Image credit: Springfield Convention Center, Illinois
Ever since I got convinced (and scared silly!), somewhere around the age of ten, that the predictions of Nostradamus were about to come true - I've been somewhat skeptical about end of the world theorists. Yet moving in green circles, there's no end of people that actively wish a calamity upon our sinful, industrial status quo - whether it's peak oil, the Millenium bug, or something else. (A friend once described this tendency as disasterbation.) That's why I love writing for TreeHugger - search "2012" and you'll find stories on community gardens for the London Olympics, post-2012 climate plans, or mass production of a plug-in hybrid. Search elsewhere and 2012 is all about the Mayan calendar, the end of the world and/or a mystical reawakening of a collective consciousness. If only it were that simple. I'll be the first to admit that I am not the most spiritual of souls - in fact religion or superstition of any kind has always left me cold. But It's often bothered me how some folks who berated the Bush administration for ignoring climate science, could the next minute nod their heads as the conversation moved to the predictions of the Mayans, and how we were all either "doomed", or we would be magically saved by an astrological shift and a rebirth of a saner, more conscious mindset. Strangely, in my circles at least, even those greenies that should know better are often silent - presumably not wishing to disagree with people who are on "the same side" on so many other issues.
But the ever excellent Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Towns, has just drawn an important and timely line in the sand. In a well written and rational piece over at Transition Culture, entitled 2012 and the Return of the Alarmingly Gullible, Rob recounts his experiences at a recent eco-festival - half of the which was concerned with recycling, alternative energy, transition, self-reliance and all that good stuff. The other half of the program was packed with, as Rob puts it, "speakers, who elsewhere wouldn’t even be given the time of day but at an event like Sunrise are hailed as sources of great illumination, [and who] mix 2012 stuff with conspiracy stuff with spiritual warfare David Icke type stuff and whatever other daft nonsense is in vogue that week."
Now, before anyone jumps on me (or Rob) for not being open minded, it goes without saying that environmentalism needs to be a broad church. But the collective obsession with magical predictions is undoubtedly dangerous. It's not just that it makes the green movement look silly - and keeps it firmly secluded from the mainstream (though that is, or course, a problem). It's not even that belief in a finite calendar, or the imminence of chaos, justifies all kinds of irrational behavior - from death cults to nihilism to financial irresponsibility. (Anybody remember the Heaven's Gate suicides?!)
Quite simply, belief in Mayan prophecies abdicates us from responsibility in taking control of our own lives. With climate change, peak oil and resource depletion knocking on our door, it is actually quite tempting to opt for a world view that puts it all out of our hands - but given the urgency of the situation, such cosmological shrugging of the shoulders is not just counter productive. In my book it's irresponsible.
Thanks Rob for speaking out! I'll leave the last words to Mr Hopkins himself:
"I look forward to December 13th 2012, when it will be clear that the whole 2012 industry was another spectacular waste of paper, bandwidth and human energy. Unfortunately by then, due to the inactivity of the preceding 3 years, the world will be 43 months from catastrophic climate change, the UK may well be experiencing blackouts, and those gullible enough to have spent their time ‘preparing for 2012′ (a difficult task as none of the people who write or speak about it have the foggiest idea what might happen, other than that it is ’something big’) will emerge blinking into a world that is actually still just the world, albeit an increasingly fragile one. We must challenge this nonsense with logic and reason wherever we encounter it."