February 7, 2013 at 1:02 pm

The Boy Who Cried Wolf: 2012, Fenrir and Asteroid DA 14

by

We all remember the well known fable told by the ancient Greek slave and storyteller, Aesop, about the shepherd boy drafted to keep watch over a flock of sheep, and who, out of boredom, decided it would be great fun to fool the nearby villagers by pretending that a wolf was attacking the sheep. After the villagers rushed out to save the sheep a number of times based upon the boys fabrications they refused to believe him when the wolf actually did show up and began to consume the sheep. The obvious declared moral of the story is generally expressed as “There is no believing a liar, even when he is telling the truth.” However, there is, I submit, a second, unstated moral to the story as well. In spite of the shepherd boys prevarications the wolf was real. And the wolf did, in the end, show up to devour the poor sheep.

All of which, however, raises an interesting question. Why are so many people so fearful of and ready to believe in an impending doomsday?

Which brings us to the point of this article.  For centuries various predictions have been made about the end of the world on certain dates by assorted means and on quite a number of occasions these predictions have been believed by a significant number of people. Obviously the world did not perish in late December of 2012, the most recent date proffered in a long tradition of doomsday predictions that failed to materialize.
My first encounter with such notions came about in the late 1960s while still in high school. I had a poster on my bedroom wall entitled ‘Goodbye California’ and it showed the entire state of California breaking off from the North American mainland and sinking into the Pacific ocean, an occurrence which was widely believed to be impending by a considerable number of folks back then. A few years later, in 1973, with the approach of Comet Kahoutek, apocalyptic predictions were proliferating, causing fairly widespread consternation among the astronomically challenged. I next recall the date of November, 1978 being foretold as a time of extensive global disasters.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a cosmic reminder that catastrophes, in spite of all the over-hyped, pseudo-scientific predictions, are indeed real.

Then came the early 1980s and more predictions about a series of escalating disasters brought about by planetary alignments. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May of 1980 was interpreted as being the opening act of this apocalyptic succession. The culminating date was usually given as March, 1982, when all hell was going to break loose. When that date passed without incident others claimed that December 31, 1988 was actually the date. Of course that date came and went as well. Then there were the prophecies of Nostradamus, which foresaw July of 1999 as the arrival date for the ‘King of Terrors,’ inciting widespread fear among believers of a looming apocalypse. Only a year later came the turn of the Millennium and fears of a planetary pole shift in May of 2000 that was going to wipe out civilization. One book from the early 1980s which made this prediction went through multiple reprints up to the year 2000, but, needless to say, has not been reprinted since.

Not to mention Y2K, which was, perhaps, somewhat plausible. (We can’t discount the fact that governments did spend over 100 billion dollars to secure computers against failure, which may have been partially responsible for averting the expected breakdown.) And finally we have the Mayan Apocalypse which even spawned a silly movie. (With awesome special effects though).  These are only a few of the failed predictions of which I am aware that have occurred in my lifetime and that of many readers of this article. There have been countless dozens of other such failed predictions stretching back through the centuries.
I think we could say that the batting average of those prognosticators of world destruction has so far been about zero. All of which, however, raises an interesting question. Why are so many people so fearful of and ready to believe in an impending doomsday? I think the answer to that question brings us to the unstated moral of Aesops fable. In spite of all the false alarms the wolf turned out to be very real.
And eventually the wolf showed up.

If instead of trying to foresee the future of planet Earth we look to its past, we are confronted with a rather disquieting mass of evidence about the actual history of global change. While the prevailing paradigm for most of the 20th century was one of slow, gradualistic change, that interpretation has given way to a new model which recognizes that profoundly dynamic changes have occurred on a scale unprecedented in recent times. Every month now brings new scientific revelations about Earths cataclysmic history. Over the last 3 or 4 decades scientists from multiple disciplines have steadily documented the reality of great catastrophes in the history of the Earth. We now know that Earth has been subject to devastating asteroid and comet impacts too numerous to count. We know that gigantic volcanic eruptions have occurred sufficient to cause the sky to go dark for months at a time. We know that great tsunamis have repeatedly occurred that would make the Japanese and Indonesian disasters look trivial. We know that vast ice ages have gripped the planet over and over again. We know that mega scale floods that can only be described as biblical in scale have devastated large regions of the Earth’s surface. And we suspect that the majority of Earth’s extinct animal species succumbed to global disasters. And finally, we now know that numerous cataclysmic episodes have occurred during the several hundred millennia that we humans have been present on Earth.

Is it possible that racial memories of past tribulations suffered by the human species fuels the fear of future doomsdays? And given what we know about the frequency of past global disasters would it not be prudent to assume that at some future date we will again be faced with apocalyptic events? Recognition of Earth’s catastrophic history does not imply a fatalistic view of life. Rather it provides a dose of reality and a higher perspective on the human condition than is generally acknowledged by the occupants of the institutions of social power.

Recognition of Earth’s catastrophic history does not imply a fatalistic view of life. Rather it provides a dose of reality and a higher perspective on the human condition than is generally acknowledged by the occupants of the institutions of social power.


Professor of zoology and human ecology Kenneth E. F. Watt, wrote in his 1974 book The Titanic Effect that “The magnitude of disasters decreases to the extent that people believe that they are possible, and plan to prevent them, and to minimize their effects.” Thanks to early warning systems in place in the Pacific Ocean, which were lacking in the Indian Ocean, the great Japanese tsunami of 2011 caused about 20,000 deaths whereas the death toll of the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 was on the order of 300,000.
As if to underscore the point of this article, on February 15 came a close brush with disaster.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will whiz by the Earth at a distance of only 17,000 miles, inside the orbits of many satellites. It is about the same size as the object which exploded over Siberia in 1908. Had it collided with Earth the resulting detonation would have been equivalent to that of the largest hydrogen bombs, enough to completely obliterate a metropolitan area the size of Atlanta.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a cosmic reminder that catastrophes, in spite of all the over-hyped, pseudo-scientific predictions, are indeed real.

 

-Randall Carlson

Continue on to the follow up article in this series, Close Encounters of the Celestial Kind: Multiple Asteroid Sightings Around the World.

 

 

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