Posts Tagged ‘catastrophe’

2012: Little Chickens Are Crying Wolf Again


You know, eventually. That’s the natural order of things. Most of us will survive 2012, though, in spite of everything the latest doomsday prophets claim. There are seven billion humans on Earth, after all. Writers, have you ever tried to kill off that many people in one story? It’s quite a lot of work, even in fiction, and much harder in real life. It’s not impossible, but according to the latest doomsday scientists, there’s no quantifiable indication that our end times are impending.

Let’s break it down for a little perspective:

Of all the different avenues along which people enjoy speculating about the apocalypse, most are at least tangentially political in nature. The nuclear holocaust is so overdone that it’s been rendered cliché. Pandemics are also in jeopardy of losing their social impact through overuse in media and other fiction. We’ll probably say the same about anthropogenic climate change in a few decades, even as we adapt to its environmental and economic ravages.

None of those political plot devices is likely to annihilate our species in 2012, but any of them is far more likely bring about our ignominious end than the equally tired religious mechanisms for the demise of human civilization. The second coming and the rapture? Ragnarok? The end of the Maya long count?

Actually, that last is the most absurd. You know what happens when we reach the end of the Maya long count? The same thing that happens when we reach the end of every other calendar invented since humans started measuring time in large units: We throw a big party, and we get a new calendar. Woo-hoo!

There are still a few arguably non-political tropes abused in doomsday prophesies. Polar shift, for example, which would certainly cause mass-extinctions if it was possible. However, in order to experience a polar shift in 2012, Earth would have to be on a collision course with an object so large that we’d be able to observe it with the naked eye by now. Our planet hasn’t had an experience like that since it acquired the moon a few billion years ago. Anyway, the term ‘polar shift’ is actually a red herring for a far more common event properly known as geomagnetic reversal. And that’s about as menacing as a slow-motion Y2K.

What about supervolcanoes? There’ve been an awful lot of earthquakes and eruptions lately, right? Eh, no. Earth is actually pretty quiet right now, on the scale of geologic time. Specifically, there is no indication that a supervolcano will erupt in our lifetimes, never mind in 2012. Specifically, there’s nothing about the Yellowstone caldera – the current favorite of geologic apocalypse-mongers – that suggests it’s going to do anything out of the ordinary any time soon. Even if it did, a supervolcanic eruption probably would not bring about human extinction, and it certainly couldn’t end the world.

Last and least, whenever anyone hears the term ‘Planet X,’ they should dissolve into peals of laughter on the spot. Really. In its proper context, Planet X is something out of a Daffy Duck cartoon, and that’s always worth a chuckle. Outside of its proper context, Planet X doesn’t exist. Anyone otherwise convinced is a fool easily parted from their money.

None of the catastrophes mentioned above are going to occur in 2012, but you can safely bet they and other variations on the apocalyptic theme will happen repeatedly in literature. Alas, not even that will end in 2012. The good news is that when it comes to making the most of flimsy premises and tired dread, fiction bests reality much of the time. After all, dystopia is practically its own genre, nowadays.


If you know me, then you know that I am always on the lookout. For what? Science, of course, and art. Interesting and beautiful things. The internet is a better resource for novelty than anything else, but watchful and patient people sometimes get lucky. This was not an especially lucky week, but I did come across something that fulfilled my search criteria on technicalities. It’s pretty and it got me thinking – if my thoughts about it aren’t particularly favorable, they are at least energetic.

Don’t get me wrong, the video embedded below is essentially a modeling reel. It serves its purpose, which is to show-off some animation students’ acquired skills, and it’s quite good in that context. I have no desire to criticize their proficiency in the medium, but the obvious inspiration for the piece is a hot topic on this blog, so of course I took a closer look at it than I might have otherwise, and of course I brought it here to share.

Watch ‘Gliese 851′ then read on to see if it got you thinking along the same lines as me:

The first thing I noticed was the title. Now, there are a lot of stars named Gliese-something-something, but one has been in the news quite a bit more often than the rest; Gliese 581. Specifically because of that star’s unconfirmed ‘goldilocks’ planet. I assume the filmmaker was more interested in capitalizing on the name than on exploring any of the science associated with locating exoplanets or seriously speculating about extraterrestrial life. A couple of clues in plain sight verify my suspicion: For one thing, there is no star named Gliese 851, but that name is a common typo in articles about Gliese 581. For another, there appeared to be only two lifeforms on the wasteland planet depicted in the animation; one large human and one large tentacle-monster. Probably, the writer struck a compromise between savviness and laziness. The concept perfectly satisfies mainstream (i.e. low) expectations of science fiction, and it is about as deep as the average attention span for scientific content in the media.

But even assuming that the filmmakers invented a new star system on purpose, I have some questions about the setting. It looks like an industrial wasteland or a vast crash site. Or I suppose it could be an abandoned colony. Even still, why is the only human survivor wandering around in the open? With skin exposed? The atmosphere and daylight must be very earthlike, indeed. And if so, then what killed or repelled the other humans? Tentacle-monsters? But if so, then what did they eat/kill before humans arrived? I ask because I saw no evidence of other life on the planet, and it seems impossible that a species as complex as that alien could have evolved in the absence of biodiversity. Maybe it was the last of its kind. I mean, that’s possible given humanity’s propensity for environmental disaster.

What are your observations and speculations?