Trajectory of Smith Cloud

The End of the World

I once reported the end of the world and lived to tell the tale. As a radio reporter in Perth WA, in the mid-seventies I was sent to report on a group of Looney Tunes who were convinced not only were we living in the End Times but in the words of a contemporary Rod Stewart song, “Tonight’s the Night”.

It was a warm summer evening in the hills behind the city. It was the Age of Aquarius and a whiff of marijuana was in the air. WA was then the forgotten state, where the Sixties didn’t start until the Seventies and radio reporters still wore suits. I remember thinking the doomsday pilgrims were informally dressed to be meeting the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. They were a group of around fifty expectant young adults with a sprinkling of seemingly unworried children. By their psychedelic headbands and colourful robes, the deity they worshipped was a hippy god. This apocalyptic gathering, in the language of the time was a ‘Happening’. “There is no specific injunction in the bible against smoking dope” one earnest young lady told me as she puffed and then religiously followed the advice of those divine choristers, ‘The Band’ in the popular seventies movie ‘Easy Rider’……………..

“Don’t Bogard that joint my friend. P-a-a-a-s-s it over to me.
R-o-o-o-o-o-l-l another one……………..”.

Just like Bill Clinton, back then of course I didn’t inhale but somehow for the life of me I cannot remember the name of that cult.

If the Bible is a little vague on the use of Cannabis Sativa it is quite detailed about the end of the world. Most of those old biblical correspondents just couldn’t wait for the fire and pestilence. “Armageddon out of here! Bring it on!”

An old bloke with flowing white hair thundered a final sermon. He looked a lot like Charlton Heston from the 1956 Hollywood epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’. But this show owed nothing to Cecil B. DeMille, and everything to biblical prophecy. If you really want chapter and verse, the preacher quoted from the Apostle Matthew 24:29-31.

“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

I found this end of the world business made for a most entertaining night. Though professionally I was on a hiding to nothing. If the world actually did end, then I wouldn’t have a story. And if the world didn’t end, I still wouldn’t have one, because the limitless gullibility of human beings is hardly news.

Before I move on can I state as a general policy that no correspondence will be entered into on these matters? I’ve been in this game long enough to know the very mention of the Bible inspires a deluge of badly hand-written letters from people I can only presume are still awaiting the first coming of the NBN.

Invariably the mail arrives in grubby envelopes, misspelled and untidily scribbled in tiny tight spidery writing on crumpled lined paper. I really feel I should wear rubber gloves to open it. The writers seem to favour Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, which outlines in some detail the horrible punishments for blasphemy and unlawful sex. For the latter, the woman always gets killed and if it’s bestiality so does the poor animal, which I think seems even more unreasonable.

So please don’t send me letters. I won’t open them. I’m really afraid of catching a disease that makes my brain even smaller than it already is.

Which leads me back to my happy theme, which is the end of the world. The horrendous disease, Zika fever, came out of the Ugandan forest and now threatens the whole tropical and possibly sub-tropical world and beyond with a mosquito borne viral disease, microcephaly, where children are born with abnormally small heads and brains. It’s a doomsday scenario we’ve heard before over the past few decades. Viruses are emerging from the contracting wild environment and mutating to take advantage of the greater opportunities afforded by the vast meat mass of humanity.

Some say Climate Change might destroy us first because only a six percent temperature rise is arguably enough to wipe out all life on the planet. Others worry it could be an asteroid that gets us. But that would have to happen soon, before we are destroyed by robots. Stephen Hawking who ironically can only communicate via computer technology has warned: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Human’s, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superceded.”

Black holes, nuclear war, or a super volcano, take your pick. There are many ways it might all end sooner rather than later, but there’s no point worrying because in the long run, you can be absolutely certain, we have no future.

Recently scientists cheerfully announced that we have only a mere 30 million years left. Not so long if you think it was just 200 million years ago when the dinosaurs first appeared. Our segment of the great cosmic show is almost over because a gigantic gas cloud is heading our way at about a million and a half kilometers an hour. Ridiculously, in honour of its discoverer, this particular Armageddon goes by the humdrum name of ‘The Smith Cloud’.
Really! How can we take that seriously?

But names can be deceptive. When it hits our galaxy, they say, the cloud will explode with enough matter and energy to create two million new suns. Vanished in an instant will be everything we have striven for and achieved since we left the cave. The great monuments, the great art, music and literature, the inventions, the ideals, the dreams, the whole essence of humanity and yes even our nobility, because in thirty million years I would expect we might have got our act together: all of it gone in a flash as if it were never there.

Once again there will be no story to report.
We shall have become mere stardust.


Image by: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI) [Edited for this blog by cropping and moving text placement]