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Hellbent for Destruction ... but Have a Nice Day

There have always been prophets of doom. These days, they are called environmentalists.

Anyone who thinks an environmentalist is a knobby-kneed guy in bermuda shorts carrying binoculars and a “Field Guide to Newt Mating Habitats” has not talked to one of these latter-day Jeremiahs.

Remember the mad-eyed men with the flowing white beards who carried placards in the public squares of our childhood? Today, they’re guys with a degree in biophysics. They wear suede shoes and carry “The End Is Near” signs. Some of these Vibran-wearing souls are women who conduct policy studies, network the media and hold fund-raisers so that rich people who own the environment can hear speakers describe the catastrophe du jour.

The debate among environmentalists these days is not whether we’ll “go” but how. They’ve got a million scenarios. Some environmentalists are true crusaders, committed to only one end-of-life-as-we-know-it vehicle.

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Others are dilettantes who switch back and forth depending on which way the grant money is flowing. You’ve got your acid rain, your depleted ozone layer, your chemical poisons, your incredible shrinking water tables, your disrupted food chains, your genetically altered plants running amok--and these are just the sideshows.

The current leading contenders for total planetary destruction seem to be the greenhouse effect and nuclear winter. Those of us who know that the poetry of the Earth is never dead recognize this as a variation of the old Robert Frost debate: “Some say the world will end in fire,/ some say in ice. . . .”

It’s still the same old story--we’re either going to burn in hell or freeze to death.

The Ice People think that we will perish in a global chain reaction as a result of some nut using the bomb. Stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons is more important to them than saving the whales.

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And they certainly have a point. Everybody wants a bomb these days. Even plucky little Pakistan is said to be close. A frightening prospect, what with Benazir Bhutto as head of state. You know how women are. At least with Moammar Kadafi you don’t have to factor in his hormone cycle.

The Fire People warn that the burning of fossil fuels is increasing the global carbon-dioxide level, creating a greenhouse effect. They are less concerned about the odd Alar-permeated apple and more concerned that we’ll all end up as hothouse tomatoes.

But greenhouse schmeenhouse, as my mother used to say. Maybe around the time the greenhouse effect starts cooking, somebody in Liechtenstein will drop the bomb. Then the fire will be put out by the ice just as scissors cut paper and paper covers rock. We can don’t worry, be happy.

Unfortunately, since there is such disagreement among the experts on what particular scenario will destroy us, the question becomes academic. And, like Frost, we end up speculating about what might happen if the world has to perish twice. Sure. Fire first. The ice next time.

Those of us who live in urban areas may not be taking these threats as seriously as we should. We’re preoccupied with stories about crack cocaine destroying the economy of cities, AIDS bankrupting health-care resources and gridlock making it impossible to move.

There are too many catastrophes competing for our attention. So many disasters, so little time.

How about if we all link hands and visualize our friend the Earth wearing a smile face?

But no doubt the environmentalists are right. We are rushing headlong toward a disaster that is unpreventable unless dramatic steps are taken now. But which ones?

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