Destroying the World
If you haven’t watched Godzilla: The Planet Eater, the newest Godzilla anime on Netflix, I am not surprised. The first two films in the series (Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters and Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle respectively) were pretty terrible. They followed a ragtag group of humans and aliens (named the Bilusaludo and the Exif) returning to Earth after Godzilla kicked them off the planet, and in a weird twist, terraformed the entire ecosystem to fit its needs.
The third movie tackles something unexpected — a fervent form of religious fundamentalism that perpetuates a toxic and destructive cosmic nihilism. It parallels a phenomenon happening in the real world. The Planet Eater is not a good film, but it does provide a cautionary tale on how radical ambivalence brought on by nihilism can have a detrimental impact on the world. It’s an eerie examination of climate change denialism, and that, I think, deserves further discussion.
The central plot of the film is that after a series of setbacks, the coalition of humans and aliens have become deeply religious as a coping mechanism. An Exif named Metphies claims that his people have actually scientifically proven the existence of their God and that if everyone just believes strongly enough in their God, it can defeat Godzilla.
This seems absurd, but as one character says:
“Everyone’s spirit dropped when we saw Mecha Godzilla couldn’t win. It makes sense to cling to a God to escape from the despair.”
It turns out that Metphies has not proven the existence of God at all, but Ghidorah, an extra-dimensional being that feeds on the destruction of dying worlds. Metphies claims Godzilla and Ghidorah are part of a natural cycle occurring across the galaxy: once civilizations reach a certain level of development their pollution leads to the creation of a gigantic monster that brings about the destruction of their planet.
Although this premise is pretty dumb, intended or not, it is a very apt metaphor for climate change.
Eventually, Metphies sacrifices a couple of devotees of his religion (because of course, he does) so he can bring Ghidorah to Earth for a kaiju showdown with Godzilla. What’s fascinating, however, is why Metphies and his people worship Ghidorah. It’s not because they have deified a naturally occurring entity, not entirely, but because of their thorough understanding of the universe.
“We calculated the future beyond linear time, and we discovered a grim conclusion. There is no such thing as eternity. The universe is finite, and eventually, everything will disappear. Therefore, we knew we had to find peace and comfort in the destruction of the universe.”
This is quintessential cosmic nihilism (or cosmic pessimism), which is the idea that there is no inherent meaning within the universe, and therefore, we should all just say “fuck it.” Life is meaningless. Everything will end, and even constructed meanings like religion and justice are empty gestures we create to pass the time. In the case of the Exif, they take this one step further and argue that the emptiness of the universe is justification enough to actively destroy it.
If this argument sounds familiar, this is because it is a key component to climate change denialism.
The World is Ending and I Don’t Give a Fuck
When I first saw this scene with Metphies it struck me how common this argument was in the real world. We see this logic used all the time to ignore the effects of climate change. As one famous skeptic, Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre has duplicitously argued:
“Climate policies can easily cost much more than the global warming damage will — while helping very little.”
- Bjorn Lomborg
This argument is absurd. The economic damage of not having a functioning planet is incalculable, but many climate change skeptics have switched to this stance. Critics like Lomborg have moved from denying climate change outright to the more “reasonable” position of arguing the economic wastefulness of having breathable air.
Does humanity even economy with no atmosphere?
The reason skeptics exist is obvious. It pays well to preserve the status quo. Lomborg’s organization has been funded by conservative actors such as former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and allegedly, venture capitalist Paul E Singer.
The same can be said for other climate change think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which is funded by the oil and natural gas industry. The Koch Brothers, in particular, have set up a rather robust climate change denial industry that outpaces any other corner of the globe in climate skepticism.
Deniers exist because ultimately they are being paid to hold up the status quo by convincing those who would be harmed by climate change’s effects that resistance is pointless. It’s not that these policy actors are advocating for nothing, but rather, for the continuation of our end.
The same can be seen within the very plot of this Godzilla movie. Ghidora, the cosmic horror that is eating up the universe one planet at a time, keeps the Exif alive so they can keep finding him meals. The Exif people are invested in Ghidora’s continuation.
“In order to spread his blessing around to the vast universe a handful of special priests were spared.”
It’s easy to advocate for the end of the world when you are insulated from the effects of that destruction. As writer Douglas Rushkoff recalled when reflecting on a talk about the future he had with venture capitalists:
“…[the rich] were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”
While many people are preparing for the almost apocalyptic future that might be brought upon by climate change, the rich are trying to buy themselves a get-out-of-jail-free card. They are creating colonies on Mars, building atomic-proof bunkers, and, scariest of all, moving to New Zealand.
Rather than examine how their wealth might be hastening our collective demise, the rich are doubling down on the futility of reform, and instead, much like the Exif, preparing for that end.
They are telling us not to worry, and then very much freaking the fuck out.
Manbearpig is Coming for You!
A poignant example of this in the media is the character Manbearpig from the comedy show South Park. In the character’s debut episode of the same name, which aired on April 26, 2006, Manbearpig is a fictional monster that former vice president Al Gore is trying to track down.
The show argues that Al Gore is ultimately doing this for attention. The episode aired shortly after Al Gore released his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which tried to warn the American public about the dangers of climate change. The episode’s mockery of Al Gore is very clearly an attempt to dismiss the credibility of climate change in general.
It’s easy, for some, to think of Manbearpig as just a harmless bit of climate change denialism (if such a thing can even exists), but this meme had a tangible impact on society. As ContraPoints says in her episode Apocalypse:
“A lot of us probably remember Manbearpig better than we do An Inconvenient Truth.”
Flashforward 12 years. Now that Climate change denial is no longer mainstream (even the Trump administration has released a report confirming its existence and severity), the creators of South Park, like most former deniers, have switched their position to cosmic nihilism.
In a recent two-parter (Time to Get Cereal and Nobody Got Cereal?), we revisit the character of Manbearpig. This time the monster is not only real, but, as with Ghidora, is actively destroying stuff. In this case, the town of South Park.
We quickly learn that the older South Park residents engaged in a Faustian bargain with Manbearpig to keep on consuming useless crap. In exchange, Manpearbig was promised the ability to consume the next generation, and now, it’s time to collect.
This is yet another very blunt metaphor for climate change.
In the end, the new generation makes another bargain with Manbearpig to keep on consuming crap. The same conditions for the previous contract apply, pushing the problem down the road to a later date.
People are just the worst, aren’t they?
Much like in the real world, the creators have moved from denialism to nihilism in order to justify their very real investment in the status quo. People like stuff, the creators tell their viewers, and they aren’t going to make the sacrifices needed to stop climate change if it requires giving up that stuff. Change is not only pointless, they argue, but antithetical to the human condition.
It’s not all people consuming useless crap who are the problem, however.
It’s mainly the rich.
Eat the Rich
Eat the rich
There’s only one thing that they are good for
Eat the rich
Take one bite now — come back for more
Eat the rich
It has become a common talking point among leftist circles that 70% of emissions come from just 100 companies. What’s not talked about nearly enough is that it is the economic activity of the rich that results in a large proportion of these emissions.
A report from Oxfam claims that the world’s richest 10% of people produce half of the Earth’s emissions. The rich fly more. They buy and consume more. It’s simply not true that a poor person consuming plastic is the same as a rich person owning multiple houses or flying for leisure several times a year.
Part of the reason global warming is so hard to tackle is that those in power — those that can actually change things — simply do not care enough to change their habits, and are in fact, actively blocking reform. It’s not the poor blocking carbon tax legislation and setting up think tanks to discredit the findings of climate change scientists.
Again, it’s the rich (Read Losing Earth: The Decade We
Almost Stopped Climate Change. It’s devastating).
The blame is not equally distributed. The powerful are making a conscious decision not to make changes to their lifestyle. As former Exxon Mobile CEO and current rich person Rex Tillerson said recently when asked about climate change:
“We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”
Yes, the rich may have the resources to adapt, but the rest of us do not have that luxury. Climate change will affect most everybody. Even if we can reduce our overall emissions, it will be devastating. Millions will die, and our way of life will change irreversibly.
We should all want to stop it.
Members of the elite, however, ultimately don’t want to forgo their creature comforts to make an actual difference for the rest of us. Why would they? They have Mars and New Zealand to look forward to.
And in order to avoid responsibility, they pivot the blame onto everybody equally. “We are all contributing to Ghidora and Manbearpig’s destruction,” they argue.
In this way, the philosophical outlook of cosmic nihilism becomes a justification for inflicting harm onto the world, or in Metphies’ case, the universe. The Exif used the meaningless of the universe to justify actively bringing Ghidora to Earth to consume it.
In the case of climate change, conservatives (often funded by the wealthy) use this viewpoint to continue polluting the planet in order to personally enrich themselves.
Well, that’s Bleak. What is the Solution, then?
In The Planet Eater, the manifestation of this destructive indifference, Ghidora, is destroyed though sciencey mumbo jumbo, and sick moves from Godzilla. Victorious, the survivors abandon technology altogether to live a “simpler” life.
The implication being that in order to break the cycle of radical ambivalence that destroys Earth, and every planet in the universe, we have to divest ourselves from our nihilistic worldview. The main character, in fact, crashes humanity’s last surviving ship into Godzilla to remove all vestiges of our technology.
The films reaction might be a bit too reductive here, but it is true that in order to stop climate change we will need to cut back on consuming useless crap. It will be a herculean effort — and it’s not a burden that should be shared equally — and yet, we do have the capacity to accomplish it.
In order to get there, however, we will have to prevent those in power from spreading the idea that advocating for change is pointless. If we want to truly stop the deadening of our planet, then the Metphies’ of the world will need to be stripped of their moral authority. Something that begins with recognizing, and then rejecting their nihilistic worldview.
If we continue to do nothing, there will be very real consequences. Plagues and food shortages might not be as dramatic as a kaiju battle, but they will be devastating nonetheless.
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