I'm not sure where all this concern originated about the End of the WorldTM on December 21, 2012, except that supposedly the Mayan calendar predicted it on that date. In fact, this is just one more example of popular myth arising from a misunderstanding of events with only tenuous mystical connections.
Archeologists say that the Mayans never considered their calendar to have anything to do with the End of the WorldTM. From this link to the National Geographic:
. . . December 21, 2012, (give or take a day) was nonetheless momentous to the Maya.
"It's the time when the largest grand cycle in the Mayan calendar—1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years—overturns and a new cycle begins," said Anthony Aveni, a Maya expert and archaeoastronomer at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
The Maya kept time on a scale few other cultures have considered.
During the empire's heyday, the Maya invented the Long Count—a lengthy circular calendar that "transplanted the roots of Maya culture all the way back to creation itself," Aveni said.
During the 2012 winter solstice, time runs out on the current era of the Long Count calendar, which began at what the Maya saw as the dawn of the last creation period: August 11, 3114 B.C. The Maya wrote that date, which preceded their civilization by thousands of years, as Day Zero, or 22.214.171.124.0.
In December 2012 the lengthy era ends and the complicated, cyclical calendar will roll over again to Day Zero, beginning another enormous cycle.
In other words, the Mayan calendar resets like the odometer on a car going from 99999.9 to 00000.0. We notice the turnover of the odometer, and some even celebrate it as a momentous event in the life of a car. Probably the same would be true for the Mayans and their calendar. But the End of the WorldTM ? It seems the Mayans didn't think so.
When December 21, 2012 passes without apocalypse, it will be just one more End of the WorldTM I have survived:
· Early 1970's--California falling into the ocean. Around this time word was going around that California would fall into the Pacific. It was partly a joke, but I also remember a lot of people took it seriously. I lived in California then and to me it was a game. A former cub scout, I made a survival kit which consisted of: matches, rope, aluminum foil, needle and thread, mirror, radio, compass, magnifying glass (to start a fire by focusing the sun's rays on tinder), paper and pencil, pocket knife, rubber bands, whistle and space blanket—none of it would help if I were floundering in the ocean, but I packed it all in a waterproof container, anyway.
· March 10, 1982--The planetary grand alignment—i.e. the Jupiter effect. An alignment of planets in the solar system would create world catastrophy, including a huge earthquake in California. The folks seeking to punish sinners must really dislike California.
· December 31, 1988—Judgement Day and the Rapture. The 1970 best seeling book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey, predicted that the world would end within a generation of the founding of Israel, more specifically by the end of 1988. He saw the increase of famine and wars as precursors to the Biblical end times.
· Mid-September 1994—Judgement Day and the Rapture. Harold Camping, leader of Family Radio Worldwide, predicted the Rapture and the End of the WorldTM some time around mid-Sept. 1994 then revised the date to March 31, 1995 when nothing happened.
· December 31, 1999—Y2K. This was the apocalypse for the digital age. Since everything is controlled by computer, pundits and experts alike feared that elevators would crash, nuclear power plants would explode and planes would fall out of the sky. But computers do fail. I actually worked in aerospace companies during the 1980s and heard one story about a programming error on a jet fighter. When this jet crossed the equator, going north to south, supposedly it flipped over and flew upside down. I made sure I wasn't on any airplanes or elevators on the last day of 1999, otherwise I wasn't worried.
· May 21, 2011—Judgement Day and Rapture. Harold Camping—there you go again—predicted Judgement Day would take place on May 21, 2011 based on his reading of the Bible, with the End of the WorldTM on October 21, 2011.
Although none of these apocalyptic events came to pass, I did experience a somewhat smaller disaster some time ago, on February 9, 1971, when the San Fernando earthquake struck at six in the morning. It was magnitude 6.6, which is large and consequential. At the time I was a kid living in Burbank, very close to the epicenter. I had just woken up and was still lying in bed when the whole world started shaking. The rumbling of our apartment came from everywhere and all I could do was hold on to my mattress. I wasn't scared. I didn't panic. I didn't think. My mind was a blank and all I knew was the shaking.
After what seemed like forever, the earthquake stopped and my family gathered in the living room. We had a five gallon fish tank and half the water had sloshed out. In the kitchen dishes had flown from the cupboards and smashed on the floor. Fortunately for us that was the only damage. Around Southern California some highway overpasses fell and some buildings collapsed. Since the earthquake hit so early in the morning, only 65 people died, but the number of fatalities could have been much higher had the earthquake struck during rush hour.
Although I didn't react during the earthquake itself, afterward I was primed. The tiniest tremor sent me racing for the door; I was amazed at how quickly my heart raced, how quickly my legs moved almost without my thinking about it. I remember standing outside with a friend later that day and feeling another aftershock. The sidewalk—solid concrete—rippled, and I saw a wave roll down the block. When the ground itself shakes, you realize you have nowhere to go.
Why do so many insist that the world will end in a bang rather than a whimper? I guess that people looking forward to an apocalypse expect to be spared by virtue of their virtue. How much more satisfying is it, then, if the rest of the world— heathens, infidels or unbelievers—get what they deserve by perishing in some disaster?
On the other hand, how unsatisfying to think that the End of the WorldTM might actually be gradual, almost unnoticable and in some future we can't touch. Could global warming be the real apocalypse? Within a few generations countless plant and animal species may become extinct. Temperatures will rise; monster hurricanes, rampant tornadoes and lengthy heat waves will become commonplace. The ice caps will melt; the slow lapping of water, rising by only inches a century and inexorably flooding coastal areas, hardly seems worth worrying about compared to California crashing into the ocean.
Robert Frost had something to say about End of the WorldTM in his poem, Fire and Ice:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.