Another Look: The End of the Anthropocene, by Damaris Zehner

The End of the Anthropocene
By Damaris Zehner

Picture a car, speeding along a highway in the morning.
A voice on the radio is gabbling about some crisis.
The driver’s cell phone is on, lying on the console next to her;
She’s shouting at someone. In her hand is fast food,
Wrapped in greasy yellow paper.
A coffee cup in its holder develops waves
As the car swings onto a street slick with tar –
A tunnel through skyscrapers, smog,
Car horns, wires, and metal signs.

Picture behind the car, miles away, then closer, then closer still,
A wall of water surging faster than a car can drive.
Trying to change lanes, swearing at the traffic,
The driver looks in the mirror.
Like Pharaoh on the Red Sea floor, like Noah’s neighbors,
She sees the future become her present.
A rush of water through the city canyons,
A jumble of cars stirred into foam –
The wall moves on.

Picture: on the surface of a silent sea, oil spreads its peacock tail.
Cars, a couch, bottles, bags, one purple Croc, a paper diaper
Bob, briefly.
Like snags in a river, like compound fractures,
Office buildings, phone poles, and billboards break the surface.
The car sinks, releasing one last gasp of air;
The couch subsides. The garbage drifts on.
Slowly the snags tip, then crumble,
Splashing briefly as they succumb.
Unbroken surface;
Unbroken silence.

Photo by Neil Cummings at Flickr. Creative Commons License

63 thoughts on “Another Look: The End of the Anthropocene, by Damaris Zehner

  1. Sort of a cross between “DARK.. AND EDGY.. NO! DARKER! DARKER!
    Heard pretty much the same about Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War in the Seventies & Eighties — the SMILING lectures about the Utter Certainty of Human Extinction before the year 2000. “It’s Coming, It’s Inevitable, It’s All Over But The Screaming, AM I NOT EDGY?” Delivered with a smug glee.

    One guy even used to phone me up and describe in detail how today’s headlines would lead to Global Nuclear War within months at the most, like a secular version of “Today’s News in light of Bible Prophecy”.


  2. It is easy to say, quite self-righteously; “ah, well, it doesn’t matter, they are all the same, …yadda yadda…

    The secularized version of “IT’S ALL GONNA BURN.”

    Thank goodness *I* have the moral quality to understand that I do not need to be bothered by all those concerns”

    And the secularized version of “THIS WORLD IS NOT MY HOME; I’M JUST PASSIN’ THRU.”


  3. Great song. As far as I know, I was not channeling it during the writing of my poem, but perhaps subliminally….LOL.

    I have no recollection of Johnny Marr having ever played guitar with them!!! I wonder how often he did that!


  4. I cannot look at young children anymore without a profound sense of horror and sadness hitting me. I shudder to think of what awaits them in their lifetime.

    Then again, hope has always been the cardinal virtue I’ve had the hardest time cultivating. And Hope seems especially delusional in these days.


  5. My poem came to me while sitting at a traffic light, with nothing but strip mall after strip mall for as far as the eye could see. An image came to me of the not too distant past (less than 200 years ago here in my small town outside Seattle) when those strip malls were just trees, green fields, birds and animals.

    I found that writing in the persona of “angry nature” was a bit cathartic. I find much of my writing to be cathartic, actually. I assume you do, as well.


  6. Lovely, Rick. Thanks for sharing. Like mine, I assume, your poem is not a prediction or philosophical statement but just an image, an imagination. Not climate porn or hipster despair. When I write in prose I’d rather talk about what we can do to improve things and live better.

    The image of a wave as judgment began to grow in my head when I saw — and immediately regretted seeing — footage of the tsunami in Japan overtaking some cars. It was horrifying and heart-breaking to watch and stuck with me as a symbol of ineluctable judgment.


  7. I am still of the opinion that people can be convinced by a reasonable case.

    I used to be there. The last decade, especially the last half of it, have convinced me not. Many of those supposedly reasonable people were paying lip service to anything they perceived as other than “I’ve got min, FU”.

    I could write a very long essay about the people I know who are in at least the upper 10% of incomes in the US if not the upper 1%. They have these incredibly convoluted rationalizations of why they should get to keep all their money because the poor will be better of if they keep it.


  8. Because I am of a libertarian bent* and am not predisposed to coercion unless necessary. (Sometimes it is.) I am still of the opinion that people can be convinced by a reasonable case. You simply delude yourself if you think you can force people into paradise at gunpoint. Real change comes slowly, as frustrating as this can be.

    Smart rich people (not all are) realize that redistribution of wealth is both desirable and necessary for a healthy, functioning society. The most unstable societies in the world are those in which the few own most everything and the rest fight over the crumbs. Our country is currently dominated by stupid short-sighted rich people because the middle class has been bought off with trinkets and baubles and the phony promise that they can be stupid rich too.

    *But not a Libertarian!


  9. Strongly agreed. The same doomers often attack Climate Scientists for not being pessimistic enough. It is a belief system that have become unmoored from reality. Not unlike the denialists on the opposite side. .


  10. and the evangelical Church didn’t bat an eye

    No, the Evangelical Church was leading the cheers.
    Because the Evangelical Church was personally benefiting from the arrangement:
    No More Roe v Wade!
    Prayer in Schools!
    The Promise of a Truly CHRISTIAN Nation oozing Righteousness!
    We Get To Be THE One True RELATIONSHIP-NOT-“Religion”!
    (Just like the Russian Orthodox Church under Tsar Putin!)


  11. I like to think that the “fire next time” is the apocalyptic descent/coming of the Holy Spirit. The world ends in the fire of the Holy Spirit, and finds itself renewed and eternalized therein.


  12. I tend to agree Burro.
    And it would appear that T.S. Eliot did too:

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.


  13. Wonderful poem, Damaris. Thanks for sharing it.

    I give you this in return. I hope you enjoy it, written 12 years ago…


    Rick Rosenkranz (2008)

    I was on a stark walk
    through a paved parking lot
    of a strip mall filled with stores
    that sell videos and stuff for a dollar
    when the ground erupted around me.
    I trembled in fear.

    Chunks of concrete blasted upward,
    and out of the newly tilled earth
    sprang evergreens and birches,
    trees stretching their limbs
    toward the sky like slumbering giants
    awakened and angry.

    Shrubs and grass burst up around me
    like millions of soldiers in nature’s army
    here to reclaim what we’d taken
    when we planted our homes
    and block upon block
    of big box buildings.

    Vengeful foxes and coyotes
    charged out of the holes
    of secret underground tunnels,
    followed by deer and rabbits
    whose once timid eyes
    were filled with bitterness.

    Wherever nature attacked,
    furious dirt swallowed up
    all things man-made;
    storefronts and sign posts
    and the beauty of what once was
    began to form around me,
    a snapshot of a forest
    untouched by human growth,
    a forest that will thrive again
    when mankind is gone.


  14. Agree. And he only has a yacht – almost certainly – thanks to massive subsidies or water ways, roads, education, and a myriad other systems and infrastructure. Wealth is not magic, it is as much part of systems as is poverty.


  15. > I’m not so certain I want to invest our waning resources
    > into the fight for an even distribution thereof

    I am not aware of anyone, truly, arguing for such a distribution. So you will get your wish.


  16. > “not marrying nor having children”

    I know more than one person who has the above position, who is also not a Doomer.

    In honestly most people’s decisions about important issues are not mono-causal; and there are likely other factors in addition to, but not invalidating, concerns about the Climate Future.


  17. I also understand their cynicism. There is a cynicism of a kind with knowledge and intellectual honesty, and there is a cynicism of cowardice and narcissism.

    It is easy to say, quite self-righteously; “ah, well, it doesn’t matter, they are all the same, …yadda yadda… Thank goodness *I* have the moral quality to understand that I do not need to be bothered by all those concerns”


  18. I was struck by the phrase “climate doom porn”.
    Sounds like a secularized version of “End Times Doom Porn” without the Rapture Escape Hatch.

    And the account of “not marrying nor having children” because of this future is something I remember from the “Nuclear War Doom Porn” of the late Cold War.


  19. sometimes we have to lose our freedom to begin to understand that it could not be taken for granted

    the ‘adversary of democracy’ waited until the young no longer remembered the period of the Nazis in Germany and how they came to that cultured Christian land and took it down

    so the adversary of ‘democracy’ knew after Charlottesville to say ‘there are GOOD PEOPLE on BOTH SIDES’

    and the evangelical Church didn’t bat an eye

    every day, every week, a new affront on our norms, our American values, our honor, the honor of our armed forces, on our Constitution, on our asylum seekers and OUR ‘DACA’ children . . . . there was always a new affront to what WAS AMERICAN so that after a while, all one heard was the shoutings of the enemy of democracy to a cheering crowd who responded with hate chants

    and the evangelical Church didn’t speak

    so what IS the ‘American Way’ these days???? we shall find out soon enough if democracy was a ‘passing thing’ and we are no longer as we were

    but while some of the old are still alive, they will remember the old ways, and weep for a far more honorable past
    and for lost voices who now seem so ancient to what the new reality ‘is’ even though they were among us not so long ago – may we remember them and their courage, and find it within us to come to terms with that part of our own DNA that demands we do not bow down to ‘the adversary’ of our freedom lest we become like those for whom ‘democracy’ was NEVER an American value


  20. I’m not convinced the government would do anything useful with the money. Maybe a few decades ago they would have, but these days they’d hire a brace of political office.., er, diversity consultants to further bedevil us.

    I’d rather the rich guy keep his yacht.


  21. Or, to align the two scenarios you mentioned above, and claim are so disparate – is not a generally educated populace a natural resource worth investing in as much as a river is worth not polluting? This country operated just fine in recent decades past with marginal tax rates that would have conservatives today screaming in “anti-marxist” rage.


  22. “I am not predisposed to force the rich guy to give up his yacht to pay for the education of his poor neighbors”

    Why not?


  23. Ah, externalities and moral hazards, the Achilles heels of a loveless commonwealth.

    I am at the present dealing with a neighbor whose broken water main is flooding my yard and driveway. She is a good neighbor in a tight place, but…


  24. I think i can make a reasonable case why a certain redistribution of wealth benefits everyone in a society including the wealthy, but I am not predisposed to force the rich guy to give up his yacht to pay for the education of his poor neighbors, no. However if the factory owner upstream wants to dump his radioactive sh*t into the river without concern for the neighborhood downstream then the society has an obligation to stop that. I trust no one is so ideologically blinkered that they cannot see the difference between those scenarios.


  25. I remember when I was a little kid, visiting my grandparents in Florida. There were lots of bumper stickers on RVs saying ‘We’re Spending Our Grandchildren’s Inheritance”.

    And I’m not young.

    So, this is hardly a new phenomenon.


  26. What I want is those who claim to be followers of Jesus to take His call seriously. I have zero expectations that pagan nationalist/ethnicists will care, and they aren’t my audience at any rate. Of course, if they were at all self-aware they’d realize that self-sacrifice is the least bad option even from a secular standpoint, but self-awareness isn’t their thing.


  27. I read Rachel Carson and sorrow for all the time we have wasted. It has not been completely wasted, of course–we have made progress, and are–or were–poised to make more, if not yet enough. But it scares me nearly witless to discover, over the last four years, how fragile our progress–indeed, our democracy–has proven to be, in a single term of a corrupt, uncaring administration. Still, I have to believe in progress; I have a grandson who will inherit whatever we do, or don’t. We MUST find that road again, and follow it.


  28. There’s nothing stopping you or me from doing just that, is there? Or is what you want an enforced application of Jesus’ teachings?

    Would you have the wealthy robbed of their chance for salvation by having the Emperor put his sword to their throats and have his guards plunder their warehouses?

    We need another Chrysostom, but I feel we’d treat him as shabbily as we did the first one.


  29. ” . . . . many of my grandfather’s gifts are with me still.

    Once he brought me a little paper cup. I looked inside it expecting something special. It was full of dirt. I was not allowed to play with dirt. Disappointed, I told him this. He smiled at me fondly. Turning, he picked up the little teapot from my dolls’ tea set and took me to the kitchen where he filled it with water. Back in the nursery, he put the little cup on the windowsill and handed me the teapot. “If you promise to put some water in the cup every day, something may happen,” he told me.

    At the time, I was four years old and my nursery was on the sixth floor of an apartment building in Manhattan. This whole thing made no sense to me at all. I looked at him dubiously. He nodded with encouragement. “Every day, Neshume-le,” he told me. And so I promised. At first, curious to see what would happen, I did not mind doing this. But as the days went by and nothing changed, it got harder and harder to remember to put water in the cup. After a week, I asked my grandfather if it was time to stop yet. Shaking his head no, he said, “Every day, Neshume-le.” The second week was even harder, and I became resentful of my promise to put water in the cup. When my grandfather came again, I tried to give it back to him but he refused to take it, saying simply, “Every day, Neshume-le.” By the third week, I began to forget to put water in the cup. Often I would remember only after I had been put to bed and would have to get out of bed and water it in the dark. But I did not miss a single day. And one morning, there were two little green leaves that had not been there the night before.

    I was completely astonished. Day by day they got bigger. I could not wait to tell my grandfather, certain that he would be as surprised as I was. But of course he was not. Carefully he explained to me that life is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. I was delighted. “And all it needs is water, Grandpa?” I asked him. Gently he touched me on the top of my head. “No, Neshume-le,” he said. “All it needs is your faithfulness.”

    from ‘My Grandfather’s Blessings’
    Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging

    by author Rachel Naomi Remen M.D.


  30. “I’m not so certain I want to invest our waning resources into the fight for an even distribution thereof.”

    Who likes the idea of giving up our stuff so others don’t have to suffer so much, really? But if we take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we can’t just brush off the idea.


  31. From the Archdruid –

    “One of the great mental blind spots of our society is the notion that there are only two possible futures: 1) business as usual stretching endlessly into the future, with a side order of technological progress dished up at intervals; or 2), sudden apocalyptic mass death, with or without a small band of plucky survivors sitting around a campfire as the final credits roll. An astonishing number of people these days literally won’t let themselves think about any other possible future, and will either change the subject or get furiously angry at you if you should be so bold as to suggest one.

    The evasion and the anger come from the same source, which is that those imaginary futures are the ways most of us distract ourselves from the future we’re actually getting: a future of decline. We all know this. If you’re old enough to be out of elementary school, you’ve already seen ongoing declines in standards of living, public health, public order, the quality of education, the condition of our infrastructure, and much more. Those trends define our future. They also defined the future of every past civilization, because that’s how civilizations end, and it’s how ours will end, one to three hundred years from now.”

    There will be Happy Places in our grandchildren’s future, but they will not be evenly distributed. I’m not so certain I want to invest our waning resources into the fight for an even distribution thereof.


  32. water chemically is composed of two parts hydrogen (it burns) and one part oxygen (it accelerates burning)

    chemically combine as H2O, the compound of these two elements puts fires out

    but the secrets of the elemental fire still remain hidden within water

    nature calls us to humility before the Creator – but we would not

    something is hidden within us that could not

    so overwhelmed by greed, pride, hubris
    we fail in our calling by God to be conservators of this Earth
    our mother


  33. I’m so deep
    That only in my sleep
    Do the secrets that I keep
    Float to the surface

    So I hold them down
    Till they don’t make a sound
    Like they accidentally drowned
    Except on purpose

    And when I wake up in the morning I tell myself
    Today I’ll make a change
    But falling into my bed at night I think
    Man it was a beautiful day to stay the same

    -David Bazan “Don’t Change”


  34. Yes, the future doesn’t have to be as terrible as it probably will be. But for that to happen, we’d all have to accept a much less comfortable and affluent lifestyle. So I guess I understand their cynicism.


  35. > Sometimes called “doomers”, these deflated young people often insist that radical,
    > systemic change is the only chance for salvation

    Let’s not laud these people. Yes, “radical, systemic change is the only chance for salvation” but buried under the totalism of “yeah, it’d be marginally better if Biden was president” is a out-of-hand discounting of the real human suffering that will exist in that “margin”.

    And most “Doomers” I know – they are not in any categories which will be part of that “margin”. Doomers are affluent, white, and often obnoxiously smug. They are the kind of 19 year old who will trot out a term like “climate singularity” in conversation.

    This: “Just throwing in the towel on that is consigning our current peers and future generations to a much more terrible future than is necessary.”


  36. “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

    (Rachel Carson, ‘Silent Spring’)
    Sept. 1962)


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