Apocalypse Panic

Why We Fear The Apocalypse

Grace Carman, Broadcast, Photojournalist, Writer

On August 6, 1994, United States pilots flew over Hiroshima,Japan and dropped the world’s first atomic bomb. Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. For the first time, the world was struck with an image of complete annihilation.

By the early 1960s bomb shelters were one of the hottest items on the market. They were modeled in shopping malls and in front of department stores. Girls were taught to furnish bomb shelter and stock pantries in Home Economics classes.

Nuclear fear gave us a sense of dread about the future, a dread that has been passed down through generations. This fear was coupled with a distrust in our government along with, at the time, new and scary technology. Bill Clinton helped cement this fear when he made speeches on the need for serious preparation and even hired coders to correct data issues in the new technology. Computer users and programmers feared that computers would stop working when the 21st century began.

The ‘Y2K bug’ is a class of computer bugs related to the formatting and storage of calendar data.  It was anticipated that this error would make the year 1900 indistinguishable from the year 2000. On December 31, 1999 Americans impatiently waited for the last seconds to tick away, but when the new year began, nothing happened. All those who believed that the world would end in Y2K were certainly shocked. Y2K appealed to one of the biggest audiences of all the end of the world panics. Perhaps because it was one of the first apocalyptic dates not rooted in religion or spirituality. Many ‘new-agers’ saw Y2K as the beginning of the “New Age of Aquarius,” which they thought would be a millennium of peace. Others believed that it would be the end times itself.

Come 2011, Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping start a campaign for a new apocalyptic prediction. May 21, 2011 was the predicted date for ‘Judgement Day.’ It promised that earthquakes would trigger huge tsunamis. Family Radio spent more than five million dollars on billboards and pamphlets to advertise the end of the world. The day before, “the end of the world May 21” was the second most googled item. When the predicted time hit, the world had in fact not ended.

Then came 2012, the year of the Mayan Apocalypse. According to the Mayan Calendar, December 21, 2012 was said to mark the end of a 5,125 year “Great Cycle.” While that could have been interpreted in many ways, some people saw it as the end.

Even if you don’t realize it, we hear about the end of the world often. For the past several years, climate change has been a hot topic. Whether it’s in your science class or on the news, people are talking about it. Almost every day another news story comes out about how we are affecting climate change or how it will affect us. Many believe that climate change will truly be the end of us. As Rosalind Williams puts it, “…the end of history dwells in the present as a rolling apocalypse. We do not have to wait for the last fish in the ocean to die, nor the last tree in the forest to be delled, to see the end coming.”

Climate change brings along a very different kind of fear. Being rooted in a scientific belief gives us the possibility to change its course. Unlike many religious or spiritual apocalyptic dates, it has no specific predicted date. Along with this fear, there is hope for change. While there are many things that we can do to slow down climate change, or at least cut down on what we contribute to the escalation in climate change; however, through education and responsible stewardship, we may be able to create positive change.

There is no doubt that as so many planets do, our world too will come to an end; how and when we may be so lucky as to never find out.