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Columns and Articles by Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman

October 09, 2010

“The Sky Is Falling” Is Alive and Well—Again.

We are already past the millennium year 2000 (or was it actually 2001 that began the century) and the sky didn’t fall. Now what? Are we ready to recognize the new millennium as the beginning of something or will we still cling to knee-jerk pessimism?

In the year 1000, Europe panicked about the “end of times” that would probably cast them all into hellfire and damnation. The year 1,000 came and went, but the skies never opened. With a little ingenuity, the forecasters moved doomsday to 1033, the anniversary year that Christ was crucified and resurrected. Again, nothing happened.

A little shamefaced, Europeans then decided to go on with their lives and make a New Jerusalem on earth. That was the beginning of the cathedral building in Europe (still national treasures); and by the end of the century, the first of the Crusades, an eye-opening experience for Europeans of every societal level. This period launched what was to become the modern Western world—a world that would produce more knowledge, more wealth, and more opportunity for more people than any society ever before.

Tom Holland, author of The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, writes dazzlingly of this epic rise and how it happened. This a book that can make history-phobes give history another chance. He notes in the book’s preface that we have lived through a Cold War with the threat of nuclear war that would end life as we knew it (it hasn’t happened); the neo-Malthusian predictions that the world would run out of food, leaving millions to starve by the end of the century. That didn’t happen either.

I also remember predictions that we would run out of oil by the end of the century, plunging us all into darkness and poverty. That hasn’t happened either. The prediction that we would reproduce in such numbers that the earth couldn’t hold us all unless governments mandated zero population growth has not panned out either. Populations, even among the most exuberantly fertile, are not only starting to decline, but in some places crashing.

Of course, the favorite doomsday scenario now comes from the Global Warming predictors. Yes, the climate is warming, but the predictions of death and ruin fail to note man’s ability to adapt and survive—something we are exceptionally good at doing.

According to Holland, Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, wrote a cheery jeremiad called Our Final Century: Will Civilisation Survive the Twenty-First Century? This book was published in 2003, after one would think the millennial predictions would have gone back to sleep. James Lovelock, an environmentalist, was underwhelmed when he first read Rees’ book, but now adds one of his own: The Revenge of Gaia, in which he too thinks the earth as we know it will soon not have humans on it. Lovelock’s best estimate of when climate change will send us all to doom is within 20-30 years from now—some time around, say, 2033.

Well, isn’t that interesting! Here we are, believers in science and secular to boot—still abiding by the millennial timetable established in 1000. Are we hard wired for this, perhaps? Where are the visions of the sky opening and avenging angels coming down to get us? I know there are people who fervently believe this, but I am waiting for evidence.

Perhaps in a few years, we will get over our depression and start to see that this coming century is offering some brave new things. It already looks like serious war between great powers is not going to happen. Our wars are all rear guard actions with small groups of losers trapped in medieval ideas and values. We are learning more about energy, food, how the brain works, how learning takes place, to made humankind better and happier than ever before. Would any of you seriously gamble on living in an earlier time—if you couldn’t choose your class, gender, or health? I wouldn’t. Here’s to the new millennium.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and writer. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.