Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

What is the meaning of ‘the writing is on the wall’ regarding runaway global warming and climate change?

Outside a Catholic church in the coastal region of northwestern France, there is a weather-beaten limestone statue of The Virgin Mary that’s been dubbed “The Madonna of Global Warming” by French sci-fi writer Yann Quero, who spotted the statue a few years ago and took a photo of it that’s online now. Just Google search the title of the statue.

We know now that in terms of global warming and climate change, “the writing is already on the wall.” If you are not sure about this, just Google a few search terms for terms like “global warming” or “climate change” or “Cli-fi” or “Climate Justice.”

“The handwriting on the wall” means a premonition, portent, or clear indication, especially of failure or disaster, according to the dictionary. Here’s an example: “The company had ignored the writing on the wall and was plunged into bankruptcy.”

But where does the phrase come from and what is its relation to global warming and climate change in 2018?

Well, according to Paul Cooper, writing in the Taipei Times, the phrase harks back to an ancient Hebrew Bible story about Daniel. While a king was holding the Jews captive in the foreign land of Babylon, in the 6th Century Before the Common Era, a mysterious hand was said to have appeared, writing on the wall of the king’s palace. If you look at the photo of the painting by Rembrandt in 1635, titled “Belshazzar’s Feast,” it’s spooky. You can actually see the weird uncanny hand in the painting.

Here’s a good definition. “The phrase the writing on the wall (or sometimes handwriting on the wall) is an expression that suggests future doom or misfortune, visible to almost anyone. For example, 97 percent of the world’s scientists can see  the handwriting on the wall regarding runaway global warming and climate change.

The “writing on the wall” is purely metaphorical, an allusion to a Bible verse found in the Hebrew Book of Daniel concerning the death of Belshazzar, Cooper notes.

“The historical Belshazzar was regent to his father, Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He is thought to have been killed when the Persians defeated Babylon in 539 BC. The Bible version of Belshazzar’s end differs with the historical account, and starts with a magnificent feast during which Belshazzar insulted God by using sacred temple vessels as wine goblets. The drunken revelry was abruptly halted when a disembodied hand appeared out of thin air and wrote the Aramaic words mene mene tekel upharsin on the palace wall. The shaken Belshazzar understood the literal meaning of the words —  “numbered, weighed, divided” — but was confused as to their significance. He called Daniel, a Jewish exile with a reputation for interpreting dreams. Daniel believed the phrase to be an omen signaling Belshazzar’s fall, and the final word as an allusion to Persia. According to the Bible story (Daniel 5: New English Version), Daniel interpreted the phrase to mean:

“Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

According to Daniel 5:30, Belshazzar was slain that same night.”

When we say “the writing is on the wall” today, we mean that all the indications are that the end to an endeavor is close, Cooper writes.

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. Danny graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Yiddish Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan, he has lived and worked in 14 countries and speaks French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live until 2032, when his tombstone will read "I came, I saw, I ate cho-dofu."