Beacons of the climate apocalypse


Raging California wildfires have so far killed 21 and injured hundreds. Millions of dollars of property has been consumed. Lives have been scorched and laid to waste. The true cost is immeasurable and, again, numerical portrayals offer little insight into the nature of devastation. And it is likely to get worse, with strong winds predicted to spread the misery farther.

These wildfires come at the tail end of a summer wracked by increasingly extreme weather events, as predicted by climate science. I empathize with those who find it crass and insensitive to engage in debate in the still turbulent wake of tragedy. But now is the time to talk, when the emotions are raw and real. We need to talk about Vegas and gun control—yes—but this summer’s extreme weather events have claimed far more lives than those murdered in Vegas, and the trend will continue year after year, culminating in our total destruction if we do nothing to mitigate the problem. But if you can’t talk, an image will more than suffice.

It’s a vision of the Apocalypse that I put forth. And wildfires lend themselves to apocalyptic premonitions, as the imagery circulating on social media and media outlets reinforces.

Whilst some outlets, such as Scientific American, still employ logos in an effort to disseminate the numerical reality of anthropogenic climate change, most others rely initially on pathos and the value-claim of imagery alone. The red-hot rage of personified Nature wreaking havoc upon humanity. Fire. Vengeance. A deadly rebuttal of human hegemony. An omen of things to come.

The powerful visual rhetoric leaves little room for interpretation, and there is little effort to counter it, unlike with the succession of hurricanes that climate-deniers felt apt to downplay. Fiery skies, the canopy of Ragnarök roiling and predominant over Disneyland—the epitomic intersect of capitalism, fantasy and heterotopia—no longer a safe space. Threat. Crimson warning. Images both literal and metaphorical in meaning, emblematic of humanity’s innate fear of fire, or perhaps the rage some publics feel against science-denial and this week’s announcement that Scott Pruitt, and what remains of the EPA, plan to scrap the Clean Power Plan (preferring to realize the Book of Revelations than to nurture a livable world).

Wind and fire is the price we pay for denial and vacillation. And all the Wallmart bullets, in all the NRA’s guns could neither combat or match the eventual damage.

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