Narrow escapes

How I survived the end of the world.

As a member of the boomers, my first memories are of the 1950's, I had my 10th birthday in 1960, I remember seeing Sputnik zooming over the night sky, when the Beatles came to town,  the Kennedy assassinations, disco (the lost years), the eighties, nineties and oughties are a bit of a blur, but I was there.  But mostly I remember that whenever some doomsayer starts talking about the end of everything, I remember that I have heard this before.


Nuclear holocaust.  A close call that lasted through my school days, 1955 through 1968.  Long range nuclear bombers and ICBMs  and real life Dr. Strangeloves meant no one was safe.  Underground fall out shelters were built in back yards, more elaborate versions were constructed to house VIPs all over the world.  Every village and town got an air raid siren.  Schools gave nuclear bomb drills (we dived under our desks.)   Hysteria peaked with the Cuban missile crisis, after which people progressively lost interest as the US and the USSR backed away from  nuclear confrontation.  It briefly flared up again after the twin tower attacks and the possibility that terrorists could get surplus nukes from the former Soviet republics, Iran, Iraq or North Korea.  For this version duct tape and sheets of plastic were going to save our asses.

California falling into the ocean.  Dead prophet  Edgar Cayce  made a prediction that the west coast of North America was going to fall  into the ocean in the 1970's.  Some people took it seriously. There were rumors that Californians were leaving for safer states, and that non Californians were avoiding visiting.  There was even a top 10 recording  about the coming catastrophe.   There was some factual basis to Cayce's prediction, the San Andreas fault and plenty of scary earthquakes.   This did not stop me from visiting San Francisco in the the summer of 69, but neither did I stay very long :-)

Overpopulation leads to mass starvation.  In 1971 a biology teacher introduced me to  Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book, Population Bomb,   predicting that overpopulation was going to result in worldwide starvation in the 1970's.   Ehrlich, who is still active, and continues to warn of impending doom has genuine scientific credentials, a Phd. in biology and tenure as a professor at Stanford University.  His book was big news, Ehrlich got more than the usual 15 minutes fame as he toured the talk show circuit and did interviews with big magazines.   Ehrlich's predictions for the 1970's failed because his projection did not account for the 'green revolution' that occurred instead of a world wide famine.  However as Thomas Malthus had already observed back in 1798, populations increase  with an increased supply of food until there is no more food, since 1970 the human population has nearly doubled from 3.7 billion to 7 billion.  This obviously cannot go on forever and Professor Ehrlich continues to warn about the danger, but few are listening,  having moved on to trendier doom scenarios.

Comet Kohoutek,  was billed as the most spectacular light show we would see in our lifetimes.  As we eagerly awaited the appearance of this marvel in 1973, a religious group claimed the comet was a major portent of doom.   For some reason, many people took this seriously despite that these guys were obviously from looneyland.  The actual comet turned out to be rather ordinary, and a bit of a bust after all the hype.  As far as doom went, all I can recall was Watergate and the first oil crisis, certainly bad times for US President Nixon and the owners of  gas hog cars, but no problemo for this Canadian.  Maybe when Kohoutek re-appears in 75,000 years?


1984.  George Orwell's novel portraying a grim totalitarian future was the symbol for government and corporate attempts to control individuals.  First published in 1949, as the clock ticked closer to 1984, fans kept score to see how many of  the 'predictions' would become true.   Interest faded after 1984 turned out to be pretty ordinary year and the 1989 collapse of  the Soviet Union's evil empire.  Orwell was actually writing about how he saw things in Britain in 1948, the year he wrote 1984, an anagram of 1948, with the addition of  what was then science fictional surveillance technology to muddy the waters.   As the capability of surveillance technology achieves Orwellian capability it would probably be useful to re-read 1984 and take a sharp look over our shoulders.  Orwell missed the boat in determining who would have enough of an interest in our daily doings to conduct indepth surveillance on such a grand and individual scale.

HIV AIDS Pandemic.  When HIV AIDs first started to show up in the early 1980's it was a mysterious disease that apparently only affected Haitians and gay men, but the general public did not really know why.  There was a lot of fear mongering that HIV AIDs was going to wipe out the human race.   HIV AIDS remains a serious threat, to catch it is pretty much a death sentence, but its transmission is well understood and easily prevented through education and basic safeguards.  It  remains a serious problem anywhere HIV AIDS education, testing, and the use of protection is not available.

Flu Pandemics. Ever since the world wide Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 which killed more people than the four years of World War I, we have been anticipating the next big one.  Mysterious pandemics (possibly bio weapons gone amuck) have displaced nuclear holocaust for apocalypse fiction, so there is nothing like a good flu scare when things get dull.  So far we have had Asian flu, Swine flu, Bird Flu, Hong Kong flu, H1N1.  The list will get longer as the influenza virus is of a type that evolves rapidly.

Killer Bees.  Remember them?


Y2K The Y2K bug resulted from many computer programs using  2 digits or places for the year, which could result in failures of computer programs to run properly when the year date changed from 1999 (99) to 2000 (00), which according to the two digit date format, already represented the year 1900.  This was a real problem, the result of still using programs written in the early days of computing  on the assumption that the programs would have been replaced by newer versions by the time the year 2000 rolled around.   The computer industry was aware of the problem and was working around the clock to fix it.  This did not stop speculation by people who had no clue that the world would come to grinding halt on midnight January 31, 1999.  The Y2K bug was a bonanza for computer programmers and the makers and sellers of portable generators, bottled water and freeze dried food but  a fizzle for thrill seekers.

Coming soon
2012, the year the world ends according to the Mayan calendar.  It appears that December 21 (Winter Solstice) 2012, marks the end of  a cycle of a 5126 years according to the Mayan calendar.  This has led to a movement that claims the Mayans predicted this will be the end of the world.  According to Mayan scholars the end of the Mayan calendar cycle merely predicts the beginning of a new cycle, (like our calendar's 'millenial' cycles of 1000 years).  We will see.

The Rapture.   Various christian cults claim the end of the world is due any day now.   What  happens then, is true believers will be physically  spirited up to heaven instantly and intact.   The rest of us will be left behind.  Some years back people began spreading the rumor that the airlines always made sure that there was never a nut bar, er fundamentalist christian pilot and copilot on the same airplane,so that when the rapture came while the plane was in the air, there would be an unbeliever left who could fly it home.  I recently saw a joke (or maybe not) advertisement by an atheist group,  for a fee they will guarantee to look after raptured christian's pets should they ascend to heaven without their gerbils or whatever.

Earth Gets Clobbered by Giant Meteor.
A favorite of apocalypse fans, it has been estimated that a meteor large enough to put us back to the stone age or worse hits the earth on average every 100,000 years.  It is believed that an extra terrestrial object hitting the earth is what ended the reign of Dinosaurs,  kickstarting our own ascendancy to lords of the planet.   Fortunately we are tracking the random chunks of rock that whiz around  our planet and will probably have enough warning to be able to do something about it, so long as the rapture or whatever doesn't do for us first.

Global Warming.
Nuff said.

Near misses
I have cheated the grim reaper by;
Occupying buildings  containing asbestos products
Being around second hand smoke,
Inhaling first hand smoke
Ingesting food products colored with red dye number 2
Somehow survived a childhood without car seats, car safety belts, government approved cribs,  small  toy parts I could shove up my nose, lead paint, lead solder, refined sugar....

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