The Age of Plastic

What’s left when the entire human race is dead?

Good question. Well, now we know: what’s left when the entire human race is dead? Fire alarms, that’s what.

There’s no one here to service them, there’s no one here to fix them after they go off. And, because they weren’t connected to the grid, they didn’t just shut up when the power went down. I know that sooner or later the batteries will run out, but I’ll probably be gone by then too.

It gets you to thinking though. Those fire alarms will last longer than I will. What does it say about the human race, when our warning systems outlive the ears they were meant to warn? It’s like the man who set his alarm clock for the morning, but never woke up. When the neighbours called the police, they found him there, the alarm clock still ringing, but his ticker gone.

When we’re all dead and rotting – and it won’t be long – the vultures (or whatever’s left) will get ear-ache picking over our bones.

Makes you wonder what else we’re leaving behind. What else seemed so important that we had to give it a life-expectancy ten times longer than our own?

Did you know that the first piece of synthetic polymer plastic wasn’t created until 1907? The plastic we used to make, before we started dying, had a life-expectancy of a thousand years. You’d have to go back to the Norman invasion of England to get an idea of how long a thousand years is. Just imagine if the Normans had made everything out of plastic instead of wood or metal or stone. Archaeology wouldn’t be so hard: it’d all still be here.

Except there wouldn’t have been any archaeologists around to find it. If the Normans had invented plastics, like we did, they’d have got themselves into this fine mess, like we did – and we wouldn’t have existed at all.

So should we be grateful that the Normans didn’t invent plastic? Grateful that we got the chance to live on earth, grateful that we were the ones who invented plastic? Grateful that – no matter that we wiped out fifty percent of the species on earth, including ourselves – at least we had the opportunity to live?

Maybe we should be. What difference does it make? The earth was bound to reject us sooner or later. No species lives forever. We’re not the first species to mine ourselves out of existence in an orgy of over-consumption either.

Maybe we are the first species to talk about it at dinner parties, though. Maybe we are the first species to know what we’re doing to ourselves as we’re doing it to ourselves – and then to pass around the port.

We’re like the villain in a Bond film, who, with masochistic relish, informs 007 of the precise mechanism of his death and then walks away. Of course, that was always just a plot device to give James Bond enough time to escape from the villain’s snare. It’s not going to work that way for us. We’re doing it to ourselves, pressing the gas mask to our faces as we talk. We can’t walk away.

Strangely enough, though, I don’t care. And I’m not alone. Well, I am alone, but I wasn’t alone, clearly. No one cared, before they started dying, because it wasn’t real. No one could get a grip on the scale of the problem. I can’t blame any one else either. No one understood what we were doing in the age of plastic. And then, when we did understand, no one could control themselves.

We choose this, we wanted it.

Funny that, as the earth burns up, the only sound I can still hear is the sound of fire alarms.

Published by


David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.