Are We Dying? Yes. No. Eventually.

Culture / You may only have a few hours to read this article, depending on when you meet it, as this week’s Weekly hits the red boxes on a day that might be humans’ last ever, according to one 12/12/12 theory. Even so, when the final sentence in the Mayan long-count calendar reaches its last period on the 21st, some unknown event will apparently ruin our day: A giant invisible dwarf planet called Nibiru/Planet X/Eris–at this point, isn’t a name arbitrary?–will park itself somewhere between your house and mine and explode us, or our magnetic poles will trade spots and send us flying into space, or the Earth will shift from the current third dimension into the zero and then fourth dimensions, aligning with the sun and the rest of the planets and triggering a two-day total blackout (which wouldn’t kill us, but I would probably miss Nashville).

According to an Ipsos Global Public Affairs poll, 10 percent of us worldwide believe the Mayan prophecy to be true, and what’s more, 22 percent of Americans believe that the world will end in their lifetime. Hey, it’s not easy to think yourself the center of the universe and all existence and feel optimistic about the responsibility at the same time.

That’s why, in times of apocalpytic thunder, we should turn to science and truth for comfort. Dr. Michael Liu, an astronomer with the University of Hawaii (and whose birthday happens to fall on the 21st), says, “There is nothing scientific to support any of these theories . . . With all these ‘end of the world’ stories, I’m not sure what is behind them,” he adds. “There are many things that modern science rules out that people seem to believe.” But how do you dispute an invisible, Earth-bound rogue planet? “We are able to predict the positions of everything in the solar system with pinpoint precision.” Additionally, Nibiru would “jostle other things in the solar system, and we’d know about it. There have been sky surveys that scan for radiation. If something has heat, it gives off radiation. Even if it was optically invisible, like if you were to paint the whole thing black, [the planet] would still give off heat.”

As for Mayan society, it didn’t actually collapse. It transitioned. There are an estimated six million Maya still alive today, walking around, reportedly pissed that we all think they’re dead. Why we interpret the “demise” of the Mayan culture into whatever current global popular concern is the topic of a thesis paper somebody should write, but rest assured, the Maya didn’t implode in any immediate fashion, and certainly not because of a looming end to their datebook.

Unfortunately, even if we somehow survive a date with two repeating numbers, we’re still not out of the woods. The biggest threat to our planet isn’t an asteroid or ancient prophecy, but ourselves. The World Bank released a report in November showing that we are in for a 4ºC (39ºF) warmer world that, they say, “can, and must be, avoided,” making once-in-a-lifetime disasters a regularity. Whatever happens, don’t panic. (Anyway, odds are that you’ll get hit by a driver who’s facebooking about the end of the world as you are crossing the street trying to finish this sentence.)