It is said that those alive right now are witnessing the end of the world. As usual, this is Eurocentric arrogance. As in, it takes an extremely narrow view of the situation on planet earth and generalizes it as the norm.
Yes, environmental collapse will cause the end of industrialized society and life as we know it. Yes, many, many people will die in the eventuality of man and nature regaining equilibrium. The one thing that everyone seems to forget is that human life on earth does not exist in a neat, fragile, self-enclosed vacuum. There are people on this planet who, even now, live in the same manner as their ancestors did in the distant past, and in all the shades of adaptation to extreme adversity which lie between that life and the pampered, fragile “norm” of the twenty-first century. What will happen when the hospitals no longer have medicine and electricity? Ask a Mongolian shepherd. How can society exist without street lights, courts, and prisons? Ask a Masai hunter.
The fact is, humans adapt. While all of the fat, flabby Westerners will die because they can no longer use the Wikipedia app on their smart phones to look up ways to deal with the effects of rising sea levels on municipal infrastructure, the Aborigines and Amazonians and Masai will be fine. When disasters wipe out the cities, whose who never needed them will find themselves oddly at home. When the planes stop flying, those who were never able to board them in the first place will hardly notice the difference. When international commercial shipping collapses, those who have always had to scavenge their food from their environment might actually laugh at the newly starving masses.
Even the poor of America will have the combination of skills and lack of attachment to property which will ultimately allow them to adapt en masse, where those who rely on ephemeral means for their survival (management professionals, CEOs, bankers, Yelp reviewers, etc.) and have attachment to property (home ownership, business assets, Beanie Baby collections, etc.) will quickly wind up unable to care for neither themselves nor their attachments, as a lack of mobility and over-reliance on the skills of others finally catch up with them.
Perhaps this is what is meant by the old prophecy “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Perhaps in this case “meek,” with its implications of humility and passivity, is not the right word. These things have no place in an adverse environment. Perhaps instead the word should be “marginalized” or “disregarded.” As in, “the disregarded shall inherit the earth,” because in industrialized society it is (as Karl Marx observed) those who work the hardest, produce the most, and possess the most readily applicable skills who gain the least regard, and also actually make society function– not the pampered, the praised, the wealthy, whose sole pursuit seems to be to gain the most while doing the least.
On a side note, I firmly believe that resentment of this self-reliance among the lower classes, whether articulated or subconscious, is what has lead the American oligarchy to sabotage them time and time again. This top-down class warfare has lead to the paradoxical and ultimately unsustainable situation in which society relies most upon those who have been deprived of decent education, access to healthy food, and health care. Like the old slave labor days, but now the slaves beat themselves into submission. However, no matter how “rich” a person might be, one ultimately cannot be an idiot who relies on another idiot for their survival. In the end, somebody has to have the skills to make life work, and it probably isn’t going to be the guy whose “wealth” comes from an invisible social agreement where one person does the bidding of another for no real reason. Even a dude who has done nothing but dig ditches his entire life has more use than that guy.
It makes me sad to think of all the people I know who will drown in the Apocalypse, clutching their dead smart phones above their heads in search of a nonexistent signal, crying out “but this isn’t faaaaaiiiirrrr, who’s in chaaaaarge heeeereee….!”