Columns | Kane County Chronicle

Holinger: The end of the world or just a good excuse to get busy?

I am sitting in the Geneva Public Library trying to work. That is, sending my stories, poems and essays to literary journals whose editors will boomerang them back with amiable rejections.

Problem is, every 30 seconds someone on the other side of a stack of books digs his hand into a large bag of chips, pretzels or popcorn. The rattle, or maybe more of a cacophonous crunch, is slowly driving me to blow-up stage.

That is, yelling out, “This is a library, not Wrigley Field, you inconsiderate dolt!”

Then I reflect that I am just like the world at large. I’m ready to blow up. Literally.

Yup. People, countries and ideologies are symbolically, selfishly thrusting their hands into noisy snack bags to feed their faces because they don’t care about other people’s relative harmony.

Another example: I’m on an expressway and a motorcycle passes me doing twice my speed and sounding like a 500-pound mosquito. No way is he (or she) thinking of my well-being.

Think I’m being hyperbolic, paranoid or old-person cranky?

Then take it from someone who knows. Daniel Holz, an astrophysicist, annually helps set the Doomsday Clock, predicting when the world will end. “Founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons … the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” created the Doomsday Clock … using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet” (“Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” Jan. 23, 2024).

In a New Yorker article (June 10, 2024), Holz said the farthest from midnight the clock has ever been set was at the end of the Cold War. This year, however, “the clock shows 90 seconds to midnight … the closest it’s ever been.”

Why the pessimism? Holz listens to experts in their fields deliver information about “biothreats, nuclear risk, climate change and perils from emerging technologies.” The latter, I presume, focuses on AI running amok, thinking for itself and behaving egotistically as those world leaders who want everything for themselves.

In fact, Toby Ord, who ranks risks that might terminate humans, “believes that AI is the most perilous, assigning to it a one-in-10 chance of ending human potential or life in the next hundred years.”

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown bets a nuclear holocaust will cause humanity’s extermination, citing a June 1980 almost catastrophic computer glitch. Russia mistakenly believed it had launched 2,200 armed nuclear missiles at the U.S. Fortunately, before Jimmy Carter could decide whether to respond with a retaliatory strike, the Russians called and said, “Sorry, our bad. Nothing there.” Or something like that.

Ready for the funny part? The New Yorker piece highlights the class Holz co-teaches at the University of Chicago called “Are We Doomed?”, examining the several ways we may destroy ourselves and/or our planet. They watch dystopian movies (“Dr. Strangelove,” “WALL-E,” “War-Games,” etc.) and listen to scholars and politicians versed in the End of Things.

Apparently, the course curriculum can be somewhat overwhelming for students. One of the vulnerable, Mikko, faced with the prospect of human extinction in his lifetime, thought about medieval cathedral builders “who believed in Revelations … sure they were doomed.” With this in mind, Mikko thought, “I may as well dedicate myself to something.”

For all of you who believe this a pessimistic essay, think again. With so little hope to corral, why not throw yourselves into doing something creative? I just wrote some poems to a 10-year-old grandniece at sleepaway camp whose personae included a hummingbird, turtle and twin frogs.

If the world ends tomorrow, I’ll feel pretty good.

• Rick Holinger has taught English and creative writing on the college and secondary school levels. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, his writing appears in Chicago Quarterly Review, Chautauqua, Boulevard, Witness and elsewhere. His book of poetry, “North of Crivitz,” and collection of essays, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” are available at local bookstores, Amazon or Contact him at