2012: The Odometer Rolls Over
January 25, 2009

The end of the world is nearly upon us, but there's a silver lining: At least
you know when your 401(k) will finally hit bottom. Mark Dec. 21, 2012 on
your calendar. That's the exact day that lots of normally sane people
believe some disaster will befall our planet - and not the kind of annoying
everyday disaster like your cable going out or Ethan Hawke writing
another novel. We're talking Biblical proportions - the end of life on Earth
as we know it.

We're guessing this means the Second Avenue subway won't actually get

If you're looking for someone to blame (and rightfully so), search no
further than the Mayans. Examination of their calendar is responsible for
much of the apocalyptic hand-wringing.

The ancient Mesoamericans were highly advanced in the areas of
mathematics and astronomy, and they accurately tracked the movement of
the sun and the planets. They used multiple calendars, but it's the one
called the "long count" that has soothsayers so agitated. The long count
calendar measures 5,126 years, then resets, marking the end of one age
and the dawn of another. The current age is scheduled to end on - a
cookie for anyone who can guess - Dec. 21, 2012. This day also happens
to be the winter solstice and a time when the sun will be aligned with the
center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 25,800 years.

Could the Mayans have known something huge was going to happen,
simply by examining the stars? Lots of people think so. The doom and
gloom is so mainstream, there's even
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to

One such believer is Patrick Geryl, a 53-year-old Belgian, who in 2006 quit
his job with an oil company and began preparing for the coming
apocalypse. He's written three books on the topic, including "How to
Survive 2012" and "The World Cataclysm in 2012."

He may not be the cheeriest fellow, but Geryl is committed. In Belgium,
he's formed a survival group of about 20 people who plan on buying land
in Africa to start building the foundation for a new society. That will be after
the Earth's magnetic poles suddenly shift, causing a new Ice Age.

"The best thing you can do is stop working and go on vacation," he says.
"I go on vacation six times a year."

Hollywood is on the bandwagon as well. To capitalize on the hysteria,
Columbia Pictures will release "2012" this fall, a thriller starring John
Cusack as a researcher trying to survive various global catastrophes. It's
directed by Roland Emmerich, a man who, after reading the reviews for his
wretched last film "10,000 BC," knows a thing or two about destruction.

And lest you think you'll live to see 2013 simply because you don't put
much credence in a calendar created by people still primitive enough to
believe in human sacrifice, don't get too cocky. There is a long, long list of
predictions that could just as easily take us out in the next couple of years.
Some are piggybacking off the Mayan theory, others aren't. Some

Pole shift - This is the one Geryl believes. An increase in solar activity will
cause the earth's magnetic poles to reverse suddenly on December 20 or
21, 2012, causing catastrophic earthquakes and floods. Once-temperate
countries will be covered by thick ice, and ash from erupting volcanoes will
plunge the world into nuclear winter.

The earth's poles have reversed many times throughout the planet's
history, but the process doesn't happen overnight. It takes tens if not
hundreds of thousands of years, says Carol Raymond, principle scientist
at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The idea that earth's magnetic field
will suddenly go haywire in 2012 is "not supported by anything we've
observed," Raymond says.

Planet X - Adherents to this theory believe that there is a massive planet
(nicknamed Nibiru) whose elliptical orbit will bring it into our solar system in
2012, causing calamity on Earth. The existence of a 10th planet or dwarf
star lying on the edge of our solar system was first suggested by
astronomers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, who observed
irregularities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. They speculated the
irregularity was due to gravitational pull by a giant object nearby. In 1983,
a NASA satellite discovered a mystery object some 50 billion miles away.
Doomsday theorists postulate that this object has been moving toward
earth ever since and will come close enough in 2012 to wreak havoc with
the sun and our planet's climate.

Good luck finding anyone credible - or with a telescope - who believes in
this one.

The Bible code - In 1994, statistics researchers discovered that there
appeared to be prophecies hidden within the text of the Old Testament. By
choosing letters at equidistant intervals, the researchers spelled words
that they then combined into phrases. The technique has been used by
others to uncover a prediction that an asteroid or asteroids will strike the
earth in 2012.

The Roman oracle - According to a priestess known as the Cumaean
Sibyl, who lived in Italy during the 6th century BC (she's so revered for her
predictions, she was painted onto the Sistine Chapel), the world is set to
end with the 10th generation - which is right about now. The planet will be
ravaged by fire, earthquakes and the sky will fill with ash.

Hopi tradition - The Indian tribe believes that the world has been created
and destroyed four times. According to predictions, some of which are
carved onto a rock in Arizona, the fifth world will begin when a series of
criteria have been met - almost all of which, including earthquakes, rising
seas and increasing temperatures, have. A great purification by fire is
supposedly on the way.

Solar Armageddon - The sun's solar cycle, which lasts 11 years, reaches
its peak in 2012, and some believe that the increased solar activity could
do widespread damage to us down here. Could a massive solar flare wipe
out most of life on earth? Not hardly. Gigantic flares have hit earth before,
and it was far from an extinction-level event. Solar activity can cause
blackouts (as it did in Canada in 1989), but that's about the extent of it.
"The idea that there would be changes in climate, there's no connection
there," Raymond says.

Pretty bleak, huh? But even among those who believe there's something
mystical contained within the Mayan calendar, the world ending in 2012 is
hardly a certainty. Many feel that the end of the long count signals some
sort of transformation, not necessarily a catastrophe.

"I don't respond well to the idea that some cataclysmic event is going to
happen," says Ken Jordan, co-editor of "Toward 2012: Perspectives on
the Next Age." "There's a reason to believe that something may well be
happening when the earth crosses through the galactic center. What we
may see is a sudden consciousness opening, an awakening. People may
suddenly have some experience that opens them up to the spiritual."

Or, most likely, nothing will happen. Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin
American art and archeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History,
calls all the doomsday predictions "utter nonsense." She says the Mayan
calendar doesn't simply end, it rolls over like a car's odometer.

"We don't have any evidence that the Mayans thought the rollover of a
new calendar was associated with the creation of a new world," she says.

Milbrath says scholars have also found inscriptions on monuments in
Palenque, Mexico, that allude to dates well beyond 2012. Why would they
go to the trouble of marking dates if every human would be turned to ash
by then?

She attributes the Armageddon hysteria simply to the fact that the long
count is rolling over in our lifetimes. The Apocalypse is probably a lot more
interesting if you're around to see it. Plus, this would hardly be the first
time for end-of-the-world panic. Astronomers, soothsayers and religious
figures have been predicting doomsday for thousands of years. Many in
the Christian world thought Christ would return around 1000. In London in
1524, thousands abandoned their home, fearing a coming flood predicted
by astrologers. In 1999 in America - well, you were probably there, so you
know what happened. Or didn't.

The bottom line is, the world isn't going to end because the Mayan said it
will. It's going to end because Al Gore said it will.

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