Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Someone in the distance sings: It's the End of the World as We Know It.

Natural Disaster by Leonardo Da Vinci
There have been many movies made about the end of days.  (Hell, wasn't there even a movie called that very thing?) The Day After Tomorrow touches closely on the day things go pear shaped, as well as that god awful thing starring John Cusack called 2012.  What both of these movies have in common (aside from some seriously bad writing) is the message that we, as the dominant species of this planet, have stuffed up and are responsible for Nature's fury against humanity. 
Before you think I'm about to start An Inconvenient Truth stylised rant, let me get to the point.  Well it's more of a question.  Do you buy into the craziness that the world is shitting itself and will come to an end sometime soon?
Let's look at the evidence before we make a snap judgment. 
The Mayan Calendar ends on 21.12.12.  There is no disputing this.  Personally I've always been of the opinion that it was because thousands of years ago a Mayan monk, who was being punished for looking a little too interested in the Chieftain's daughter, got all the way to December 21 in the year 2012 and decided that it was a good place to stop.  His hand was sore, from writing (and other activities spurred on by the scantily clad progeny of the Chieftain) figured that the advanced race of people in 2012 would know what day should come after the 21st of December and all the days thereafter, so decided that he needn't continue. 
However, conspiracy theorists would have you believe that the world is going to end on this day, because that's when the Mayan calendar ends.  They don't subscribe to my theory of the monk and his penchant for pretty young girls.  Instead they believe that because there is no December 22nd written on that calendar, that there will be no December 22nd for us.  Whatever they think will happen is varied, but basically we should all party hard, drink enough to make our livers hate us, get it on with the secret object of lust that you know you'd normally be ridiculed for even talking to by your so called mates, and try as many of those other depraved acts you've always wanted to do but knew you couldn't face yourself in the morning if you did.  (Please keep your fantasies of Sally the goat to yourselves, I beg of you). 
I'm not inclined to accept that premise.  The world is going to end on a specific day just because the calendar does?  What, are they saying the Mayans could predict when the world was going to end but couldn't avoid the annihilation of their own civilisation?  In saying this, I do acknowledge that there does seem to be something rather wacky going on in our little corner of the universe.
Let's start with earthquakes, seeing as they're foremost in our minds.  Since the year 2000 there have been a number of rather large quakes.  Some have been more destructive than others, regardless of the magnitude.  Christchurch, being hit with two biggies is obvious, but recently there has been Haiti: Jan 2010, 7.0; Sumatra, Indonesia: Dec 2004, 9.1; China: May 2008: 8.0; Chile: Feb 2010, 8.8; and the devastating one in Japan: Mar 2011, 8.9.  All these have caused significant amounts of destruction and led to loss of life.  And while I've only mentioned a few, there are many more felt everyday.
The earthquakes lead on to our next disaster, the tsunami.  When I was a little girl I had never heard of a tsunami actually hurting people on a grand scale.  Now there have been two significant ones in recent history.  2004's Boxing Day tsunami caused by the quake in Indonesia and the tsunami in Japan causing more destruction than the quake itself. 
Hurricanes, cyclones and tornadoes seem to be making more headlines as well.  Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 while Cyclone Yasi has flooded and destroyed many a home in Australia's state of Queensland while states in the US south have recently been torn apart by tornadoes.  The force of these disasters led to the destruction of homes and businesses as well as leading to the death of many of our fellow man.  
Now I could keep listing natural disasters but what would that achieve?  Does this mean that we really are looking at the end of the world?  The Hollywood movie machine would have us believe that coming up to the end, the world becomes more and more unstable, and conspiracy theorists would probably say that there is evidence of this with the large number of natural disasters we are being bombarded with.  But is that evidence real or an illusion?
Are we experiencing more disasters, more earthquakes, more hurricanes and cyclones than ever before?  According to the US Geological Survey (www.usgs.gov), the number of earthquakes has probably not increased, nor have their magnitude.  What has happened is that our level of technology has advanced, along with the number of seismic monitoring stations; therefore we're able to detect more of them.  This doesn't mean that they're more frequent now than before, just that we're more aware. 
I hear an argument coming from the cheap seats.  These disasters are more destructive now than in the past. More people are dying.
Well let's look at this.  The earth hasn't changed.  Mother Nature hasn't suddenly gotten PMS and become bitchier.  People have changed. Throughout the centuries the way we live has changed.  In earlier times people lived in single storied dwellings, so that when a hurricane hit, or the earth rumbled, there wasn't the same level of destruction as we see with our current high-rise buildings. 
In addition, population density means that while there may only have been a handful of people who lived in disaster struck areas in the past, more people are hurt and more fatalities are counted because there are simply more people in the same area of land.  Think about the Haiti or Pakistan earthquakes.  Millions of people live in those areas; hence the numbers of affected people are significantly higher than Christchurch. 
·         Pakistan 2005 - population: Approx 170 million, death toll:75,000
·         Haiti 2010 - population: Approx 10 million, death toll:316,100
·         Christchurch 2011 - population: Approx 400,000, death toll: 180ish
Where we live has also changed.  With increased populations people are spreading out into those more disaster prone areas.  Additionally by overpopulating some areas we're making it so that when a disaster hits, it hits us hard.
 After reading this you may think that I'm sure the world is fine and that we're just a bunch kids holding on for dear life to the merry-go-round called Earth as it spins out of control.  That we're merely passengers in our own lives, not affecting the planet with how we live.  That is not so.  I have strong environmental beliefs, but this blog article isn't about that.
It's about the doomsday predictions that people are beginning to believe because they are scared.  That's all it comes down to really.  It's what conspiracy theorists and doomsday advocates love to peddle.  Fear. 
In the past ignorance was our greatest ally.  We didn't know that the disasters were occurring so we had nothing to fear.  The world's media, through 24 hour television, keeps them plastered in front of us, so while it may happen on the other side of the world, we're no longer unaware. It doesn't mean that more disasters occur, just that, like with the earthquake technology, we're more aware of them.
Unfortunately, the conspiracy theorists and doomsday nuts use anything they can as evidence of their theories.  The end of the Mayan calendar, the increased news coverage given to natural disasters, the seeming increase in intensity of these disasters all play into the fear flavoured kool-aid that they're trying to market. 
My question to you readers is this, do you buy the brand of fear they're selling? Do you think the world is really coming to an end?

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