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SciTech Doomsday 2012: If The Mayan Calendar Doesn't Kill Us, Solar Flares Will


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
By Kathleen O'Brien/The Star-Ledger


It's official: NASA has already reassured a grateful nation that civilization will not come to a screeching halt tomorrow, courtesy of the Mayans.

The pre-Columbian calendar that had folks in a tizzy merely cycles back to the beginning, the space geeks say. Even the Vatican's head astronomer has jumped into the fray, asserting that life will go on.

Assuming we wake up intact tomorrow, however, doesn't mean we've escaped the clutches of doomsday. Instead, we'll be facing a whole new list of apocalyptic predictions.

Turns out there's always a new kid on the End Times block.

With the Mayans out of the way, what takes their place at the top of the worry list?

Please give a warm welcome to ... solar flares.

The website 2013solarflare.com touts a prediction of an uptick of flares the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1859. That magnetic storm disrupted telegraphs and put on an evening light show so bright, people could read the newspaper by it.

Were a similar storm to hit today, the website says, cell phones would be rendered useless, the electrical grid trashed and the landscape would soon be littered with roving bands of the hungry unwashed.

In short, marginally worse than Hurricane Sandy.

By contrast, NASA says that while there will be more solar flares in 2013-14, the result will be similar to the last time the sun was at its maximum 11-year cycle of flares in 2002. (Did your cell phone die? Didn't think so.)

Stuart Charme, a professor of religion at Rutgers University-Camden, has an entire bookcase filled with obsolete writings that predicted the end of the world.

A NASA-predicted uptick in solar flares the next two years might make life interesting.
"You don't have to be really smart to figure out everyone's been wrong up till now," he said.

It was always preposterous to think the Mayans had predicted the stone-cold end of the world, Charme said. Pre-modern civilizations have always had an awareness of nature's cycle of birth, growth, decay and decline.

By contrast, Western civilization has never been without doomsday speculation.

The current crop of predictions is different for being non-religious. Unlike the classic Biblical predictions -- remember all those May 21st billboards? -- these warnings have secular origins. They warn of:

•Too many people ("The Population Bomb"), or not enough (What to Expect When No One's Expecting -- America's Coming Demographic Disaster").

• Running out of oil and/or food by the year ... (fill in the blank).

• …Climate change to a degree that is already completely irreversible.

• …Pandemic swine flu, bird flu or an antibiotic-resistant superbug epidemic.

• …And an oldie-but-goodie, nuclear annihilation, as the "Doomsday Clock," run by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, is at five minutes to midnight and may move closer next month.

Charme just finished teaching a course on End Times -- one overseen by a large countdown clock.

From his review of apocalyptic thinking, he observed that predictions used to emerge from marginalized people -- the Jews of the 1st Century B.C., or the Christians under the rule of the Romans. Both groups yearned for a time when their oppressors would be vanquished by a force of good and came up with predictions that their liberation was around the apocalyptic corner.

Now, says Charme, apocalyptic thought has "entered the mainstream," right down to the zombie movie playing at the local mall.

From his book collection, he's calculated that the optimal time to beat the drums of warning is four or five years before one's specific day of doom. That gives the proponent enough time to build up anxiety, acquire followers and ... sell books.

"People always find some calculation to say the world's going to end. There's a really narrow shelf life for apocalyptic predictions. People are not interested in the world ending in 2050," he said.

After all, the sandwich-sign motto is, "the end is nigh," not "the end is eventually."
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