In a Word . . . Nigh

It’s the end of the world as we know it – but then, it always has been

 

Bless my sweet soul but haven’t we become exceedingly casual about the end of the world? Like death and taxes it is always with us. It seems only yesterday that we patiently awaited the great burn-up that was to follow disappearance of the ozone layer when even soggy Ireland was to disappear in a puff of steamy smoke. We’re still waiting, and Ireland remains as soggy.

Years beforehand our parents were similarly let down when awaiting mutually assured destruction in the cold war between the US and USSR. It, at least, came close to happening in October 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. But, then too, the expected failed to happen. It is always thus.

Even the 12 apostles believed the world would end in their time and, considering the company they kept, who would doubt them? But no.

In the 1970s we were told there’d be a new ice age by 2020. In 2020 our primary concern was with global warming. In the 1980s we were told the Maldives would be underwater by 2018. They’re not.

In the early 2000s word was that Britain would be cold as Siberia by 2024. Just two years to go and, despite the Boris Johnson administration, it still hasn’t happened. But, with Johnson in Downing Street for now, who’d rule it out?

In 2008 they said the Arctic would be ice-free by 2013, then by 2018. In 2009 Prince Charles said we had until 2017 to save the world. He, we, and it are still around, which has to be embarrassing for him.

Of course no one forecast Covid-19, except maybe Bill Gates. In 2015 he recalled “when I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war ... Today the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this ... If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war.”

More recently he said the death toll from climate change could be greater than in the pandemic.

It is comforting to know that the grand old “end-of-the-world-is-nigh” tradition is alive and well and thriving someplace near us.

So, nothing to worry about?

Nigh, for “near, nearby”, from Middle English neigh, from Old English neah.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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