Despite Mayan calendar Dec. 21 projection, don't count on end of the world
If there's any validity to the predictions surrounding Friday's apocalypse, you're now reading one of the last stories from The Berkshire Eagle.
A theory that the world will end Friday to coincide with the end of a 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan calendar is the most ballyhooed Doomsday theory since -- well, the last ballyhooed Doomsday theory.
Local and national scientists are using their expertise to argue against the claims, and others in the Berkshires and across the globe are taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach to the Dec. 21 dooms date.
In Russia, the minister of emergency situations has stepped in to quell mass panic. Believers also have flocked to a mountain in Bugarach, France, because they think aliens hiding inside the mountain will take them to safety when the world does end Friday.
-- James Lumsden, pastor at Pittsfield's First Church of Christ.
The source of these tidbits? The New York Times.
Even people in the Berkshires have supplies set aside for the potential apocalypse. Naysayers, meanwhile, are just using it as an excuse to party.
The Doomsday Theory
Assuming that 2009 movies such as "2012" or the 1987 hit song "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M. aren't prophetic, few reputable sources exist on what Friday's apocalypse will look like.
That's because it won't happen, according to Craig Childs, author of the book "Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth."
"The world doesn't just end; that's a misnomer," Childs told The Eagle from his home in western Colorado.
Childs stopped at the Lichtenstein Center in Pittsfield last month during a book tour. His research for the book took him to nine apocalyptic-in-nature places across the planet -- from the driest nonpolar desert, in South America, to Central Iowa, where food is scarce.
Childs argues that the apocalypse "doesn't just happen."
"It's not a single event. It takes thousands of years to play out," he said. "On Dec. 22, we'll wake up to the same constantly changing world."
On Friday, the 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count portion of the Mayan calendar will end. For now, it serves as the catalyst for the theories that the world will end with it. But as with the Gregorian calendar hanging in your kitchen, the Mayan calendar doesn't end. It simply restarts.
"Saying the Mayan calendar ends is like saying our calendar ends on Dec. 31," said Mac Sudduth, executive director of miSci, the Museum of Innovation and Science, in Schenectady, N.Y. "It goes into another cycle. This is the end of the 13th cycle."
Sudduth received his doctorate in the history and philosophy of science, and he's worked in several planetariums and even reviewed educational material for NASA. He frequently uses his education and expertise to refute "nonsense like this."
-- Craig Childs, author of the book ‘Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth'
"There's not much danger of something happening on the 21st," Sudduth said. "The people worried about this are certainly not into the scientific aspect. The hysteria aspect has to do with belief."
Interestingly, one group not buying into the Mayan apocalypse theory is modern-day Mayans in Guatemala.
The Mayan alliance group Oxlaljuj Ajpop released a statement saying the end of the cycle "means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature."
On Friday, as many as 90,000 people are expected to attend a massive event hosted by the Guatemalan Culture Ministry, an organization that protects the land's heritage and history. Tour groups also are promoting getaways themed to the apocalypse, according to Agence France-Presse, a French news agency.
Felipe Gomez, Oxlaljuj Ajpop's leader, released a statement criticizing the Guatemalan government and tour groups for perpetuating the myth.
"We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit," he said. "They are not telling the truth about time cycle."
The alliance is hosting sacred events in five cities, and Gomez said the Culture Ministry should support them.
That's not to say the world isn't ending, according to Childs. It just takes time.
In the Earth's 4.5 billion-year lifespan, there have been five major mass extinctions that killed off 70 to 90 percent of the planet's inhabitants.
"That took tens of thousands of years, though," Childs said. "There have been endings, but they couldn't reveal themselves in the human lifetime, much less on one day in December."
Though holy scripture does prophesize about an end of times, James Lumsden, pastor at Pittsfield's First Church of Christ, called the Dec. 21 theories "bunk." He said he could have used stronger words to express his feelings.
"All religions at different times were certain they had a monopoly on God's timetable," Lumsden said. "Christian scriptures are abundantly clear that no human being knows the end of times. Only the Father knows the time. I trust that."
He said the pop culture fascination with a possible Doomsday on Friday has left some of the younger members of his congregation "frightened."
"There certainly isn't any indication scientifically, historically, theologically or mythically that we're living in the end times any more than we were 100 years ago," Lumsden said.
Ending on a high note
Brian Alberg, executive chef at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, may not believe the world will end Friday, but his cuisines could be called earth-shattering.
To benefit from the interest in the Mayan culture, The Red Lion will host the End of Days Feast at 7 p.m. Friday.
"I look for ideas or little things to play off of for food," Alberg said.
-- Brian Alberg, chef at the Red Lion Inn, which is holding an 'end-of-world' party Friday
The End of Days menu will include usual Mayan dishes, featuring nuts, dates, wild boar, bitter greens, lamb and goat. Tickets are $150.
"If the world ends, you won't have to pay that credit card bill," Alberg said. "People know it's going to be a hell of a party."
Friday won't be the first time the world was supposed to end. The stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, and the supposed Rapture on May 21, 2011, are two of the more popular recent end-of-the-world theories.
"People have been saying [the world will end] for years," Pittsfield resident Chuck Auger said. "It's comical that people believe in that kind of stuff."
Come Saturday, the Mayan apocalypse theory will be viewed historically as one of many unsuccessful theories on the end of the world, according to Childs.
"Every generation thinks it will be the one to see ‘the big change,' " he said. "People are bored. They want the apocalypse to happen. I wrote ['Apocalyptic Planet'] to try to tell people that they don't want it to happen."
The sky is falling?
One of the more popular Doomsday theories is something catastrophic hitting us from above -- meteors, asteroids, etc. But "no close encounters are expected anytime soon," Sudduth said.
"We can see things coming for a long time," he said.
However, high solar flares -- a rapid release of energy from the sun -- are expected into early next year.
"A big solar flare might make the garage open, or disrupt your GPS, but that's the worst that could happen," Sudduth said. "The Earth is pretty protected from solar flares. We've been through a lot, and it doesn't seem to affect us."
In terms of apocalypse theories related to weather -- snow, ice, flooding, hurricanes -- the National Weather Service in Albany hasn't reported any unusual stormy patterns or signs.
The NWS "just kind of ignores" the apocalyptic talk, according to meteorologist Brian Frugis. "It's not really based on anything concrete."
Pittsfield resident Donna Moon said the apocalypse is "at the bottom of her list of worries."
"I'm worried about going over the financial cliff first," she said. "Let's get the country stable first, then worry about eternity."
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On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse
• The Mayan calendar is made up of five Long Count cycles -- each 5,125 years -- plus a 260-day ritual cycle and a 365-day solar calendar.
• Ancient Mayan civilizations lived from 2000 B.C. to as late as the 16th century.
• The complex Maya religion states that we are one level of a multilayered universe made up of 13 heavens and nine underworlds.
• Maya ruins can be found in Belize, Mexico and Guatemala.
• Half of the current population in Guatemala is of Mayan descent.
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