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Have you seen that show on National Geographic channel? The one where people devote vast amounts of time, energy and money to preparing for the end of the world?

National Geographic’s doom obsession

Some of them build bunkers to hide out in when peak oil causes massive social unrest around the world. Others are preparing for the aftermath of a sudden reversal in the Earth’s polarity. One lady was delivering masks and disinfectant kits to neighbours as she feared a global pandemic was imminent. Its quite quaint, but others are going underground to avoid, you guessed it, nuclear winter.

These Doomsday preppers are interesting in the way they matter of factly toss around wacky theories and predictions, as though they were established scientific fact. Take this advice Survive Pole Shift has issued to help you survive the big flip:

…research your location from the standpoint of the climate that will exist after the pole shift. This is quickly ascertained by looking at the New Geology map. This is a free map which can be cut out and taped together and will give a general idea of the latitude to expect. If your chosen location is where one of the new poles will be, this is a clue that you need to rethink or plan a migration route. This is likewise the case if your chosen location will be on land that will sink below the waves entirely, such as India or western Australia.

Doom metal

New Zealand has its own Doomsday preppers and one of them, Opshop frontman and New Zealand’s Got Talent judge Jason Kerrison is the poster boy for the movement. Kerrison, who has constructed an emergency bunker in Northland, also fears a major pole shift. He told the Herald on Sunday:

“It’s just getting close to home more often. I guess we live such ephemeral lives that we expect this potential global cataclysm we’re discussing to happen overnight or out of the blue. But there are signs everywhere that this accelerated pole shift is being triggered and ramping up.”

Jason Kerrison

Kerrison’s face graces the front of this week’s New Zealand Listener, where he dispenses some more scientific analysis:

“If the shit were to hit the fan as much as some people talk about, you could get a whole crustal displacement of the eight to 20 miles’ worth of crust on this 8000-mile-wide planet, slipping like a peel on an orange.”

The end of the world is front of mind, or decent fodder for journalists anyway, as we approach December 21, the date the current cycle on the Mayan calendar ends. On that date, argue various bunches of Armageddonists, the world will end dramatically. Planet Nibiru might smash into planet Earth, or life may be vaporized as part of the galatic alignment. Kerrison chips in:

“Whether anything happens specifically on that date, I don’t know, but its been happening for years – its just ramping up in its intensity.”

As December 21 looms we can expect more of this sort of talk – which is bizarre, because it isn’t as though the Mayans actually prophesied the end of the world.

Marcello Canuto, the director of Tulane University Middle America Research Institute, says only two recovered Mayan texts reference the end of a 144,000 day b’ak’tun cycle but little more. This for the Huffington Post:

 ”What this text shows us is that in times of crisis, the ancient Maya used their calendar to promote continuity and stability rather than predict apocalypse,”

The Mayans didn’t link the end of the calendar cycle with the end of the world, argue experts, but that is how Christians interpreted it. Via Livescience:

“A lot of the end-of-the-world mythologies are the result of Christian eschatology introduced by Franciscan missionaries,” John Hoopes, a scholar of Maya history at the University of Kansas, told Livescience, referring to missionaries just entering the New World and coming into contact with native people.

Real disaster scenarios

While there’s nothing credible to suggest December 21st won’t be just like any other day, scientists have given considerable thought to what could devastate planet Earth. After all, such events have happened before. Wired has summed up the potential scenarios, ranging from the eruption of a super volcano to a large comet striking the planet.

As this Guardian piece shows, scientists continue to think through disaster scenarios, with the aim of  avoiding world-ending scenarios. The problem, writes the Guardian’s Ian Sample, is that humans only really get around to serious disaster planning after disaster has struck.

Nuclear reactors were made safer after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The UN drew up plans for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean a year after 230,000 people died from a devastating wave in 2004. Plans to bolster flood defences around New Orleans are still being thrashed out, five years after hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 and left thousands more homeless. In each case, the risks were known, but they were only acted on after the event.

 Kerrison for his part will be strumming his guitar up north, a short dash from his bunker on December 21,

“I call myself an apocaloptimist, in that shit happens but I’m ready for it if it does,”

he told the Listener, adding probably with people like me in mind:

“I don’t feel downtrodden from the taunts of the short-sighted.”