The end of the world as we know it - Page 4

Pondering the alarmist, the mystical, the way-out-there ... and the surprisingly hopeful sides of Dec. 21, 2012

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"There is a strange parallel with what the ancient Maya foresaw": author John Major Jenkins

Van Horn has been focused on this galactic alignment and its significance for years, giving regular presentations on it since 2004. "The earth is being flooded with energies from the galactic center," she said.

Issac Shivvers, an astrophysics graduate student and instructor at UC Berkeley, confirmed the basic facts of the alignment with the galactic center and its rarity, but he doesn't believe it will have any effect on humans.

"The effect of the center region of the galaxy on us is negligible," he said, doubting the view that cosmic energies play on people in unseen ways that science can't measure. In fact, Shivvers said he is "completely dismissive" of astrology and its belief that alignments of stars and planets effect humans.

Yet many people do believe in astrology and unseen energies. A 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 25 percent of Americans believe in astrology. A similar percentage also sees yoga as a spiritual practice and believes that spiritual energy is located in physical things, such as temples or mountains.

This moment is really about energy more than anything else. It's about the perception of energies showering down from the cosmos and up through the earth and human history. It's about the energy we have to do the hard work of transforming our world and the vibrational energy we put out into the world and feel from would-be partners in the process ahead.

"If you're a liberal person without a spiritual grounding, it does look pretty bleak," Pinchback said, noting the importance of doing the inner work as the necessary first step to our political transformation.

And both Casey and Brezsny believe in rituals. "Humans have been honoring the winter solstice for 26,000 years," she said. "Every winter solstice is a chance to say what is our guiding story that we want to illuminate."

GLOBAL TIPPING POINT

The world is probably not going to end on Dec. 21 — but it could end in the not-too-distant future for much of life as we know it if we don't change our ways. Humans are on a collision course with the natural world, something we've known for decades.

In the last 20 years, the scientific community and most people have come to realize that industrialization and over-reliance on fossil fuels have irreversibly changed the planet's climate and that right now we're just trying to minimize sea level rise and other byproducts — and not even with any real commitment or sense of urgency.

The latest scientific research is even more alarming. Scientists have long understood that individual ecosystems reach tipping points, after which the life forms within them spiral downward into death and decay. But a report released in June by the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology has found that Earth itself has a tipping point that we're rapidly moving toward.

"Earth's life-support system may change more in the next few decades than it has since humans became a species," said the report's lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley.

While the Earth has experienced five mass extinctions and other major global tipping points before, the last one 11,700 years ago at the end of the last ice age, Barnoksy said, "today is very different because humans are actually causing the changes that could lead to a planetary state shift."

The main problem is that humans simply have too big a footprint on the planet, with each of us disturbing an average of 2.27 acres of the planet surface, affecting the natural world around us in numerous ways. The impact will intensify with population growth, triggering a loss of biodiversity and other problems.