The Little Beetle and the End of the World

[My translation of a text by Swiss-German cabaret performer Franz Hohler from the late 70s. Ecology 101: ‘Everything is connected to everything else’. Prescient. Useful for educational purposes, not just in schools…]

Franz Hohler, The End of the World (c. 1980)

The end of the world, ladies and gentlemen, will, according to what we know today, proceed in roughly the following way.

At the beginning a beetle will disappear on a fairly small island in the south Pacific. An unpleasant beetle, and everyone will say: thank God that beetle’s finally gone! That disgusting itch it caused, and it was always full of dirt.

A little later, the people on this island will notice that there’s a voice missing among the early morning chorus of birds, a high-pitched, rather shrill one like the sound of a cricket, the voice of the bird whose food, of course, was the dirty little beetle!

A little later, the fishermen on the island will notice that there’s one kind of fish missing in their nets, that small but particularly tender fish – and here I have to pause and mention that the bird with the rather shrill call had (or will have had) the habit of sweeping out over the ocean in a long loop and depositing its crap as it did so – and for that particularly tender kind of fish that crap was its daily bread.

A little later, the people on the continent close to the fairly small island in the Pacific will notice that everywhere – on the grass, door handles, their food, clothes, skin and hair – tiny black insects which they’ve never seen before are massing. And they will not understand. For they cannot know that the small but particularly tender kind of fish was the food of a larger and not at all tender fish which simply switched to preying on a different kind of fish, a small yellow stickleback which mainly ate those black insects!

A little later, the people in Europe will notice that the price of eggs is going up, massively. And the egg producers will say that the corn making up a large part of hen feed is suddenly no longer available from the continent close to the fairly small island in the Pacific because of some insect plague which had been successfully suppressed with insecticides which unfortunately had also killed off the corn.

A little later – things are getting faster and faster – there’s no more chicken on the plate! While searching for a replacement for the corn in the hen feed, the proportion of fishmeal in the feed had been doubled. But every fish today has its fair share of mercury! Before this proportion had been low enough not to harm anyone – but now there was a global dying-off of hens!

A little later, the people on the fairly small island in the south Pacific will run in fear from the shore to their homes because they have no previous knowledge of what they’ve seen: the flood had risen today – and one has to remark that the sky had been blue and there had been no wind and the surf had been low, as always in fine weather. And yet that afternoon the shores of the island had lain under water! And of course no one knew that on the same day in the whole world people were running from the shores to their homes and calling it sea-level rise!

A little later, the people on that fairly small island in the south Pacific will climb from the roofs of their homes into their fishing boats and sail towards the continent where the events with the corn had happened. But there also the sea will have already risen several metres and the coastal cities and harbours be already deep under water. For you see, all of the contaminated hens, all six billion of them, had had to be burnt. And the carbon thus emitted pushed the atmosphere, already stretched to its limits by burning and warming, over the edge. It let in the sun’s warmth as before, but no longer let any escape, whereby the air heated up to such an extent that the ice at the poles began to melt and the seas to rise.

A little later, the people who will have now fled to the mountains will see a strange glowing light behind the peaks, out on the horizon, and they won’t know what to make of it, for they can also hear a feint growling. And when one of the older people now thinks it might be the beginning of the struggle of the great ones for the last remaining spaces for their peoples, one of the people will ask bitterly: how, for heaven’s sake, did it come to this?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the seas rose because the air was warmed. The air was warmed because the hens were burnt. The hens were burnt because they were contaminated with mercury. They were contaminated with mercury because they were fed with fish. They were fed with fish because there was no more corn. There was no more corn because insecticides had been used.

The insecticides had had to be used because the insects had arrived. The insects had arrived because a fish no longer ate them. The fish no longer ate them because it had been eaten. It had been eaten because another fish had been wiped out because a bird no longer flew. The bird no longer flew because a beetle disappeared, that dirty beetle from the beginning of the story.

All that’s left is the question – let’s not beat around the bush: why did that beetle disappear?

That, ladies and gentlemen, has unfortunately not yet been properly explained. I tend to think it hadn’t fed itself properly! Instead of grass it ate grass with oil, instead of leaves it ate leaves with soot. Instead of drinking water it drank water with sulphur. That’s a sure way of ruining yourself in the end!

So there’s only one last question: WHEN WILL ALL THIS HAPPEN?

In response most scientists just scratch their heads. They say: in ten, in twenty years, maybe in fifty, or even a hundred. – I personally have come to a different conclusion. I’m certain, the end of the world, ladies and gentlemen, HAS ALREADY BEGUN !

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on June 29, 2017.

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