The end of the world is nigh. Easter season is here with us and Christendom is keen on reminding the world why Jesus suffered so horribly and died two millennia ago. The Easter message is that he died to make humans better prepared for the end of the world. But while they are expecting the world to end in a majestic rolling up of the earth and the heavens, the end of the world, or at least the end of the tenure of humans as stewards of this lovely blue marble could come much faster.
In the few thousand years since humans became the masters of the earth, we have proved to be a destructive and irresponsible steward. In exploiting the earth and making use of her resources, we have behaved as if these resources were infinite. We have been cruel to our fellow inhabitants, and our callousness has led to the destruction and extinction of a multitude of species. Our regard for future generations is wanting. Maybe it is because the son of man promised to return soon. Maybe because every generation believes the end is overdue and there is thus no need to preserve the precious home we have for generations that may not get to see it. Intra-generational equity, especially in the few hundred years since European imperialists unleashed a wave of genocidal capitalism in the new world, has been relegated to the back seat.
Here in Africa, we lived as if the earth would always be there. We respected mother earth and her precious resources. We looked to the mountains and in them we saw the majesty of God. We treated the plants and animals as our kindred, making friends with the herbs and shrubs and told a thousand tales inspired by the animals we saw around us. The elephants knew us, and the animal kingdom was just another testament to how richly endowed we were. Then the invaders came, and with them, the philosophy of a world teetering on end.
As far as the invaders were concerned, every sin they committed, whether against nature or man was already pardoned through the sacrifice of Christ on that Good Friday thousands of years ago in Calvary. Furthermore, had the savior not promised to return soon? Had the savior not asked them not to worry about the future? So, if the world was ending anyway, of what use was preserving resources for future generations? Had we not been given leave to use the world and everything therein as we see fit?
The mountains, which had hitherto been shrines, were desecrated. The forests, guardians of peoples’ hope, fear and spirituality, met the axe and saw of the exploiters. The industrial revolution and agricultural revolution changed the world in ways that must have shocked even mother earth herself. These revolutions changed how we used land and the precious little resources that were there. Fortress conservation replaced genuine care for the environment around us. We started believing that we could conserve the earth in bits, while destroying the rest of it. We degraded our hitherto treasured wildlife to game for leisure hunters. Capitalism, a system that demands continuous growth of outputs from a world with limited resources, became the predominant economic model for many nations in the new world order.
Unwittingly, we started summoning the end for which Christendom has been awaiting for close to two millennia. Perhaps we were impatient for the savior’s advent. After all, how long was his soon? We joined the rest of the world in consuming fossils and releasing their long-secured carbon back into the atmosphere. We joined the world in the destruction of the forests that we desperately needed to sequester the excess carbon we were releasing. The mountains which had been capped by the majesty of God were now covered in capes of smoke. When plastics came, we embraced them and littered our only home with them. We became consumerist, and the message of sustainability was like an incessant rant from a street preacher nobody really listens to. We joined the world, in the name of civilization, in destroying the earth. After all, had we not been told that this world is not our home?
A different type of prophet arose. This one also proclaimed the end of the world was near. However, it was not the romantic conclusion that was negotiated on Calvary that first bloody Easter. This was a more horrific ending that awaited both the righteous and the heathen. Rather than trumpets and white horses, this is an end that will be marked by drought, famine, fires and floods. And no, there will not be a jubilant mob rising in glory to meet the Son of Man, it will be the famished cries of billions suffering the wrath of a dejected mother earth. And neither is this a work of God, it is our own actions that are driving us closer to this precipice. Overwhelmed by acts of nature and weather events, the magnitude of which has not been recorded before in the history of man, yes, this is the end that is nigh.
In Africa, we are tempted to dismiss climate change as an alien concept. We ignore the reality that we might be the world’s most vulnerable population. Cyclone Idai swept the South West and left a thousand bodies in its wake and the world out of Africa barely noticed. The port city of Beira has the dubious distinction of the first city to be entirely devastated by climate change. We are experiencing longer droughts and fiercer floods. Rain fed agriculture is becoming more unreliable, the seasons unpredictable. We are the second driest continent inhabited by man. In Kenya, pitiful images of school children drinking muddy water as a result of famine haunt the people. Lake Kamnarok, once one of Africa’s most vibrant ecosystems is on its deathbed. Carcasses of crocodiles, one of the most resilient and hardy species on earth now mark the former paradise. If crocodiles, they that out-survived dinosaurs are not being spared, what hope do we have as humans?
Yet, we continue with the wanton destruction of our planet. We continue to treat the environment as an afterthought. We continue to delude ourselves that this horrific end will not come during our time. Yes, we are still waiting for the divine end promised at Calvary.