What if one day you were told that the world as we know it, would soon come to an end? All those exams, papers, and all nighters were a complete waste because you will not have time to graduate. All the interviews, cover letters and info sessions you had to go to…they were pointless. What if you were told that on December 21, 2012, the world was going to end?
According to the ancient Mayan Long Count Calender, a cycle of more than 5,000 years will come to an end at the start of the winter solstice of 2012. This day, December 21st of 2012, marks the last of the 144,00-day cycles known as bak’tuns. Familiar among practicing Maya and participants in the New Age movement, it is believed that this date will bring an apocalyptic global transformation.
While most of us expect to wake up on December 22, 2012 and find the world the same as it was on December 21, one aspect of this Mayan calender story actually requires serious attention. One of the predictions is the increase in natural disasters, the implictions of which we have seen first-hand over the last 30 years. The increase in natural disasters may signal fundamental shifts in the earth’s climate and could significantly alter life on earth.
According to data from the Red Cross, United Nations and researchers around the world, it is estimated that the number of natural disasters has increased by more than four-times over the past 30 years. In a survey done earlier this year, 700 natural disasters were registered worldwide in the past two years alone. These events affected more than 450 million people and have caused $100 billion in damages per year between 2000 and 2012. These numbers compare to a strikingly lower, $20 billion per year in damages evaluation, in the 1990s.
But what is the cause of this dramatic rise in disasters? Climate change, global warming and natural cycles such as the El Nino or La Nina phenomena are believed to be linked to the increased severe weather conditions. There is significant evidence to show that the global climate is already changing, and will continue to change over coming decades and centuries. Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters in the last century; this rate is nearly double that of last century. Global temperature has risen since the 1970s, with the warmest 20 years having occurred since 1981, and all of the 10 warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Other compelling evidence is seen in shrinking ice sheets, declining Arctic sea ice, glacier retreat and ocean acidification (If you want more information on climate change facts see http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/).
With these dramatic changes occurring, is there anything we can do at this point to save our fate of the December 21st dooms day? The fact is, we need to focus our effort and attention on global warming and climate change. The United States can no longer delay the adoption of effective policies to limit emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Carbon dioxide and other GHG emmissions are contributing to the overall climate change around the world. We have three options we can consider: mitigation, adaptation and “business as usual”. Mitigation would reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases while adaptation would deal with the consequences of climate change and global warming (including natural disaster occurences). Our final option, “business as usual” would consist of doing nothing, and continuing to live with the increase in GHG emmissions. This would save costs of mitigation today, but would make adaptation costs much higher in the future.
We are already seeing a few changes around the world as people become aware of the increasing impacts of climate change. The increase in natural disasters has created an awareness and a sense of adaptation throughout the globe. Farmers have began to explore drought-risistent plants, families are relocating to safer locations as sea levels rise, and insurance companies are adjusting rates due to predictions of future climate changes. Mitigation is also occurring on the personal, local and global levels. People are attempting to lower individual footprints. Cities are committing to lower GHG emmissions, and countries are researching alternative energy sources to lower pollution.
However with all these efforts at hand, it is important to note that any changes we make now will not yield immediete results. If the world as we know it is going to be sustained, changes do need to be made, and they need to happen now. I do plan on waking up December 22nd and finding my world to be the same as it was on December 21st, however this may not stand true forever. The Mayan’s may have predicted the wrong date; however, with the increasing natural disasters and climate changes, their predictions do not seem as crazy as I once thought.