2012: The end of the world as we know it?

Following twelve months of unrest, 2012 may prove to be a year of full-scale global crisis. Some experts predict a historic turning point – the start of a new and dangerous era.

Hundreds of years ago, the Mayan civilisation of Central America created a calendar which, according to mystics and ‘New Age’ thinkers, predicts the date of the apocalypse – the end of the world. ‘Our present universe,‘ one scholar wrote, will ‘be annihilated.’

When will this catastrophe come? On December 21st, say the Mayan texts, in the year 2012.

This is the stuff of superstition, not news. But serious thinkers agree that 2012 is shaping up to be an extraordinary and possibly terrifying year. A few notorious dates are remembered for having changed the course of history: 1945, the first atomic bomb; 1914, the outbreak of the first world war; 1789, the French Revolution; 1348, the coming of the Black Death. Could 2012 be one of them?

There is a sense among many commentators that several historical currents are coming together in a way that could produce a huge tidal wave of dramatic change.

First, old powers that worked towards stability are failing. America is in decline. Alliances like NATO and the EU are weak or falling apart. Even China, whose government is dedicated to stability above all else, is being shaken by tremors of unrest.

Second, ordinary people all over the world are getting more angry and rebellious. New technologies mean that discontented individuals can quickly find others who share their opinions. Tiny sparks of protest quickly grow into raging fires of revolution.

Third, the world economy is still in serious trouble. The euro crisis will only get worse. China’s economy looks likely to overheat and stall, with disastrous consequences. Instability in the Middle East could push up oil prices and cripple growth.

Fourth, dangerous regional conflicts all over the world all seem to be getting worse at the same time, from the arrival of unstable new leadership in North Korea to the war in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear-program and the rise of terrorist groups in East Africa.

Apocalypse now?

People are always predicting disaster, say sceptics, and they are almost always wrong. In the seventies it was nuclear war; in the nineties it was global warming; a few hundred years ago it was the coming of the Antichrist. And yet, the argument continues, humanity is still going strong. In fact, despite all challenges, we are richer, happier and more peaceful than ever before.

Fair enough, say more pessimistic types, but every so often the worst really does happen. People laughed at Winston Churchill in the 1930s when he urged Britain to prepare for war – until Hitler invaded Poland. The Titanic was meant to be unsinkable – until it sank. Perhaps, say the doom-mongers, the Mayan prophecies of the end of the world are not so far fetched after all.

You Decide

  1. Why do people keep predicting the end of the world?
  2. Will 2012 be a year of crisis or a year of renewal? Do the two sometimes go hand in hand and, if so, why?

Activities

  1. How do you think the world might end? Create a piece of science fiction, describing the end of the world as we know it.
  2. Do some further research to answer the following question: which single year has been the most important in the history of the world?

Some People Say...

“There’s no need to worry – things are always fine in the end.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Who exactly were these Mayans then?
The Mayan civilisation flourished in Central America from 250 to 900 AD, and continued until the arrival of Spanish invaders in the 15th and 16th Centuries. They did not have metal-working technology but were expert builders and astronomers.
And how did they think the world would end?
The Mayans believed that world history progresses in 5,125-year cycles. The current cycle is due to end this year, but there was no specific prediction about what would happen next. Modern theories include a sudden reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, a collision with a giant asteroid, or a sudden storm of solar radiation.
Could that happen?
In theory, maybe, but there’s no reason to think the Mayans could have seen it coming.

Word Watch

New Age
A spiritual philosophy which emerged around the Hippie movement of the 1960s, New Age thought is a mix of Eastern and Western beliefs. Many ‘New-Agers’ believe that 2012 will mark the beginning of a new era of enlightenment.
Cripple growth
All developed economies depend on energy to survive. Much of this comes from oil produced in the Middle East. When oil prices rise, the cost of doing business goes up and economic activity decreases.
North Korea
A nuclear-armed rogue state, North Korea is under new leadership after the death of dictator Kim Jong-il. It is feared that the new ruler may make unpredictable or dangerous moves in order to assert his authority.
Antichrist
In Christian theology, the end of the world will be marked by the arrival of the Antichrist on earth, to lead humans into sin. The Roman emperor Nero, the French leader Napoleon and Adolf Hilter have all been accused of being the Antichrist at various times.

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