The effects of climate change
The fires in January 2020 in the south of Australia, in which more than two and a half times the surface of the Netherlands went up in flames, evoked ‘apocalyptic feelings’ at for instance Annemarie Kas, South-East Asia correspondent of NRC, a Dutch newspaper, as she flew over endless blackened areas on the way back to her home town of Jakarta (NRC, 15 January 2020).
Forest fires in Australia, source NASA Earth Observatory – https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146110/fires-and-smoke-engulf-southeastern-australia, Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85717201.
Why does climate change evoke apocalyptic associations? For Kas it was because of the vastness of the area, the speed with which the disaster had struck, and the end result: apparently a blackened dead earth. And the animals that survived the disaster did not fare well, because their food was burned. Shortly before, Anouk Kragtwijk wrote in an essay: ‘We don’t want to feel the (climate) fear. The fear that we are all in danger of extinction’ (NRC 11/12 January 2020, L12). In the latter lies, I suspect, an important reason why people resort to the word ‘apocalyptic’: an overwhelming sense of fear of the destruction of the world as we know it and of ourselves. This feeling rises when, for example, large-scale fire burns our surroundings, when prolonged drought causes our agricultural lands to wither away as in the Sahel and in the Middle East, when warfare causes death and destruction as in Vietnam, Syria, Eastern Ukraine, when genocide is applied to certain population groups as in the Holocaust, in Srebrenica, and the persecution by ISIS of Yezidis and Christians. It is, I think, the same feeling I know from my youth in the sixties, during the many discussions about nuclear weapons and their consequences. A danger that is probably at least as great now as it was then, but then the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were fresher in the collective memory. Since the Covid-19 crisis all such feelings were even more prominent and threatening.
Climate change led to demonstrations by young people. Their future is threatened. Not only by large-scale fires and droughts, but also by oppressive heat, melting ice, rising sea levels, more violent storms, floods, changing ecosystems, the changing Gulf Stream, disease patterns, refugee flows and other things we don’t know about yet. We cannot go on living like this, everything has to change, is their conclusion. But how and when and what can you do yourself? Is this the beginning of a scenario for world destruction, is this the beginning of the Apocalypse with which the Bible ends?
Photo: State Government of Victoria / AFP
What has the Apocalypse to say on the end of the world?
If we look at the characteristics of world destruction that the Apocalypse describes, in combination with a simultaneous spiritual ascent, we have to conclude that the Apocalypse presupposes major changes of the physical earth that are foreseen in the great cycles of evolution of man and earth, as described for example in Hinduism, theosophy and anthroposophy. The solid mineral earth as we now know it, has not always been and will not always be there. In Hinduism there are large incarnation and excarnation periods in which earth and the solar system first arise when Brahma ‘exhales’ (an expanding universe) and dissolves again when Brahma ‘breathes in’ (an imploding universe). And with every breath of Brahma the universe evolves, from heat to air and light, to liquid, to solid and from there back to ever more volatile elements, in which man can gradually evolve to higher levels of consciousness. These are the very great cosmic processes to which the Apocalypse is referring. And within these large metamorphoses the first to come is the dissolution of the present solid earth.
The explanation of the 32nd text fragment of the Apocalypse describes in general terms this process of the dissolution of physical existence. After the end of the current Post-Atlantean epoch, which still lasts for several millennia, the rest of the fourth phase of evolution of the earth will still consist of the so-called Seal epoch and finally the Trumpet epoch if we follow for example Rudolf Steiner and Helena Blavatsky. After the Seal epoch, the fourth or solid earth incarnation is over. At the end of the Trumpet epoch, the ether world, the world of vital forces, has also retreated. And then, when later on the vials of wrath are poured out, also the astral world of forces of desire will disappear.
The idea of the disappearance of the physical world in the future and followed by the ethereal world (forces of growth) and finally the astral world (forces of desires) is frightening to us. This can have several reasons. The first is that the freedom we experience now may end. Those who have not chosen for the spiritual over the material, remain chained to matter, according to the Apocalypse. The whole meaning of the Apocalypse is to prevent this from happening. Approaching the moment of decision makes us anxious because we doubt whether we have made the right choices in our lives. Has our worldview been comprehensive enough and how could we take another turn in our lives? And if you don’t believe in a spiritual perspective for the future human being, then the downfall of life on earth feels all the more disastrous and the situation is even more depressing. The future downfall is then a reason in itself to exclude the existence of the spiritual world. After all, if a spiritual world would exist, why does it let it come to this point, is the reasoning. This ignores our own responsibility, which must come to the fore right now at the moment that the world of the gods is withdrawing and leaves matters more to us. How much time is left to learn have to use our responsibilities and save the earth and mankind from great disasters?
Overlooking this picture, the message of the Apocalypse is that planet Earth in the Post-Atlantean epoch will gradually lose its vitality and forces that sustain the solid mineral world will recede in the longer term. The test is whether man has then evolved into a being that can survive in the more spiritualized realms that remain or whether man cannot keep up with the upward movement. However, the dissolution of the physical world will according to the Apocalypse not occur in the current Post-Atlantean epoch, but at the end of the Seal epoch.
What is so special about climate change?
Is there anything special about climate change that has not yet become visible with the earlier environmental problems and that can be seen as a forward-looking reflection of greater disasters to come? The special thing about the climate issue is that it takes place on the scale of our planet. This means that each individual action affects us all. This is new compared to earlier problems such as nuisance, soil and water pollution and smog and acid rain. With climate change, the consequences of what one country is doing are felt by everyone else, and the solution also requires global human solidarity. At the same time as climate change begins to play out, similar global problems such as the hole in the ozone layer, the perverse consequences of privacy violations via the internet, the pollution of interplanetary space, are emerging. We are starting to become aware that there is only one earth and that it is here where our evolution has to take place. Global solidarity is needed to solve the problem. This is the new thing about climate change.
Is there an actual world downfall taking place or is it the omens that frighten us?
It is fair to recognise that the current disturbances of our planet will not directly lead to the downfall of life on earth. Forest fires, floods, plastic soup in oceans, desertification, and urbanisation are all bad for life on earth, but the world destruction is of a different order. Locally life will be disrupted by these phenomena, but in other places life can continue and even in cities we see nature conquering new territory. Biodiversity in cities is often greater than in rural areas. The most critical disasters on a global scale to date have been volcanic eruptions that were emitting huge volumes of dust and sulphur particles, shielding the sunlight and cooling the earth, especially when the volcanoes are in the tropics and the dust particles reach up to 40 km high in the stratosphere. Atomic bombs and large meteor impacts can cause such effects on an even larger scale, resulting in years of cooling with several degrees Celsius and pollution of agricultural soils resulting in harvests that fail or are made inedible. The extinction of dinosaurs is attributed to such a meteor impact 65 million years ago. These larger shocks from natural phenomena or caused by possible nuclear wars could bring humanity to the brink of collapse, but some form of life on earth will probably continue thereafter with species that can survive and adapt.
The Apocalypse, however, speaks of even greater changes in which physical nature disappears, dissolves into nothingness. According to the Apocalypse, this will happen anyway in the distant future and then the question is whether we are spiritually prepared for this or not. Compared to this, climate change is child’s play. One way to imagine what will lead to the end of life on earth or of the earth itself, is that the sun will expand, according to current scientific predictions after billions of years, because its inner fuel, hydrogen, will run out and another nuclear fusion reaction with helium will start. Possibly the ‘pool of fire’ the Apocalypse speaks of indicates this. So, we have to conclude that we only see omens of what is once to come, and that the fear that these phenomena bring about may come from an intuitive shudder of what will once physically happen to the earth, and to the community of beings living on it. But at the same time, the Apocalypse is looking at the way forward to the spirit that is the alternative to this sea of fire that heralds the downfall of the physical world.
What is the task hidden behind climate change?
After outlining the scientific features of climate change and its relationship to the destruction of the physical world described in the Apocalypse, we are better able to look at the meaning of the apocalyptic fears evoked by manifestations of climate change. What does climate change have to say to us? The overwhelming aspect of climate change is that it affects all of us and no one on their own can do anything about it. The polluters are taking the good guys hostage. The clearest voice expressing this dilemma comes from schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who stands up as a loner and asks to face the scientific facts about climate change and, what she calls the climate emergency, to take it seriously. Her opponent on the world stage, Donald Trump, appealed to her as President of the USA on 21 January 2020 in Davos, during the opening of the 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum: “We must reject the eternal prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.” (https://www.demorgen.be/nieuws/trump-versus-thunberg-in-davos-we-moeten-de-eeuwige-onheilsprofeten-verwerpen~b8ee5417/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.nl%2F) What an honor for 17-year-old Thunberg to force the 73-year-old Trump to talk about it. Faced with leaders who propagate selfishness and the fulfillment of the lower self’s desires, we hear from Thunberg the youthful cry of conscience to serve the greater good of all mankind. Climate change in particular is about developing international solidarity. It is here that the whole of mankind must develop brotherhood and open its hearts to one another in order to be able to manage climate change. This will lead to what the Apocalypse calls ‘wearing the white robe’, a transformed soul.
Finally, we must learn to see that the earth is our collective body on which our collective development depends and which at the same time shows us where we have lessons to learn. Climate change is not a natural disaster that happens to us. It is the mirror of the state of our soul. Unfortunately, the richest can afford to ignore the consequences for the longest time. But in the end, we will all experience a foretaste of what will happen to a mankind lagging behind in spiritual evolution.