The following editorial appeared recently in the Los Angeles Times:
So much for another wacky end-of-the-world theory. The hypothesis that the world would be destroyed at the end of the 13th baktun cycle in the Maya calendar (which corresponds pretty closely with Dec. 21) was just plain wrong.
Nor, come to think of it, was the last much-publicized prophet of doom on target. That was Harold Camping, the Christian radio announcer who predicted that the rapture (and end of the world) would come on May 21, 2011. When that didn't happen, he recalibrated the date as Oct. 21, 2011. He has since given up predicting disasters.
Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of the apocalypse. Sometimes we actually seem to believe in it; other times we're just lapping up fantasies about dramatic destruction.
What's odd is that despite our apparent obsession with global catastrophe, we're surprisingly reluctant to confront the complications of actual, documented threats to our planet. Science and observation seem to indicate that real planetary crises will come more quietly and slowly but just as sadly. Scientists around the planet have urged political leaders to counter the threat with a variety of conservation measures, some of which we have pursued, some of which we've ignored. Meanwhile, global temperatures are already up, ice masses are melting.
Nuclear annihilation, which would happen a lot faster and with a more cinematic bang, continues to be a possibility as more countries seek nuclear weapons or the material to make them. Reining in nuclear proliferation — and controlling those weapons that already exist — is complicated and controversial but surely worth fighting for.
It may be more fun to consider theatrical endgames and far-fetched predictions of doom, but really, shouldn't we be concentrating instead on resolving the complex but scarily real scenarios facing us?