensitized to it. But, the California Camp Fire was a little different to students of UC Berkeley. This time it was more real. We were no longer separated from the fire by our phone screens. These images were living. They were all around us in our everyday lives. At first, it was just an ominous surrounding with the sun veiled by ash and turning orange. The sun is something that is consistent, as it rises and sets every day, but it changed during the fires. Still, we went about our normal routines just as we would if we saw the sun looking like that in pictures on our phones. It looked apocalyptic, but it was later when it started to feel apocalyptic.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) began to skyrocket. The air made people nauseous and light-headed. It gave people a nasty cough and even asthma attacks. Berkeley students started to buy masks to survive the suffocating air and those that could not afford to skip class struggled to their classrooms anyway. In a few days, it grew to be too much to us and we started to demand change from our leaders. After thousands of students signed a petition to cancel classes, Chancellor Carol Christ retaliated in an email in which she said “class cancellation should be considered” only when the AQI was above 200. At the time she sent the email, the AQI was 199. Either because of monetary reasons or the reputation of our school, our leaders decided to stay persistent with the way things are despite widespread discontent. Berkeley did not change to accommodate for the natural disaster, it remained with the status quo. It was difficult for Berkeley students, but eventually, we prevailed with our complaints and protests. Chancellor Christ finally submitted and canceled classes until Thanksgiving break.
Action because of climate change did not occur in Berkeley until we felt it ourselves.
Even when the sun looked completely different from the smoke, it was only when the air quality was bad enough that we were enticed into action. Thankfully, our Chancellor conceded to our demand. But, that may not be said of our other leaders. When climate change becomes big enough for people to feel it, will our governments submit? How big of a hurricane, how big of fire will it take for us to demand change from our government? When will our leaders enact policy to prevent the drying of our leaves and the evaporation from our oceans that kill and displace hundreds? Perhaps it will take millions of people to suffer as a consequence of what is happening with our world for our leaders to meet our demands. Nevertheless, as of today, our leaders have not listened to any plights or reacted to the evident signs.
As I walked around Berkeley’s ghost campus and saw our shining campanile shrouded by the specter of our dying forests, I began to wonder how things became like this. Do the facts support my enormous feeling of dread and anxiety? Or are my emotions unsubstantiated? Then I remembered that just in October of this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that appeared on my media devices with a headline that read “The world has just over a decade to climate change under control”(Mooney). At the time that I saw it, I was shocked but not shocked enough. I talked to a couple friends about it as a “did you know?” fact.
It was just interesting because it was controversial. Not something that made me scared. It was until felt the facts within the report infiltrate Berkeley’s air and poison my lungs that I began to truly care what was within that report. I finally read it to understand. It is really true. The climate change scientists assigned to this by the Paris Accord, the international agreement that President Donald Trump unilaterally backed out of, have declared a new goal of remaining below a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise of global temperature instead of two degrees because it is at that stage that
climate change will become “intolerable in parts of the world”(Mooney). In order to achieve that goal before 2030, there must be a “radical transformation” meaning that “in a world projected to have two billion additional people by 2050, large swaths of land currently used to produce food would instead have to be converted to growing trees that store carbon and crops designated for energy use”(Mooney). Finally, the study concluded, “there is no documented historic precedent” for the changes we need to make in our energy use to save our planet. That is because this is the
first time the world has collectively ever faced anything like this. This is the first time we have to save our planet. This is the first time we have the power to destroy our planet. This is our first apocalypse.
Although this apocalypse is unprecedented in reality, it does not mean it is unprecedented in our imaginations. Luckily, I learned about those imaginations in my Theater of Apocalypse class and thought back to it when there was no precedent for our real apocalypse. I learned that throughout humanity’s long record of an unquenchable thirst for answers, different cultures throughout the world have come up with various conceptions of how the world will end. For Christians, God will break seven seals, sound the seven horns, release the four horsemen to rid of
the sinners while Jesus Christ will rise again to save the holy and bring them into his kingdom of heaven(Revelations). In this epistemology of consistent linear God, the world begins and ends only once while God always remains there. Conversely, in other polytheistic belief systems such as Maya/Quiche’s, the world ends several times and gods die all the time(Popol Vuh). The universe for ancient Mayans is composed of three independent energies(Nepantla, Olin, and Malinalli) which all together embody their concept of Teotl. There are no consistent aspects of Teotl. The Olin energy affirms that the universe remains “cyclical”(Maffie, 480), meaning it rises and falls, it dies and it is born again. Therefore, Mayans believe the world has already
ended and it will end again. All of these religious revelations taught me real revelations of our world. Although it is not Teotl or God that is causing this apocalypse, it is our world leaders with power that amounts to those that were once reserved for our gods. The Anthropocene era brings mortals up to the standing of Gods, with the power to change the conditions of our world that we believed our gods created. It is their decision, or lack thereof, that will determine if this
apocalypse is fully realized. It is through this connection that I was made aware that the plays we have read in class about divine apocalypses are very similar to our mortal apocalypse.
In Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, I read of a Judeo-Christian imagination of the
apocalypse that incorporated many of the global issues of the 1980s. The central character in the play is Prior Walter, who is a victim of the conservatism prevalent in the United States following the conservative ascendancy. As a gay man with HIV, the Reagan administration ignores his struggles and denies him any support. But, Kushner extends this beyond the political powers of mortals to a much deeper spiritual issue. Prior is designated to become a prophet for the angels in heaven to stop modernity which they see as the sole cause of the problems in the world. The angels claim that God has “abandoned” the world because of all the progress they have made. In
this way, the angels and God are directly causing the apocalypse Prior is experiencing by rejecting progress in the face of changing circumstances. But, Prior rejects his spiritual duty and confronts the angels saying “we can’t just stop... motion is modernity” (Kushner, 264). Taking Prior’s defiance into consideration, the angels by the end of the play begin to accept progress. Many things that plagued the world in the ’80s begin to disappear such as “The Berlin Wall”(Kushner, 277). The progress even touches upon the early effects of climate change, for example, Harper notes how the hole in the ozone was repaired by a “great net of souls” that joined hands, clasped ankles”(Kushner 274). I interpreted this to symbolize the international
cooperation of the Montreal Protocol that actually did repair the ozone layer. Finally, progress with the AIDS crisis is also fulfilled as Prior says in his last line in the play: “We won't’ die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come” (Kushner 280). Therefore, the ozone was repaired, the cold war ended and the AIDS victims were recognized because of reforms through the divine in Prior’s story and reforms by our leaders in real life. Despite the spiritual changes of rejecting statism and accepting progress, God is still present in Angels in America. Thus, the play offers a Judeo-Christian epistemology of reform through existing spiritual institutions.
Conversely, Marisol offers a much more dramatic revolution in the face of apocalypse.
Marisol, the protagonist, witnesses a variety of disasters and abnormalities throughout the entire play. For example,” the moon has gone”(Rivera, 18), “Coffee’s extinct”(Rivera, 22) and all food becomes “pure salt”(Rivera, 58). In this way, Marisol strays away from the real-life examples of Angels in America and provides more aspects of magical realism. Marisol also provides a critique of the status quo. The angels in Marisol plan a violent uprising instead that ends with “slaughtering our senile God”(Rivera, 16). The word “senile” references and old God that is no
longer functioning, just like a conservative government that is no longer meeting the needs of changing circumstances. When Marisol finally decides to oppose God along with the angels, she exclaims people should not be “looking backward for instructions” and “have to reach up, beyond the debris, past the future”(Rivera, 55). In this way, we see similar themes of an apocalyptic imagination that is caused by a static divine and solved through progress in both Marisol and Angels. Nevertheless, Marisol's ending is much different when God actually dies during the violent revolution and the universe is recreated with “new miracles” and “new powers”(Rivera, 68). A new world without God completely suggests a Mayan/Quiche
epistemology. For Judeo-Christians, God is everything and there would be nothing without God. But in Marisol, they imagine a world without him and a revolt to create it, thereby indicating a polytheistic imagination where new gods can arise. Thus, either through revolution or reform, these apocalyptic struggles with divine authority is comparable to the ways our mortal governments can be transformed.
As I read both these plays, I immediately thought how these fictional apocalypses apply to our real ones. Just like in the plays, our leaders have abandoned us. President Donald Trump and the Republican majorities in the branches of government have denied climate change and rejected reform, while I walked around Berkeley breathing poisonous air. They remain static, unable to accept the probative value of the UN climate change report that the burning of fossil fuels is what is causing all these natural disasters. Carol Christ listened to our demands when we had our disaster, will our global leaders listen to climate change? If they never do, how will the world react? We could change our governments through existing institutions, such as impeaching
our presidents and prime ministers or electing new ones, in the same way Prior’s angels reformed themselves through the same divine structures. Or, we could rise up in a violent revolt to wipe out our leaders and our institutions as they did in Marisol. We live in a cyclical world certainly.
Empires rise and fall and power structures have changed drastically in the past. Are we living in a stage in our history ripe for this kind of violent insurrection? Or have we reached an era where our governments are solidified and infinite? I am worried about the former and began to wonder if there have been any signs for that to come. As I pondered about which result will be more likely, I looked for answers somewhere
between the facts of the UN report and the imagination of the plays we read in class: theory. Particularly political theory, which I have been studying at this university. I thought back to an international relations article I read the year prior titled “The Strategic Implications of Climate Change.” Theorist Alan DuPont surveys all the possible destabilizing effects of climate change on our existing power balance. He discusses all the probable adverse symptoms of a warming planet, which includes “spread of some infectious diseases”, “increased energy costs,” diminishing “per capita food yield gains”, “increased storm frequency and intensity”, as well as a
“mass migration of environmental refugees and displaced persons” (DuPont, 540-546). His most notable conclusions though are the effects of those calamities on political stability. DuPont finds that the greatest security challenge is when affected populations call “into question the legitimacy or competency of national governments and feeding into existing ethnic or intercommunal conflicts” (DuPont, 547). He provides the example of China’s Xixiang province, where a “projected increase in rainfall will begin to attract an influx of Han migrants into the Muslim Uighur ancestral lands, further inflaming ethnic tensions between the two communities where a low-level insurgency is already festering” (DuPont, 547). Thus, climate change will
inevitably become a social issue and a security issue.
In a world that is already increasing divided, I began to see how climate change will
begin to change ethnic and social landscapes in which conflict may be intensified. Will the Muslim Uighur population accept the changing circumstances leading to an influx of environmental refugees or will they reject the migrants and push them back to environmental hell? Will the Chinese government support the Han migrants and reform immigration to accommodate them or will they protect the ancestral rights of the Muslim Uighur? With either decision, the government faces a dissatisfied “low-level insurgency” that can become one of the internal conflicts that DuPont contends is “a more likely outcome than inter-state war” (DuPont, 550). The final conclusion in DuPont's article is that “climate change may very well be the threshold event that pushes our already stressed planet past an environmental tipping point from
which there will be no return” (DuPont, 550). Therefore, the fate of our planet is solely in the hands of our global leaders. They can take one of two sides: 1) accept the change and progress to make things better for people like the Han migrants or 2) maintain things the way they are despite climate change, as with the Uighur Muslims. They can either adapt for climate change or maintain a status quo. Gods do not control our apocalypse, they do. After reading this article, I realized people are not likely to pray for change. They will act.
Although DuPont’s article largely prescribes likely internal conflicts in developing
countries, I could not help but see many similarities within the United States. I when I read about the Uighur Muslims that wanted to protect their ancestral land, I immediately thought of the white nationalists that voted for Donald Trump. I have blamed him for the lack of progress with climate change and for the treatment of immigrants like my family who have escaped internal conflicts for refuge in the United States. I know that my leader is static. I just did not know if that meant DuPont’s prediction of internal conflict would become true here. I looked towards Michael Moore, a renowned political documentary filmmaker. I watched his film Fahrenheit
11/9 with my family after escaping the Northern California fires for my Thanksgiving break. In the film, he examines the current political climate in the United States in from the perspectives of both the right and the left. Sure enough, there are signs of imminent internal conflict. Moore depicts many white nationalist groups preparing for a fight. They take the side of shortening the political imagination, rejecting a convergence of different migrants in the United States and a change in our industry. Trump spearheads their popular desires while the left is doing everything
they can to get rid of them. Moore even shows Roger Stone challenging democrats by stating “try to impeach him, just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country than you’ve ever seen.” Thus, I began to see that if Democrats try for progress in the face of Republican statism, DuPont’s theorized internal conflict could become realized.
Throughout the course of the documentary though, I was shocked to see that the
problems in our country are not one-sided. I have always seen the Democratic party as the party for the people, the party for progress. Until I saw Moore’s bit on Flint, Michigan. The city has been on several headlines in the past four years for having lead-contaminated water that has poisoned many civilians. The reason this had occurred is that local officials, such as Republican governor Rick Snyder, let fresh water pass through an industrial plant before it arrived in people’s homes. As a result, there was a backlash and people began to protest. Michael Moore even films himself hosing Flint water on to governor Snyder’s property. Despite this, nothing has changed. I thought that at least Democrats would do something about it until Moore showed me
exactly what they did: nothing. President Barack Obama went to Flint and pretended to drink water. Then he abandoned the people of Flint, just like God abandoned Prior and all the AIDS victims. It pained me to know I was wrong to believe Democrats were different. Moore threw open the curtain and showed me what was behind the facade of the Democratic elite. They are not truly fighting for the average man that will get poisoned by our air or our water in our descent into an environmental disaster, they are a static elite that will not do enough. Our leaders, our gods that control the fate of our planet, have failed us.
Moore does not leave us without any hope though. He advocates a new generation of
activists, many of which are new candidates in the 2018 election cycle, that are challenging the same the political elite. Michael Ojeda, a candidate that was running in West Virginia, expresses his dissatisfaction with the elites when he argues “elected leaders in our towns, in our states, in our country are absolutely so self-serving. They have no idea what it is like”. The documentary also features then representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the Bronx who resonates with the same dialogue of immobility in politics in something she describes as “Electoral insanity” which “is trying to re-elect these same guys over and over again and expecting our
country to be any different.” Thus, from these activists, I see a glimmer of hope for some change for the better. Nevertheless., I felt that it was a populist response, which made me nervous because I have learned studying political science that sometimes too much change can damage lasting democratic institutions. But, I was assured that this was not a revolution but a reform in who will decide things in the future. For example, one of the first Muslim women elected to the House, Rashida Tlaid, confirms “we’re not ready to give up on the party, we’re ready to take it over”. For them, our party system is still valid and our democratic institutions are respected. From this populist-democratic side of the spectrum, they are running for office and defending
democracy. But, the same cannot be said for the other side. Who Roger Stone exclaims will have a “spasm of violence,” like DuPont’s prediction, if there is any effort to impeach Trump.
Just a few days after watching the film, I woke up with the biggest food coma I would
have for the whole year. I had eaten a tremendous amount of food the night before. Mashed potatoes, ham, macaroni and cheese, eggnog, apple pie, and an entire leg of turkey. I was hardly able to get up from my slumber. Too disoriented from the festivities of the day before and looking forward only to the shopping I would do that day. Thus, I managed to get myself up and check my phone to see something much less festive. It was another notification with a headline titled: “Donald Trump buried a climate change report because ‘I don’t believe it’”(Cilliza). I read further and figured out this report found that climate change “is transforming where and how we
live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us"(Cilliza). It also found “substantial damages to the US economy”(Cilliza) are likely. Finally, I realized it was a report from the White House themselves. It was released on Black Friday because fewer people would notice it then and our president does not “believe it”. Right now, this report is a notification on my phone screen. But sometime down the line, it could become something I see in my everyday life just like the smoke I had to breathe while walking to class.
As of today, I feel like we are all lobsters in a cooking pot. Swimming around blissfully
ignorant in a pool of water. But, through our media outlets we begin to see our leaders slowly start to turn the stove knob. When Donald Trump says he does not “believe” in climate change, the burner our pot is sitting on gets hotter. The water around us starts to steam and bubble. Some of us are lucky enough to notice, but perpetually scared when we do. Displaced, poisoned and killed by climate change. Unable to understand what to do about it, we stay in our pot longer. Just watching the elite keep turning the knob when they say they are doing otherwise, licking
their lips ready for a good meal at our expense. We know they are mortals, but they have the power of gods to boil our pot. When will enough of us begin to notice? When will our resistance begin? Today, I am starting to see that action. I am listening to Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez’s live stream about her proposed Green New Deal as I am writing this paper. I am beginning to imagine she will be one of the first lobsters to jump out of the pot... then pinch the elite that are turning the knob with her powerful claws. Not overturning the pot and dumping all of us with her, as DuPont forecasts will occur with our governments. Like the complete overturning of the principles characteristic of our universe as in Marisol. She just simply moving it away from the
burner through reforms. Like the Angels in America, we are still in America as we know it. She will preserve the institutions that kept our stability for ages. So that we can continue swimming in our beautiful, balanced world. Then us lobsters in our pot will learn to never let men like that put their hands on that stove knob and abuse that power again. For only then will we reach a new millennium, in which our mortal apocalypse is in the past.
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Cillizza, Chris. “Donald Trump Buried a Climate Change Report Because 'I Don't Believe It'.”
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Kushner, Tony. Angels in America. 1993.
Mooney, Chris, and Brady Dennis. “The World Has Just over a Decade to Get Climate Change
oioeitunder Control, U.N. Scientists Say.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Oct. 2018,
Moore, Michael, director. Fahrenheit 11/9. Midwestern Films, 2018.
Rivera, José. Marisol. 1994.