The end of the world (but not as we know It)
A Q&A with Craig Childs, who tells a tale of a slow but steady doomsday
Craig Childs is a modern-day adventurer. A commentator for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and author of several books on the natural sciences, Childs traveled across the globe to write “Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the End of the World.” Published in October 2012, the book chronicles Childs’ journey to a better understanding, through firsthand exposure, of just how the earth is changing.
In your book, you go looking for different disaster scenarios around the world. How did you choose which locations to visit?
I sat down and looked at the planet and thought about all the ways it could end, from smallest to biggest. I wanted to go as far out as a planet with no more water, but I also wanted to look at more immediate problems like global sea rising and ice melting. I came up with about nine endings, so I just went out into the world to find places to match them. For sea level rise, I went to the last standing remnant of the land bridge at the Bering Strait, and so on.
You have a great way of alternating a personal narrative with very in-depth scientific information. Did you have that knowledge going in, or did you research the climate science behind your observations after visiting your “apocalypses”?
Both. I did a lot of research leading up to each trip, but afterwards I’d say, “Now that I’ve seen this, now that I’ve stood there and watched how fast ice can disappear” … The landscape itself is what generates the questions, so when I finished a trip there’d be tons of research to do. In the end I took a lot of it out, because I didn’t want to overload it with so much science that a nonscientist couldn’t withstand it. It’s a tricky balance!
Who exactly are you trying to reach with this book, and what do you want them to take away from it?
I want this to be read by people who just can’t wait for the apocalypse to come. I want them to fall into this book and think, “Oh great, we’re going to get all the grizzly details.” They will, but not in the way they’re thinking. I’m trying to sneak into their folds and say, “Hey apocalypse people, the end is not coming, but there are many changes that you will consider to be end-like, and you’ve got to do something about that.”
You end the book with an analogy of the earth as a seed: We are not gardeners, but part of the seed itself. Is this how you felt going in?
I went in thinking we were stewards, but I realized that we’re not in charge of this, we’re just a major player. This isn’t ours to take care of. We can change the way we play and what we put into it, but we’re not in charge of it. I’ve been afraid that people would see my attitude towards the earth and think, oh, the earth is going to be fine, we don’t have to change anything, but I’m trying to say that the planet is unstable. We may just be an effect, but we’re a major one, and we’re changing the earth and the fate of every species on earth.