You must have seen this before, just over a decade ago. Disheveled men with unkempt beards standing on street corners, holding up signs that read, “Repent – the end is near!” That was the later half of 1999 and the great experiment known as humanity was coming to an end. At the strike of midnight, just as the large crystal ball in Times Square dropped and the “2000” sign lit up, divinity itself was to cancel our lease on Earth and we would all be judged for our mortal sins. Millions of drunks watched live television, a champagne glass in hand, waiting for that symbolic change as the calendar’s odometer rolled over from 1999 to 2000. Nothing happened. The strike of midnight came and went and the world remained. Humanity was allowed to take a deep breath and move on. It was a non-event. Even the Y2K computer fears were largely a non-event.
Fast forward a dozen years to 2012 and those who missed the first run at apocalypse can now have a second chance. It’s the end of the universe, 2.0, courtesy of the Mayan culture.
The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, also know and the Great Mayan Cycle, is the culprit. It starts count on August 11, 3114 BCE and the last date on it matches up with December 21, 2012 AD. It did not take conspiracy theorists long to come up with an update to the end of the world. Quite clearly the Mayans knew the answer. It’s not December 31, 1999. It’s December 21, 2012.
The Mayans had a wacky calendar. A count of 20 days (k’in) added up to one winal and 18 winals added up to a tun. 20 tuns was a k’atun and 20 k’atuns made up a b’ak’tun. That makes it 144,000 k’in in a b’ak’tun (stay with me here) or in the vernacular, one era (b’ak’tun) is about 394 years and 3 months.
So why is December 21, 2012 special? It’s an odometer rollover day, much like December 31, 1999 was in the Gregorian calendar. The pinball machine goes tilt and the date rolls from 184.108.40.206.19 to 220.127.116.11.0 and the new era starts. Astronomically this is an arbitrary non-event, but psychologically any calendar rollover is significant.
You may not see a lot of people on street corners holding up signs that read, “the end is near”, but mass panic is not all that far away. Just Google “Mayan end of world” or “December 21, 2012” and watch the billions of results roll in. And it’s not just internet hype. The media is getting in on this, too. Headlines implying that tomorrow will be very much like today just don’t get ratings. Big bold letters superimposed on the flickering fires of hell, proclaiming the end of the world as we know it, do.
There’s an extreme fringe out there that’s predicting the literal end of the world. With the sun approaching the solar maximum, massive flares are predicted to “cleanse the world” of all life, there’s predicted calamity with planetary alignment, increased pull from the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, a collision with the mythical planet Nibiru. Others theorize the reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles, arrival of malevolent aliens, the rise of (zombie) armies of darkness, coming of a Biblical Judgment Day, mass extinction events due to plague or pollution and many other cinematic finales to life on Earth.
The other end of the spectrum is the New Age belief of the new Mesoamerican era bringing forth physical and/or spiritual transformation. In some theories this transformation is inherent or evolutionary, in others its divine or a gift from an alien species. Either way, it’s a time when the human race and the entire planet are healed and a new era of peace, prosperity and environmentalism begin.
The scientific community is presented in the news as being offended by either of the extremes of the spectrum. World renown scientists speaking out against the December 21, 2012 theories are a popular fixture on the news these days, trying to debunk the theories of how the world ends.
NASA’s public outreach site, “Ask an Astrobiologist” reports being inundated with thousands of queries regarding this subject. Questions range from “Is the end of the world really coming?” to “When should I commit suicide to avoid a more painful death?” Archeoastronomer Anthony Aveni responds to the doomsday predictions saying, “Unable to find spiritual answers to life’s big questions within ourselves, we turn outward to imagined entities that lie far off in space or time-entities that just might be in possession of superior knowledge.”
Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone noted that “there is nothing in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy to suggest that they prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012. The notion of a ‘Great Cycle’ coming to an end is completely a modern invention.”
Archaeologist William Saturno adds that based on the calendar at Xultun, “the ancient Maya predicted the world would continue – that 7,000 years from now, things would be exactly like this. We keep looking for endings. The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change. It’s an entirely different mindset.”
Whether you believe in the 2012 apocalypse or refer to those who believe in it as whack-jobs, we certainly should not squander the message of preparedness. Much as we did last year with the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse (see our 2011 Q3 publication) message, we want to take advantage of this opportunity to remind everyone that being ready for catastrophic events also makes you ready for common every day emergencies. Please take this article as an opportunity to review your emergency kits. Make sure that you have supplies for all members of your family, including your pets. Restock perishable items and add things that you may have forgotten to include or used since you packed your kit. You can find suggestions for what a good kit would contain on the national Ready site (http://www.ready.gov/) or (if you’re local) Ready Colorado’s (http://www.ReadyColorado.com/) web pages. And consider taking some classes that could help you get through unexpected events. Consider a first aid or CPR course from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. And if you want to be disaster ready, consider FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. The classes are available free of charge in most areas across the country. Take a look at FEMA’s Citizen Corps website (http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/) to find training near you.
And should the end of the world predictions come true as they did in Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie “2012”, O.M.E.G.A. stands ready to deploy for our served agencies and support our communities. Be vigilant and be safe. And have a joyous holiday season and a happy new year!