We humans have predicted our own doom over and over in a myriad of dramatic ways, from the Biblical apocalypse to movies like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, with its enormous climate-shift tsunami. In this seven-part series, historian Charlotte Sleigh explores previous prophecies and sciences of annihilation, asking what we can learn from them. Hope, depression, fear, inspiration, selfishness and altruism resulted at different times and in different places. Our appetite for epic disaster tales makes it difficult to imagine how climate change will take place – or rather, is already happening. Climate change is different from the rest, but with the benefit of history, we might approach the brink a little more wisely this time.
Deciding a date for the end of the world
When will the world end? Charlotte Sleigh explores how our obsession with dates and dramatic imaginings of the end can distract us from the dangers slowly creeping up on us.
Devilry and doom in 1666
Disastrous events and a significant combination of numbers signalled the end – or perhaps a new beginning – in 1666. But for some, this feverish period fuelled unprecedented inventiveness and development.
It’s getting mighty crowded
Mid-20th-century population-density research on mice produced a whiskered apocalypse, predicted to become the fate of humans too. But perhaps a more compassionate approach could fend this off.
When the sun goes down
Despite the country’s colonial and industrial dominion, the finest minds of Victorian Britain began to fear the devastating effects of declining natural resources. Even the death of the sun.
The Martians are coming
For over a hundred years, antagonistic alien invaders have been a popular focus for the imagined end of the world. But the destructive consequences of human behaviour is far more frightening.
The big freeze
In recent years we’ve come to realise that global heating is our biggest threat. But it’s hard to shake off the fear of a return to ice-age conditions, the predominant narrative since the late 17th century.