Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Mundane Look at Har Megiddo

Apocalypse is seldom far from collective human concerns, but if my mentor Arnold Toynbee is on target, they rise to a loud chorus at the end-stage of civilizations. The first science fiction writer (at least in the modern sense) was Jules Verne (1828-1905); he is best known for such feats as submarines and lunar rockets. But the apocalyptic mood is already there in the nineteenth century in H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds. And after that worthy sci-fi series almost routinely feature a kind of cleansing of the historical slate by some kind of Armageddon produced by disease, atomic war, or alien invasion; some authors use all three.

Armageddon is named in Revelations 16:16. It is a kind of final battle of the kings of the earth, assembled by-frog like demonic spirits who issue from the mouth of the Beast (read Modernity). Indeed the kings come. And then comes the relevant verse 16: “And they [the demons] assembled them [the kings] at the place which is called in Hebrew Armageddon.”

Online Etymology Dictionary tells me that the Hebrew was actually Har Meggido, har being “mount”. The Greek version was Harmagedon, the Latin dropped the H. Wikipedia, in turn, informs me that this mount was a so-called tell, thus a man-made elevation serving to hold a fort guarding a major highway linking Egypt and Mesopotamia (the Via Maris, link); it was thus convenient for all those approaching kings. The choice of this place for the Last Battle by the author of Revelation suggest that he had a down-to-earth sense of the arrangements of his own time. The mount was a strategic military strong-point, and for the author of this book, the world was small enough so that the “kings of the whole world” could conveniently reach this central place from the north and east as well as from the south and west.

For the modern mind Armageddon requires a somewhat greater context. The roots of this post go back to last October when I put on LaMarotte (link) a well-reasoned estimate of how much time we still have until the world, at least as we now know it, will also come to an end. The subject has interested me because I’ve also written apocalyptic sci-fi novels; early on I saw the world collapse in atomic war, later in a space-borne disease; and later yet by running out of fossil fuels—but that last novel I never finished. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published some very similar data. I am showing their projections and mine side by side in the following tabulation:

Fossil Fuel Category
Wall Street Journal
(Year of Running Out)
My Own Projections
(Year of Running Out)
Natural Gas
not projected

Both the Wall Street Journal and I used the same basic estimates of existing reserves. The differences in projection are due to such things as guessing at future consumption growth and on the selection of beginning point. I used the highest available estimates of reserves and past consumption rates rather than increasing usage into the future. A conservative estimate. For that reason, perhaps, my projections are more sanguine.

Armageddon, in this civilization, is certainly coming. But it will be everywhere. As for when it takes places, most of us reading this will no longer be around; and babies born today will have reached a venerable old age. So there is nothing to worry about, actually, is there? Back to grabbing some of that gusto.


  1. Estimates are notorious... period.

    I researched a made-up phenomenon I called "Peak Lumber" in the 19th century to see when wood would run out; wood for burning, roadway building, house building, ship buildings, etc.

    We ran into things like enormous fires, such as the one that burned almost the entire thumb of Michigan back in the day, and all estimates were trashed.

    1. I like that project, Montag, "Peak Lumber"! Peak oil, I submit, is different; can't plant future oil unless one also plans and executes vast burials of forests and waits a million years. I looked into technological substitutes a while back and found that they just don't have the same generous input-output ratios. One's lucky to get a payback of 2 for 1, not the 50 for 1 with oil. And that ratio is diminishing as wells are exhausted.

  2. I agree Peak Oil is different, but I was more interested in our schemes and dreams about "Peak This-or-That" rather than the commodity itself.

    You know, you may have hit on the most important point:

    I spoke of sudden and enormous fires which destroyed the supply of King Lumber, and a number of substitutes were readily available at the time(e.g. macadam for roads)to substitute for wood...

    Perhaps the end of King Oil will be as sudden and precipitous; not necessarily a catastrophe like a fire, but a quick realization that all estimates are wrong, for all the reasons estimates go awry... and the Oil Barons rule would be at an end.

    Olaf Stadledon writes of Oil Depletion through mankind's obsessive and ritualized aerial displays as the history of the First Men approaches its end in "Last and First Men": the activity is different, the oil is the same, and the obsession is spot on.

    It is our obsession that is the source of disaster, not the commodity and its ups and downs.

    1. And come to think of it, Montag, when oil really begins to go West, as it were, the Lords of Timber will suddenly become very important again. The wise man today should be buying up timberland, even of the most wretched kind, and secure it for his children's children to make them rich as this century wanes.


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