By: N. Moreau
All sorts of people, from priests and pastors to sci-fi geeks, have thought about how the world might come to an end. This morbid curiosity stems from the eternal question: where have we come from and where are we going? The current climate crisis highlights how powerful humanity is and how capable it is of its destruction. But are we capable of preventing said destruction? Or are we helplessly walking towards an inevitable end?
Since before the start of the common era, the date of the “end of the world” has been speculated multiple times. Predictions of supernatural events that will destroy planet Earth as we know it are often associated with religion, specifically Abrahamic religions. Multiple pastors and other Christian religious leaders have wrongly predicted the date of the last judgment, resulting in various prophecies that never became true. Up until the twentieth century, almost all predictions had to do with the arrival of Christ, an Antichrist or a Messiah. The Christian denominations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that Armageddon was to come multiple times during the years before WWII. Soon after the creation of the atomic bomb, the threat of nuclear war arose. An aggressive arms race during the Cold War years between the United States and the Soviet Union brought forth a new ‘doomsday’ concept; rather than eternal life and annihilation by God, the end is manmade.
In 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist created The Doomsday Clock, a macabre metaphor to reflect the fear of nuclear holocaust, with ‘midnight’ representing the ultimate end. This unusual clock is composed of a quarter of a standard twelve-hour clock, and its ‘time’ changes annually based on how nuclear weapons are used and viewed. When the tradition was created by the very scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the clock’s statement was 7 minutes to midnight. As the atomic arms race progressed, so did the fear of catastrophe. The clock's time often oscillated but reached its furthest time from midnight in 1991 right after the Cold War, at 17 minutes to midnight.
Since then, other predictions of the end of the world have come and gone. In 1999, people feared that alongside the arrival of the new millennium, multiple technological glitches might cause machinery to collapse and society to cease to function. Several religious leaders also thought the end was near. In Uganda, the ‘Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God’ group was paranoid that the last judgment was soon to come, so they stockpiled food and weapons and proceeded to completely isolate themselves from the outside world. In March of 2000, the leaders of the groups gathered all their members in a church, waiting to be divinely judged. All doors and windows were locked. The building was set on fire, resulting in one of the largest incidents of mass murder-suicide in history.
Another infamous apocalyptic prediction originated in Mesoamerica during the first centuries BC. December 21, 2012, marked the end of the first great cycle of the Maya Long Count calendar, which had a start date of 3114 BC. The Mayans weren’t specific on how the world would end, but scenarios included solar flares, massive tidal waves, and crashing with other planets. As the date approached, modern scientists confirmed all of these endings would be impossible.
Currently, no ancient prophecies haunt our decade. However, nuclear Armageddon looms over our heads; in 2023, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist brought the clock forward to 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been, mainly due to threats imposed by the Russia-Ukraine war, global warming and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Doomsday clock isn’t a literal countdown to the end of the world, but rather a symbol to convey the global issues that might lead to manmade destruction. Luckily, unlike real life, this clock can turn back time, and there is still hope to avoid midnight.