Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan: “It’s the end of the world as we know it”

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"A few years ago, I asked a friend what her plans were for the future. ‘To buy a helicopter,’ she replied, more nonchalantly, I thought, than such a reply deserved.

‘Pourquoi?’ I replied, because I turn to French whenever friends start showing signs of encroaching eccentricity. ‘Because,’ she explained, ‘when everything starts going tits up here,’ she gestured expansively around us, ‘it’s going to be no good trying to get across the floodwaters or dusty plains, or through food rioters or millions of virus-ridden corpses – we’re going to need to go up. Get to high ground. And be able to take plenty of ammo along.’ I backed slowly away with a pacifying smile and assurances that I would see her soon while dipping my hand unobtrusively into my bag to delete every one of her contact details from my phone.

I wish I still had them. So I could ask how the purchase plans are going and how much it would cost for a seat on her private chopper*. Because have you seen what’s happening out there? All the nightmare scenarios we’ve seen in movies, or read about in books or were taught in school when global warming was first discovered, are coming true. People are being displaced from their homes by rising sea levels – first only from small low-lying tropical islands, which kind of felt like payback for living in such idyllic seeming places, but now it’s happening in Alaska. That’s part of the US – for crying out loud! The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the entire village of Newtok could be underwater by 2017, which is just – if my maths does not deceive me, which it may given the amount of time I spent at school trying to encourage my fellow pupils to switch to CFC-free hairsprays instead of concentrating on basic arithmetic – four years away.

And after SARS, avian flu, ordinary flu (which officially reached epidemic proportions this year in the US), plus the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance, there is now a new coronavirus – basically the mother lode of viruses – which has so far killed 18 people on the Arabian peninsula and the World Health Organisation says appears to be transmissible person-to-person. You know, like in all the scary books and horror films and nightmares.

All the nightmare scenarios from movies and books are coming true

The UN is advising nations to breed insects to help alleviate the food shortages that are affecting the underdeveloped world and will – by the time the planet’s population hits an expected nine billion in 2050 – have become a chronic and pressing problem around the globe. They will first be used as animal feed (the insects, not the nine billion people, so… far) due to the ‘psychological problems’ attendant on persuading people to consume them directly, but we’re basically looking at a shift from chicken nuggets and barbecue sauce to fried crickets and cicada dip within our lifetimes.

And if you’re not quite freaked out enough, have a look at the pictures of the ice sheets on the Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota that were blown onshore by fierce winds battering down the doors of the houses human beings had the temerity to build round it when we thought we had sufficiently tamed nature.

I understand now why I’ve been reading more and more apocalyptic fiction recently. I’ve been subliminally acquiring survival skills. I have the head of a bookworm, but the heart of a doomsday prepper. My main problem will be fitting enough tinned goods and guns around the full set of Penguin Classics stacked in the bunker.

Yes, I’ve decided to go down, not up. I can see the advantages of my friend’s fortified hilltop retreat, but what if Armageddon is sparked not by a virus, food shortage or overwhelming climate catastrophe but an oil war? Where’s she going to get helicopter fuel then, eh? I think, actually, I’m going mad. Yesterday I was walking through the park with my toddler and started inwardly evaluating it as a potential refuge – trees for shelter, pond = water to drink and wash in, ducks and fish = food – in case it all kicks off before I’ve found my ideal long-term sanctuary on But I am genuinely terrified. All I can do is hope that I’m not alone and that somehow we can band together either to thwart or face down the coming horrors. Are you with me? And can you chip in for ammo?”

* I think that’s a thing you can ask a female friend without getting into trouble. I would for my last post-apocalyptic words to be a pun.

Photo credit: Rex Features

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