The Thinking Man’s Guide to the End of the World
With the end of the Mayan calendar looming in a scant five years (December 21, 2012 give or take), there is a seeming increase of talk, movies, articles and general water cooler chatter about the end of the world these days. Most of it I find quite entertaining, some of it ridiculous, and other parts simply in need of a good thrashing. And the public at large believes more of what they see in a Will Smith I Am Legend movie than what they should be able to think through with their own brains (I will admit that whatever Mr. Smith says is alright by me, but, let’s face it, he’s no George Clooney).
A lot of people are thinking about the end of the world (we know that every human wants to think that something BIG is going to happen during their lifetime, that NOW is the most important time to be alive…it’s part of our genetic makeup, I suppose). Some are even thinking about avoiding it. But the vast majority are so busy that unless we send them a message on their Blackberry’s or iPhones, I’m quite certain they might miss it.
In spite of being politely asked to leave the Boy Scouts (or the WeBlows) at an early age, I do believe in being prepared. We’ve got five years to plan and prepare so might as well get a head start, right?
So, in doing my part, I present this compendium; not a rational man’s guide, because some irrational thought may be required to follow these paths. Therefore, we’ll call it for now a thinking man’s guide. It could also very well be a guide to apocalyptic fiction, as each of these themes has been the topic of more than one scifi movie or book (yes, self-pimpingly, including my own).
There are a myriad of possible ways for the world to end, so many that it desperately calls out for some pigeonholing and categorization. To build silos for your thinking we will start with some simplification. Here are some first level types of calamity conveniently sorted into categories:
- Technological: includes nanotechnological disasters, artificial intelligence run amuck, other computer issues, CERN super collider spontaneous creating a black hole; basically anything built by human minds and hands that either has built in faults (c’mon, all computer programs have bugs, except for anything developed by any programmer who has ever worked or is now currently working for me) or just didn’t anticipate all possible outcomes. Representative media tie-ins include the Terminator movies (bad robots, bad!).
- Environmental-self inflicted: we could call this the Al Gore category, but I never can remember if he won the Nobel Prize for inventing the Internet or Global Warming. Global warming caused catastrophes (like worldwide water shortages), are here, as are things like natural failure (too many fish in the fish bowl, i.e., we propagate the species more that our little Earth can hold). Fictional examples of this include the novel The Crocodile and the Crane, plus multiple global warming disaster novels.
- Environmental-natural: this category includes my new personal favorite, the shifting of the magnetic poles (which according to some scientists our little world is about 30,000 years over due for); also includes fun events such as massive super volcanoes pushing out enough ash to block out the sun’s rays and, of course, the next ice age. The flick The Day After Tomorrow is representative of this group (go south, young man!).
- Political: another “let’s just shoot ourselves in the foot and save the world the trouble category” composed of wars, terrorism, death via over-exposure to political candidate debates and the like. Though there are many movies and novels about nuclear apocalypse, my favorite representation of nuclear war has got to be Dr. Strangelove (Slim Pickens riding the bomb!)
- Biological: diseases, plagues, I Am Legend-like cures that are worse than the disease. Some are self-inflicted, some are part of nature’s wonderful bounty.
- Extraterrestrial: sure this category includes alien invasions and aliens building thoroughfares through our galaxy, but also includes fly-by shootings such as meteors hitting Earth instead of Mars, novas, supernovas, Aldo Nova, and solar flares (there are many reports of the energy output of the sun being cyclical and currently in a bit of strife). From an astronomy perspective, the Mayan calendar may be looking at the fact that the Sun on the winter solstice in 2012 is lined up with the plane of the galaxy, which happens once every 26,000 years (though it is difficult to define the boundary for the plane of the Milky Way); this may open up doors to new worlds, or it may just indicate a good day for fishing (it’s a tides and gravity joke, get it?).
- Religious: 1st comings, 2nd comings, 3rd goings on. Judging from the 65 million copies sold of the Left Behind armageddon series and many other religions forecasts for calamity, certainly a possibility to consider and/or a good story or two to read. Since this type of apocalypse is averted in Kevin Smith’s movie Dogma, it should be required viewing for all students of the end of the world (interpret as: so long as George Carlin is a Cardinal, the world is safe).
- Psychic: the Mayan, Hopi, and other civilizations often talk about the end of an age and the beginning of a new one (in some interpretations, it’s just the end of an age, no sequel, no series renewal). Some believe we are in the midst of a consciousness evolution which will culminate with 2012. Others says it’s just CNN and FoxNews, coverage of the world that’s so fast it’s like you know.
Of course, there’s nothing stating that these disasters are exclusive, there’s no rule that says they can gang up on us (say a super volcano at the same time of a biological disaster). These categories are simply for you to get your thinking man’s head around them, then you can do the mental gymnastics of combining them together in different ways for destroying humanity.
How do you prepare when there are so many potential ways for the world to end? I’d like to boil things down simply here and point out: it’s all about where you live. Location, location, location.
Find a place to retire to that is not near volcanoes, CERN (sorry Ted), water, any ancient ruins that might be alien gateways, far away from political malcontents and experimental hospitals or pharma companies. Probably best to make it towards the equator to avoid that ice age possibility as well. The potential for rising oceans should keep you away from the coasts, the possibility of exploding volcanoes will keep you away from the mountains. By my calculations, this means there will be a rush on property in Paraguay, the Australian Outback (although all of Australia may be under water, depending on your disaster scenario of choice), and northern China. Real estate investors should take heed; remember me when your commission checks arrive.
If there’s a sustainable colony on the moon or mars in five years, that might be an option. The International Space Station is going to get pretty crowded so sign up with NASA or China’s space program straight away.
If the calamity is an asteroid or meteor strike, I suggest renting a plane or maybe booking a flight on Virgin Galactic, making sure that you are out of the path of the big rock, and then alighting somewhere that looks hospitable (don’t be like Khan and only think in two dimensions).
Of course, there’s always the potential that 2012 could have all of the dull thud of Y2K. Remember that one? I slept through it and the computers kept right on humming.
If you can think of any categories or types of end-of-the-world phenomena I have missed, please leave me a comment. I’ll try to include it and dive into more detail in a later installment.
Next in the series: Technology Apocalypse