By Kap Kirwok
December 8th 2012
According to meteorologists, astronomers and such, December 21st is the official first day of winter in the North and summer in the South.
But according to doomsday prophets, this day in 2012 could mark the last day of life on earth. Before you laugh and consign this to the dustbin of failed crackpot predictions, perhaps you should join me in a moment of general reflection. After all, in the human mind, madness and sanity, fact and fantasy, come gift-wrapped in the same package.
The current doomsday prediction is tied to a calendar of the Maya, a Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America who reckon the passage of time in spans of celestial cycles.
One of the Mayan calendars – the Long Count Calendar – spans 5,125 years and comes to and end on December 21st 2012. This would be the fourth time the great cycle has been completed. A cycle comes to an end, and another begins, much like we end one year and begin another. So, what is the big deal?
Well, December 21st 2012 happens to apparently also mark the time when the earth and sun will ‘align’ with the center of the Milky Way galaxy, an event that only takes place every 26,000 years.
This is where it gets interesting – and frightening for some. Despite absence of scientific proof, many alarmists have speculated that the ‘alignment’ of stars will cause all manner of potentially catastrophic events – earthquakes, massive life-roasting solar flares, a collision with a large cosmic object, pole shift, even reversal of poles. These events on their own or in combination will, according to doomsayers, bring about the end of life on earth.
You may find this idiotic until you realise how many people take these stuff seriously. According to a survey of 16,262 adults in 21 countries by Ipsos, a global independent market research company, one in ten (10%) believe the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world. One in seven (14%) agree that ‘the world will come to an end during my lifetime’. In the United States, more than one in five (22%) agreed with that statement!
Humankind is frightened by extinction. This is understandable. Over a period spanning 2.5 million years, some of our progenitors have been lucky survivors of several mass extinction events, the last of which took place 65 million years ago, wiping out all dinosaurs.
While extinction is the norm in this planet – according to scientists 99.5 % of all species that ever evolved are extinct today – the rate at which it is happening today, the fastest in Earth’s history, has let some scientists to conclude that a mass extinction event may already be underway. According to Jeff Corwin’s book 100 Heartbeats, “every 20 minutes we lose an animal species.”
And yet the greatest threat to humanity may not be fire speeding down towards earth from the sky, or fire speeding out of the bowels of earth. Rather, it may be the rate at which ideas are speeding out of humanity’s collective brain!
It is the ultimate irony: the more successful we are, the more in danger! The more we succeed in preventing or curing disease, the more we have to provide for the nutrition and security needs of a larger population that lives longer, often leading to overexploitation of finite resources, loss of life-sustaining biodiversity and excess pollution.
Technology has proved to be a double-edged sword. Consider the following examples. Nuclear technology is potentially a source of limitless, clean energy.
But a nuclear weapon in the hands of a suicidal terrorist gang is the stuff of nightmares. Equally frightening is the deliberate mass deployment of disease-causing organisms.
From genetic manipulation to nanotechnology to robotics, technology will increasingly enable humans to eat and live in a cleaner and safer world. But it will be a precarious existence in which technology could go rogue any time.
For me the most frightening technology-gone-mad scenario comes from quantum mechanics and involves a particle called a strangelet. This is a particle that can theoretically transform any other particle into a copy of itself.
If such particles were to be produced as a result of human nuclear-smashing experiments, they could, “in just a few hours, turn the planet into a featureless mass of strangelets”, according to Alok Jha in his book The Doomsday Handbook: 50 Ways the World Could End. Everything else will be squeezed to death.
Is this possible? Something close to this already happens within our bodies – it is called cancer. For you and me, the cancer we should worry most about is that of rapacious leadership. That is why we should forget about the Mayan calendar date of December 21st and focus on one day in our own calendar: March 4 2013.