• Question: What do you think about the "end of the world" theory?

    Asked by ronniesama to Alan, Caspar, Diana, Murray, Sarah on 24 Mar 2011.
    • Photo: Caspar Addyman

      Caspar Addyman answered on 22 Mar 2011:

      Which one? There have been lots over the years.. In 1840’s America there was a huge group of people (More than 100,000) called the Millerites.. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millerism )

      They were absolutely convinced that the world would end on October 22, 1844. They gave away all their money and possessions.. those of them who were farmers didn’t bother planting crops, they gathered together to wait for the end of the world. It didn’t arrive. A lot of them couldn’t accept it and so kept changing the date to be a few years into the future.. We’re still here but Millerism isn’t so popular anymore. But the one thing you can say in their favour is that at least they honestly believed it.

      Most of the current ‘end of the world’ theories are just hype, marketing and lies to sell books or films.. Don’t pay any attention to any of it.

      with one exception.. The environmental crisis that humans have created is real and is dangerous.. it won’t cause the end of the world but it is already making the world a worse place. Global warming and energy and food shortages are already here and are going to take a lot of work to fix. Murray wrote a great reply about this somewhere. I’ll see if i can find it.

      For something more light hearted here is a comic i wrote with my own “end of the world” theory..


    • Photo: Alan Winfield

      Alan Winfield answered on 22 Mar 2011:

      Which theory do you mean Ronnie? I think there are lots of end-of-the-world theories.

      If you mean the idea that the world will end in 2012 because of an ancient Mayan calendar – no I don’t give any credence to that. Actually, I don’t believe it was even a Mayan prophecy – just when their calendar would run out.

      Of course there are very bad things that – if they happened – would be a catastrophe for humankind. Some are man made like global warming – although I think it’s unlikely that the really bad stuff caused by global warming will happen for some time yet. But then it could be really really bad. Murray wrote a brilliant piece about it here: http://ias.im/35.1640

      Other possible catastrophes are made worse by human global travel – such as a global pandemic. If another flu pandemic happens like the one that killed perhaps 20million people in 1918 happens again it would be much worse because of human mobility. Other possible catastrophes are things we cannot predict and probably couldn’t do much about anyway – like a super volcano eruption or a large meteor strike. Something like that could happen in 2012, but the (very small) likelihood of it happening stays the same every year. There’s nothing special about 2012 to worry about.

    • Photo: Murray Collins

      Murray Collins answered on 22 Mar 2011:

      You mention an end of the world ‘theory’. Might be a funny place to discuss this point, but I do want to say that for scientists a theory is a way of explaining something. So a theory is an explanation. But in its common use in English people seem to associate the word ‘theory’ with something that is an untested idea, which is actually a ‘hypothesis’ in science. Anyway, now I have that rant out of the way I’ll get back to your question!

      Every generation and society seems to have its fixation with predictions of catastrophe. However these are based upon interpretations of ancient texts, Mayan calendars, you name it there’s someone willing to find a pattern in anything that shows the world is going to end. However, there is no evidence whatsoever for the any of the predictions that the world is coming to an end very soon. It’s rubbish, but also dangerous since humans are susceptible to getting caught up in mass delusion and hysteria. This is very dangerous when charismatic individuals harness such cataclysmic predictions for their own ends, since people get manipulated. (I’m thinking here about sects, even mass suicides people get talked into because there are aliens coming/the end of the world is nigh etc etc).

      However, there are a specific set of problems we face as humans living on earth which are very real and unfortunately worsening. But these problems aren’t based on some interpretation of some ancient text, rather they are based upon decades of scientific research. Some of these problems do indeed have the potential to very significantly change the way in which we live, and the future of human societies, which to a certain extent will end our current way of living.

      Problems include:
      1. Climate change (and also the end of cheap energy): I have written a few things about CC here http://ias.im/35.1640
      2. Biodiversity loss: this is a huge problem if not only for food production. Despite huge increases in fishing vessels and huge increases in the sizes of nets used etc, fish catches globally aren’t increasing. In fact they seem to be falling. Doh!
      This means the amount we catch for the amount of effort we are putting in is falling. We have already eaten many of the big fish in the sea and are increasingly having to switch to new strange species we never ate before. We are eating our way through the food web. Doh!
      We can’t carry on very easily like this without causing major collapses in our fisheries. Yet we know how to manage fisheries – it is more of a political matter to actually just do it!

      3. Human population: this underpins many of the challenges we face. More people who want to consume more. Population level predictions suggest we may expect to see another 2billion people living on earth in the next three decades. That’s another two India loads of people on the planet! All of those people need to be fed, but in the context of changing climate which makes extreme weather events more likely which will make crop production harder and less consistent.

      So, unfortunately we have plenty of real challenges to face up to now and in the immediate future without having to look to Mayan calendars!

    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 24 Mar 2011:

      I don’t think about it all! I’m not concerned about the world suddenly coming to an end because I don’t believe it will happen for an extremely long time! It is fun to debate about it though!