Appetite for destruction: 2012 and the Apocalypse
Japanese police walk along a path through the destruction of the tsunami and earthquake ravaged city of Rikuzentakata, northeastern Japan Tuesday, March 29, 2011. (AP / David Guttenfelder)
Published Friday, December 30, 2011 7:21PM EST
It seems like everyone has their own vision of the Apocalypse.
For Christians, The End is synonymous with the Four Horsemen, the Rapture and the Anti-Christ.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, fear climate change, melting polar ice caps and turbulent weather.
For paranoid newshounds, if rogue states like Iran or North Korea don't trigger a nuclear war, then debt-wracked banks will soon lead to total societal collapse.
Then there's Hollywood: aliens, meteors, earthquakes, malfunctioning uteri and Hitchcock's angry birds.
While the Apocalypse-theme has essentially become a pop culture cliché, it remains endlessly fascinating.
Case in point: the Christian-focused "Left Behind" books, which have made authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins very rich thanks to sales numbering 65 million and counting.
Likewise, there's the Mayan prediction that 2012 will mark the end of the world.
While the myth entered the public consciousness in the 1970s, today, even the descendants of the Mayans have grown tired of the damned prophecy: Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute went out of its way this month to say the entire theory was dreamed up by a writer named Frank Waters and his "mishmash of beliefs."
But much like our own obsessive and personal ponderings of mortality, it seems we can't get enough of the Apocalypse talk.
"Apocalyptic visions are mass passions gone berserk," says author Howard Bloom, who learned a lot about public obsessions as the publicist for superstars like Prince and Billy Joel in the 1980s.
Bloom, who has written extensively about human behaviour in books like "The Lucifer Principle," believes that our obsession with The End is essentially hard-wired into our brains.
To illustrate, Bloom likens society to an ant colony, where 90 per cent of the inhabitants are essentially lazy and ineffectual much of the time.
But all that changes when the colony's outer walls are breached and pheromone alarms are released.
"All of a sudden, everyone is electrified," says Bloom. "They start building, they start repairing the breach. An alarm instinct seems to be in there, to look for highly unusual events that can be extraordinarily dangerous, not to individual survival, but to the group's survival."
For Bloom, humans are the same way: we get excited and scared when cataclysms occur, and we seek out these thrills as a way to tap into the corresponding adrenaline rush.
"It thrills the sensibilities, and takes you out of the boredom of being concerned about whether you can pay your bills in five days. So it becomes a form of entertainment."
What makes the thrill all the more palatable, according to Bloom, is that disasters often do happen. When they do -- Hurricane Katrina or the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster -- our greatest fears are only affirmed.
With that in mind, let's consider a threatening scenario less immediately cataclysmic than an earthquake, but potentially more harmful in the long run: solar storms.
Lights out: A frightening reality?
Late in 2012, Earth's sun will belch out an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The powerful burst will emit a dose of radiation that drastically alters our planet's magnetic field.
The corresponding power surges on Earth will melt down transformers everywhere, effectively bringing down the global patch-work power grid and throwing hundreds of millions into the dark.
Without power, food and medicine will rot. Without our computers, the financial system will cease to exist. Modern forms of communication will collapse, and transportation will grind to a halt.
Vast sections of Earth will effectively be thrown into the dark ages, and society will tear itself apart.
If it sounds far fetched, then you haven't spoken to Lawrence Joseph, a Los Angeles-based writer who has spent much of his life preaching this frighteningly plausible vision of the Apocalypse.
That EMP blasts have occurred in 1859, 1909 and 1921 -- times that pre-date our present reliance upon power-hungry electrical devices -- only seems to affirm Joseph's warnings of a slow-churning disaster that could eventually destroy modern society as we know it.
"That storm would essentially be the worst-case scenario," Joseph told me in a recent telephone interview. "The possibility is that solar storms and solar flares could knock out our electrical power grid for months, or for years," he says.
Joseph isn't alone in his theories.
In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences published a paper called "Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts," which plainly states that electricity is "society's cornerstone technology, the technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend."
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously voted on a plan to install power-surge protectors throughout the North American power grid, but the plan was killed by the U.S. Senate.
"As only politicians can, they dashed the hopes of a healthy civilization. The Senate subcommittee stripped out the language so they couldn't even vote on the matter," says Joseph, who can barely contain his rage on the issue.
"The good news and the irony is that we can do something about it. It's not just another ‘Oh my God, we're going to die' scenario."
But it appears that the window of opportunity to prepare has passed, leaving us vulnerable to the whims of the sun.
"It's going to happen, the question is when? The next red zone for the most frequent and ferocious of these storms is coming in late 2012 and early 2013. This is a serious problem," Joseph warns.
Given that the sun could spell our doom, I turned next to someone who reads the stars for a living and posed the question: will it turn against us next year?
Will 2012 be a year of chaos?
Speaking to astrologer Julie Simmons, 2012 may not mark the end, but instead, the beginning of something new.
"I would have to say that it (is) an indication that we stepped into a chaotic time" she told me in an interview.
Still, Simmons says that June of 2012 is shaping up to be an extremely interesting time, because of the interaction between Uranus and Pluto. Essentially, the planets represent the old structures of society and the personal desires of humanity.
"We're looking at a chaotic clash between the ideals and the possibilities that individuals want, versus the entrenched but crumbling hierarchical structure. It's very exciting to talk about, but I don't think it's as exciting to participate in."
Extending her analysis of the cosmos, Simmons says that the first six months of 2012 will be a time of great turmoil.
While she didn't specify the upcoming U.S. election campaign, the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, the Occupy movement or the banking crisis in Europe, it's not a stretch to think all of these could fit into her predictions.
"If we're really lucky, there may be a hero that a rises out of that. And if we're not, we'll probably get a devil or a thug."
But alongside the turmoil, planetary doom-and-gloom and societal appetite for doomsday that's preoccupied the popular imagination when it comes to 2012, others are welcoming the coming year.
My Taiwanese-Canadian sister-in-law is one. When I asked her about the coming year -- which is the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese lunar calendar -- she's convinced it's going to be a good one for babies.
With any luck, her simple prediction of a growing family will be the right one.
Follow Jered Stuffco on Twitter: @jstuffco
Will 2012 be a year to remember or one to forget? What do you make of our obsession with doomsday scenarios?