Op-Ed: The end is nigh, you better believe it

Posted May 8, 2011 by Alexander Baron
FamilyRadio, an American-based Christian radio station, has predicted the world will end May 21, 2011. This article argues their chronology is wrong, but probably by less than a hundred years.
Religious painting by Rubens: Christ and John the Baptist as children and two angels.
Religious painting by Rubens: Christ and John the Baptist as children and two angels.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
Prophets, cranks and ordinary people have been predicting the end of the world since before the Great Flood, including one guy who had the foresight to build an ark so that he, his kin and their family pets could repopulate the Earth, be fruitful and multiply. More recently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted Judgment Day would arrive in 1914; if your name was Harry Patch and you’d been caught up in the living hell that was Passchendaele three years later, you might have thought they’d got it half right. The latest such prediction is for May 21 this year, less than two weeks away according to Americans Brian Haubert and Kevin Brown, and their favourite radio station, FamilyRadio. Their reason for believing the end is nigh is a somewhat novel interpretation of Christian theology, one of the signposts of which is the rise of gay pride and same sex marriages. There must be a joke there somewhere, but this is a family show. Haubert and Brown don’t appear to have mentioned that in their interview with Barbara Bradley Hagerty, but although the world most certainly will not end on May 21, their chronology may not be too far out, and this time we are talking science rather than religion.
The end of the world? Not literally, but unless our leaders change course drastically and soon, there are children alive today who will undoubtedly see the end of civilisation as we know it – consider the evidence. First there is Professor Albert Bartlett’s doom-mongering lecture – classic and awesome in equal measure - Arithmetic, Population And Energy. This can be found all over the Internet in video, audio and text formats – the latter in French and Spanish as well asEnglish. A video version was uploaded to Youtube in 8 parts with the modest but terrifyingly accurate title The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See.
As of 21.44hrs London time on May 8, 2011, the first part, which was uploaded June 16, 2007, had 2,600,371 total views with 7,233 likes, and 427 dislikes. The eighth part, which was uploaded the following day, had 413,147 views, 2,473 likes, and 134 dislikes. In other words, a lot of people have heard the Professor’s words; it remains to be seen if anyone who is in a position of influence has decided to act on them.
According to Professor Bartlett, the greatest threat facing the human species is our inability to understand the exponential function. To compress what he said extremely concisely, the world’s consumption of oil is doubling approximately every ten years, while in 1999, world population was growing at around 1.3% per year.
The oil figure corresponds to 7% growth per annum. One person who recognised this was President Carter, who in a special address to the American people direct from the Oval Office on April 18, 1977 pointed out that in each of the previous two decades, Mankind used more oil than was consumed in all of our previous history. Think about that, in the 1950s, we used as much oil as we had since the start of the petroleum age, and during the 1960s, we used the same amount again plus what we used in the 1950s.
At that time, according to the President, global consumption was around sixty million barrels a day, and growth was around 5% per annum, which meant consumption was doubling around every fourteen and a half years; last year, the Chinese economy grew at around 10%.
The most recent projection for world population is9 billion by 2050, and 10 billion by 2100. It has to be said that these figures are extremely optimistic, but let us accept them. Between China’s growth and the additional mouths to feed, we are running out of both oil and food. The only realistic solution for our energy problems is the massive development of alternative energies, in particular the clean renewable energy of the Sun, the wind, and the oceans. If we had the will, we could develop these globally, but although there are modest renewable energy projects all over the world, including in Scotland, all the world’s nations and most especially its great nations continue to rely on oil. After the massive eco-disaster of Deepwater Horizon, it was to be hoped they would have learned their lesson, but no, Britain, Russia, even the United States are not only continuing to drill in thousands of feet of water for oil and gas, they are even seeking out new resources, including in the Arctic.
Then, still in the doom stakes, the Gulf States oil spill may have the appearance of having been cleaned up or dissipated, but this is not necessarily the case. There has been intelligent and terrifying speculation that the Gulf Stream has been damaged, not to mention the unseen damage that may have been done to the flora and fauna in addition to the horrific damage we have witnessed.
Then there are the vanishing bees; honey bees are disappearing on both sides of the Atlantic. How will plants be pollinated if we lose our bees?
We are looking at the total depletion of fossil fuels, the loss of wildlife and natural habitat, the chronic shortage of water in many tropical countries, the retreat of the Dead Sea, the likelihood of mass starvation as the world struggles to feed 10 billion mouths, and we haven’t even mentioned global warming, or the consequences of the world burning sixty million barrels of oil a day for decades and pumping the detritus into the atmosphere.
Hey, Mr President, so you got Osama Bin Laden, congratulations, but guess what, there is another mass murderer out there, and we can’t take him out, because he is us.
So is the end of the world nigh? Really? The only thing we can say for certain is that although the world has never been richer in material goods, although people have never lived longer, although there is more opportunity for all, although slavery has long been outlawed, and the rule of law has now been extended to countries that for centuries have been ruled by despots or even tyrants, the world that our children and their children inhabit will be radically different from ours, and unless we take action now, those men handing out pamphlets in Washington predicting Judgment Day before the end of the month won’t seem crazy, just a little premature.