News from the Natural World: The Mayans have urged modern conservationists to change their tune, end of the world alarmism never ends well.
The Mayans found out the hard way that apocalyptic alarmism rarely works well. The Mayans are an indigenous people of Mexico and Central America who have continuously inhabited the lands comprising modern-day Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico and southward through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The Ancient Mayans developed the science of astronomy, calendar systems, and hieroglyphic writing. They were also known for creating elaborate ceremonial architecture, such as pyramids, temples, palaces, and observatories. But they were most famous for something else. They were most famous for believing that the world would end on December 2012.
This was called the 2012 phenomenon. It was a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events would occur on or around 21 December 2012. This date was regarded as the end-date of a 5,126-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Modern humans then believed that the date marked the start of a period during which Earth and its inhabitants would undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation and that 21 December 2012 would mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggested that the date marked the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world included the arrival of the next solar maximum, an interaction between Earth and the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy, or Earth’s collision with a mythical planet called Nibiru.
Mayans Urge Conservationists to Change Their Tune
But the world didn’t end on 21 December 2012 and the Mayans severely lost face. Many rejected their proposed doomsday scenarios as pseudoscience and questioned their ancient intellect. The Mayans were distraught, all their other achievements were ignored and modern humans just focused on the fact that the world hadn’t ended when their calendar ended. The Mayans didn’t want any other people or group of humans to go through what they went through. They vowed to never let another group suffer the same humiliation as them. Unfortunately, one such group arose, they too were predicting the end of the world, the end of times and the end of humanity. The Mayans were scared for this group, they knew they needed to help them. But who was this group of world-ending predicters?
This group was called Conservationists. Every year more and more conservationists have claimed that “billions of people are going to die.” This has, amongst other things, contributed to a colossal rise in anxiety among adolescents. But despite decades of media attention, many remain ignorant of the basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80% over the last four decades. And the risk of the Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas. Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions.
End of the World Alarmism Never Ends Well
This approach was popularized in the book “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us” written by Michael Schellenburger. Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction. He knew it was crucial to understanding what was really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism. There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.
The Mayans knew this more than anyone. End of the world predictions really just don’t play out very well. The truth is that life on earth will eventually be fine even if we lost 95% of all life forms. In fact, this has already happened 5 times. There have been 5 previous mass extinctions. Their causes ranged from meteorite collisions to seismic volcanic events. At least 70% of all life on earth was lost in the Permian Mass Extinction. But each time, after millions of years life found a way to return.
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