How Many Times Has the World Ended?

By Alastair Donald | 08 February 2013

You may recall that the world should have ended recently, on December 21, 2012, to be precise.  As it rather smugly reported on the preparations being made around the world for the coming apocalypse, the Guardian reminded us that the Maya Long Count calendar read ‘’ (‘thirteen b’aktun’) for the first time in 5,125 years, and this it was believed by some, would signal the end of civilisation.

No doubt everyone has their favourite ‘end of the world’ story. Few beat that of Carlos Roa, the Argentinian goalkeeper best known for his penalty saving heroics against England in the 1998 World Cup. Just a year after his triumph, and believing the world would end with the coming of the new Millennium, Roa – a member of the Seventh-day Adevntist Church – refused to discuss a new contract with his club, Real Mallorca. Instead he retreated to a farm in rural Argentina, only to sheepishly return after the anticipated meltdown failed to materialise.

As Matt Ridley has pointed out in Wired, however, in recent times religious zealots have hardly had a monopoly on apocalyptic thinking. Today, when talk of ‘tipping points’ is rife, the modern-day countdown to the End of Days is often secular, taking the form of the environmental cataclysms that so many experts now assume to be inevitable. A few years ago, no lesser figure than Professor Stephen Hawking was moved to declare that ‘life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster’ and that it was vital for the human race to spread out into space to ensure the survival of the species.

In recent years, fears over explosive epidemics of lethal infectious diseases have compounded existing anxieties about bioterrorism, nuclear war and environmental disaster. As the American critic Susan Sontag noted in the late 1980s, the widespread sense of cultural distress or failure in Western society seems to create a need for apocalyptic scenarios and fantasies of doom. It is a case, she said, not merely ‘Apocalypse Now’, but ‘Apocalypse From Now On’

In the light of the current fashion for apocalyptic predictions, recently considered the psychology of some important figures in history who were obsessed with the end of the world. Here we republish their infographic that highlights some of the key predictions for the end of the world.  For more information visit Illustration: thanks to Allison Morris.

How many Times Has the World Ended

‘How many Times Has the World Ended’ Credit:

Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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