‘CATASTROPHE” is the keyword of the moment. And if we want to address the various states of disorder and disaster it refers to, we should dwell for a moment on the usages of the term itself.

It comes from the Greek katastrépho: “I overturn.” Nothing could seem as starkly catastrophic as the Grenfell Tower disaster – a community in the sky quickly “turned over”, via a wall of flaming panels, into a charnel house. It’s also the exact term used by those local activists who had been warning for years of the building’s flammability.

“We firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”, wrote the Grenfell Action Group on their blog, in November 2016. As the body count heads towards its inevitable three figures, no-one would contradict their use of the term.

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Yet to cite the usual phrasing, the “scale” of a catastrophe can sometimes numb the senses.

For example, and in case you didn’t know, it’s the UN-approved World Asteroid Day on June 30. Why do we need this (especially as promoted by astrophysicist and Queen lead guitarist Brian May)?

Because according to Alan Fitzsimmons from Queen’s University Belfast, it’s “a case of when rather than if” an significant asteroid impact on the Earth will happen. “We’re tracking more than 1800 potentially hazardous objects that have been discovered so far, but there are many more waiting to be found,” says the prof.

We know they’re part of what did for the dinosaurs. Slamming into our fragile, interconnected and urbanised world, what kind of damage could the one that gets through do to us? Catastrophic, says a phalanx of disaster experts: our welfare, financial and communication systems would be unravelled, overturned, with a hammer blow. In this scenario, we can predict countless Grenfells.

What is a citizen supposed to do with this kind of information? How to act, when the threat of the worst numbs and crushes the spirit? Catastrophe is a double-bladed weapon in the armoury of so many public advocates.

The Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees has set up a Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER). Tracking (and hopefully deflecting) killer asteroids is only one of CSER’s “existential risks” – meaning ones that could “lead to human extinction or civilisational collapse”.

Others include runaway artificial intelligences, if given too much responsibility over humans.

Or bioengineering accidents, with DIY experiments slipping the bounds of regulation and oversight. Or just the old familiar spectres – climate change hitting irreversible tipping points, or nuclear arsenals in thoughtless, reactive hands … The catastrophe business has its own metric – the “Doomsday Clock” managed by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, whose hands shift according to their overall assessment of global catastrophe (a long way of saying “apocalypse”).

In light of the Trump administration’s belligerence and climate denialism, the Bulletin has moved it from three minutes away from “midnight” in 2016, to two-minutes-thirty in January of this year. It’s the closest to “imminent peril” for the last 64 years. Notoriously, Martin Rees gives humans only a 50 per cent chance of getting out of the 21st century alive.

If getting lost in escapist pop thrills was our only reaction to this reign of catastrophe, one could embrace one’s grumpy old manhood with relief, as Celebrity Big Brother sputtered into silence on the telly. No need to stockpile Spam, if the likelihood is you’ll be suddenly evaporated (or picked off by a rogue AI drone) in your favourite armchair anyway. Let the cockroaches – with their king, Keith Richards – dominate the next planetary epoch.

But escapism isn’t our only reaction. Indeed, across this particular archipelago of ours, we have two examples of collective response to potential catastrophe which both inspire hope, and can generate action.

There’s a well-polished chestnut among the commentariat, coined by the US literary critic Frederic Jameson: “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. The line originally referred to our love of globe-destroying disaster movies, which massively outnumber movies that might challenge the existing economic order.

But it works for political imagination too. I came to the indy movement in Scotland as a means of literally making it harder to imagine the end of the world. This was because I believed (and still believe) that a sovereign Scotland could remove Trident nuclear weapons from our soil – thus putting a spanner in the works of their recommissioning, and contributing to their non-proliferation throughout the world.

I want to make it easier to imagine the beginning of a just, peaceful state than to imagine a Scotland irradiated by some Trident accident, on the road or at their base. Never mind actually used.

The stubborn fact is that – at least by party-political preference, and thus the endorsement of those parties’ manifestos – the majority of Scotland thinks the same way. I always think we should never underestimate the persistence of Scottish anti-nuclear sentiment – particularly as it remains core to our independence parties and movements.

What nobler reason to assert your sovereignty, than to help reduce the likelihood of catastrophe in your country, and in the wider world?

So even what looks like our piddling island political tribalism turns out to have planetary consequences. I remember the most surreal – yet in terms of the outcome, the most satisfying – Corbyn scenes in the recent General Election campaign.

Debate audiences and political hacks lined up to ask the veteran anti-nuclear activist if he would “press the nuclear button first”.

His answer – in essence, my party has decided on recommission of Trident, I accept though dissent from that view, but I would not “first-strike” as Prime Minister – was routinely decried as “car-crash television” by the pundit class.

Yet the Corbynites made their electoral advance regardless.

We all remember the girl on BBC’s Question Time, who wondered “why does everyone in this room seem so keen on killing millions of people?”

No doubt Corbyn’s position is unsustainable. Over the last few years, I have had significant private entreaties from major players now active in the Corbyn scene. They urge Scottish independistas to “deal with Trident – in our electoral and attitudinal calculus, we can’t make it add up down here”.

But even minimally, this political fluidity and potentiality around the cancellation of a nuclear missile system does show one thing: We can refuse to be paralysed by catastrophe. We can respond with principles and policy to mitigate its likelihood at worst, and prevent it at best. (As a symbol of this I have in mind my old Latin teacher from St. Ambrose, Coatbridge, Mr Brian Quail, who regularly puts his body in the way of Trident nuclear convoys as they pass through Scotland. I was never better educated, then and now).

Digging around for this piece, I discovered a word that I doubt will catch on, but at least hints at something. A way of recognising the scale of our societal and planetary crisis, but which holds out that our agency and imagination can have some effect.

So don’t anticipate catastrophe, but seek anastrophe. The spelling comes straight from the Greek anastrophe, meaning “a turning back or about”. Its specific definition is the reordering of the elements of a sentence – shifting subject, verb and object around, to have a rhetorical effect.

As a metaphor for our times, it’s obvious. We know the merchants of catastrophe – whether it’s the disaster capitalists of the elites, smashing things up to eventually profit from them; or heedless ultra-radicals who welcome breakdown and chaos as fruitful for their brand of millenarian takeover.

They are both worse than those who want to be anastrophic: that is, citizens, builders and makers who haven’t given up the idea that we can reform and rearrange the structures of our societies – democracy, workplace, community and markets – for the better. I retain my hope that progress in Scotland is of this kind.

This approach will also probably work better to deal with killer bugs, droughts, robots and asteroids. For Hollywood, simplifying demagogues and scare-quote tabloids, maybe not so much. For more on World Asteroid Day, on June 30, go to asteroidday.org