In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew left a swath of death and devastation fifty miles wide through the Caribbean, south Florida and up into Louisiana. Entire communities were destroyed, others immobilized by unheard-of Aeolian forces. This “act of God” was just a run-of-the-mill disaster, though, compared to the potential lethal capabilities of an angry earth in upheaval.
Billions of dollars in property damages were incurred, and 250,000 were left homeless in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. But the human toll of the tragedy was amazingly low. Life went on for most. Those who faced the wrath of the Bangladesh cyclone a year before in April 1991 were not so lucky—100,000 people were torn limb from limb and drowned by vicious killer winds and monstrous waves. In the previous thirty years in that wind-ravaged country, nearly a half million people have perished from cyclonic activity (300,000 alone in 1970). And in August of 1931, an unbelievable 3,700,000 people lost their lives in tempestuous floods and tidal waves when the Huang He River in China swallowed up the countryside.
Our planet has been wracked lately by a series of natural and human-created disasters approaching a magnitude unknown during this century. In the 1990s alone, Hurricane Andrew was quickly followed by the merciless typhoon named Omar that slammed into Guam packing 150-miles-per-hour winds. Hurricane Iniki then blasted into Hawaii with the strongest winds of the century, wrecking the paradise isle of Kauai. At the same time, a monstrous tornado cut a path of destruction through Wisconsin, killing two and causing millions of dollars in property losses. The very next day, an offshore earthquake created a tidal wave that bashed Nicaragua’s Pacific coast and killed over 100 and wiped out 300 miles of coastal villages. Who can forget the Great Flood of 1993 in our nation’s heartland, when the Mississippi River swelled to unprecedented heights and forever altered the landscape—physical and psychological—of the area? In late 1996, vast portions of the western United States suffered repeated major flooding, landslides, and mudslides. The Noachian drenching contributed to the Merced River in California altering its course, causing multi-million dollar damage to Yosemite National Park, forcing its closure for nearly three months, and prompting park Superintendent B.J. Griffin to lament, “This was our Hurricane Andrew without the wind.”
Each summer in the drought-plagued West, forest fires rage out of control for days on end, charring hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands, and creating hazards for humans who have built their abodes in dry, wind-swept canyons. In 1992 in the Philippines, Mt. Pinatubo, dormant for centuries, exploded with unimaginable fury. The infernal blast, more devastating than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, killed 800, displaced thousands, destroyed entire towns, and like Krakatau in 1883, altered weather patterns worldwide. Mt. Pinatubo flared up again shortly afterwards, this time with steaming mudflows that sent 50,000 fleeing in an already deluged area affecting nearly 1,000,000 people. Weary and battered residents in Japan experienced frightfully similar encounters in 1993 as Mt. Unzen darkened skies with ashy plumes. No doubt about it, the Ring of Fire is alive and well, expected to spit lava and brimstone on an increasingly violent scale in the years to come, from Alaska to Chile and throughout the South Pacific, Japan and Siberia.
Earthquakes are perhaps the most feared of all natural calamities. In a few horrendously tumultuous minutes they can instantly transform and sculpt hundreds of square miles of the earth’s surface. What other disaster, save a nuclear war or meteoric collision, can snuff out 830,000 lives in just several seconds, as happened in China in 1556? A mega-temblor in Alaska in 1964 measured 8.5 on the Richter scale and raised parts of the ocean floor more than fifty feet. Felt over an area of 500,000 square miles, an earthquake of this magnitude in a more populated region would herald apocalyptic destruction on an unimaginable scale. In 1972, Managua, Nicaragua was virtually leveled. The year 1976 was a legendary year for serial killer quakes. Guatemala suffered severely with 25,000 casualties; New Guinea, 9000; countless thousands died in the old Soviet Union; and untold hundreds of thousands died in a single earthquake in Tangshan, China. The 1985 Mexico City earthquake killed, by various estimates, anywhere from ten to fifty thousand people in a few minutes. In Armenia in 1988, a colossal earth movement razed cities and killed nearly 30,000. In 1989, the San Francisco Bay Area, site of one of the world’s most famous faults (San Andreas), received but a mild taste of things to come. Seismologists predict earthquakes within three decades up to four times as devastating as the most powerful ever registered on the Richter Scale: the Chilean monster of 1960, an 8.6 ripper that packed the energy release equivalent of three million Hiroshima-type A-bombs.
Geophysical instability is nothing new to our planet. A molten rock whirling like a gyroscope through space at a dizzying velocity would naturally tend to experience instability from time to time, if not frequently. If it is any consolation, despite the wide ranging disasters of every kind striking almost daily, our earth may be in a lull. Today’s earthquakes, volcanic upheavals, floods, firestorms, mud and landslides, and tropical storms and tsunami must still be viewed as insignificant disturbances compared to a catastrophist’s (or, for that matter, a conventional geologist’s) interpretation of the geologic record. From Siberia to Antarctica, the jumbled fossil heaps of animals of all shapes and sizes perished together in four major cataclysmic extinctions; in fact, 90% of all species who have ever lived since the Precambrian have become extinct due to gargantuan catastrophes. And yet any one of the “minor” disasters mentioned above could potentially disrupt the course of life on earth; in concert, they constitute a very real threat to the fabric of civilization.
As unconscionable human activities like clear-cutting and chlorofluorocarbon pollution continue to adversely affect weather patterns around the world, global warming (possibly a trigger mechanism for Andrew/Omar-type storms) could eventually melt icebergs, inundating vast coastal areas. Earth scientists grimly announced late last year that the ozone hole above Antarctica is now the size of Europe. The ebb and flow of our ocean levels has countless times in the past altered the geo-physiognomy of the earth, in the process destroying and burying former civilizations without a trace. Geologically, it’s a sure bet to occur again; it’s just a matter of when.
Throughout time, many “legends” have recorded events (“creation myths” or “religious allegory”) which can easily be interpreted as consequences of a pole shift, or the earth’s axis of rotation suddenly and radically being displaced. Do not underestimate the earth’s acrobatic tendencies: pole displacements have happened several times in geologic history, as evidenced by tropical plant fossils being found in today’s circumpolar regions. No one yet understands the titanic forces involved or trigger mechanisms responsible for a pole shift, but such an incomprehensible cataclysm would dwarf the mightiest of earthquakes. But it’s hardly an incomprehensible scenario that the mightiest of earthquakes could initiate a pole shift. The unthinkable might not happen for another 2,000 or 20,000 or perhaps 2,000,000 years, but with human intervention skewering the planet’s natural balances and rhythms, it might happen in the next 200, or 20 years. Then what?
In the ultimate catastrophic nightmare, earth could conceivably cross orbital paths with an asteroid or comet. The magnitude of such a disaster can only be imagined in made-for-TV movies; perhaps Shoemaker and Levy, discoverers of the comet that pummeled Jupiter last year and gouged out craters the size of earth, might have an inkling of an idea what a tenth of that impact would do to earth. On a recent NBC National Geographic Special, Eugene Shoemaker speculated on the threat of such a thing ever happening—estimated to occur perhaps twice in a million years on earth alone. Sixty-six million years ago something crashed into the Yucatan peninsula area with enough force to have wiped out most life on earth, including the fabled dinosaurs. More recently, on June 30, 1908, in Tunguska, Siberia, a mysterious 30-megaton blast devastated hundreds of square miles of forest; high-altitude glowing clouds were seen over Asia and Europe for days. Two decades later, when an expedition was finally mounted to the remote region, scientists were astounded by what they saw: flattened and charred pine trees as far as the eye could see, but no trace of the object, having disintegrated upon impact. Most people are not going to lose sleep over outer space agents striking the earth and ending life as we know it. Nonetheless, former Vice President Dan Quayle was advised it was a serious enough threat that he set up a commission to investigate just such a scenario and likely solutions to fend off the extraterrestrial menaces, including using Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) technology to deflect and bombard with lasers any asteroids heading our way.
According to prophecies and seers, the spate of current and predicted disasters is “proof” that civilization is about to terminate in a series of “end of the millennium” catastrophes which humans can do very little to prevent. Many sources throughout the ages, among them Native American (Hopi, Mayan, Lakota Sioux, Navajo), Biblical, Greek, Zoroastrianism, Chinese, Icelandic, Polynesian, Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, Edgar Cayce, and Nostradamus, are in consensus that the planet, rather the planet’s inhabitants, are doomed. And right about now. Unless a coincidence or conspiracy is in the works, how is it that all of these people and traditions concur on their prognostications of global cataclysms in our time?
Science writer Fred Warshofsky believes we have “reached a point where the destruction of mankind and the earth upon which it dwells is now not only technologically possible, but statistically possible.” The result will be a terrible period of suffering and destruction. Author John White says this predicted event—the demise of this world—is inevitable because of “man’s greed, arrogance and insensitivity to the sacred relationship he has with the planet as a living organism.” This theme, echoed in ancient Biblical and Babylonian “mythic” destructions of a corrupt, degenerate, immoral and evil race of humans, assumes modern significance among the Hopi and their prophecy of Qoyanissqatsii—life out of balance. Geophysical disturbances, they say, have destroyed three past worlds of “high civilization”, each time mandated by the Supreme Creator Taiowa because humans “grew cold and hard to the ways of the Good Life. . .and the soft spot that was the doorway between the body and the spirit began to harden.” This, the Fourth World, is about to go the same way, say the elders of the secret religious societies who safeguard the prophecies, except for the “faithful ones who did not forsake the ancient teachings given by the Great Spirit.”
Clearly, to not heed the warnings of poets, visionaries, prophets, and scientists is folly. And yet, writes Kenneth Watt, in The Titanic Effect, “there appears to be a basic human tendency to ignore warnings about such possible enormous disasters as ‘unthinkable’.”
We can no longer afford to think of possible enormous disasters as unthinkable! They can happen; they have happened; they will happen again. Their testimony is written in the stones and bones of sedimentary foundations around the world. The original founders of the sciences of geology and vertebrate paleontology, William Buckland and George Cuvier among them, were catastrophe theorists who, bolstered by irrefutable planetwide evidence, believed that “whole races were extinguished leaving mere traces of their existence.” But such a concept was “unthinkable” in Victorian times; a new doctrine was called for: Uniformitarianism. First proposed by Hutton in 1795 and echoed by Lamarck in 1800, amateur geologist Charles Lyell seized upon the concept in the mid-nineteenth century to develop a tidy theory which ascribed great age and slow, regular predictability to the earth’s physical processes. Charles Darwin ultimately used Uniformitarianism to support his theory of evolution by natural selection, a theory which required vast amounts of unbroken time for its scenario to unfold. It wasn’t long before Uniformitarianism supplanted catastrophism as the respectable viewpoint in institutes of higher learning, and again made the world safe and secure, and predictable, for everyone. It has taken over a century to come full circle. At Harvard, where the great ichthyologist Louis Agassiz once lectured on catastrophic earth events, a new heir to a modified catastrophe theory, Stephan Jay Gould, now packs lecture halls to expound on punctuated equilibrium, which takes into account severe geophysical disruptions, electromagnetic radiation bombardment and genetic mutations to account for the cyclic demise and relatively rapid reappearance of species on the earth (all of which got Immanuel Velikovsky into big trouble).
Watt insists we do something. “The magnitude of disasters decreases to the extent that people believe that they are possible, and plan to prevent them, or to minimize their effects.” Such frightening displays of Mother Nature gone berserk are tocsins sounding at the eleventh hour, indicating that our existence on this planet is fragile and totally at the whim of forces we cannot control. When natural calamities wipe out entire communities of plants, animals and humans in a matter of minutes, we are reminded of our impotence in dealing with a “retributive” nature whom we have abused and desacralized. But at least we can try to do something about it. A good place to start would be to reexamine and reprioritize our waning sacred relationship to Mother Earth, our role as stewards of the planet.
THE FIFTH WORLD
Does this apparent increase in natural disasters signal the fate of humans to perish in a horrible cataclysm? Could a gigantic asteroid crash to the earth and wipe out four-fifths of all life? Could the axes tilt, the poles shift, the crustal plates rotate and upheave, thereby thoroughly rearranging the geo-physiognomy of the planet and taking with it all of life’s, well, life? Could the icebergs melt and continents submerge, while others arise in paroxysms of volcanic and earthquake activity?
Could this happen in our lifetime? Is the “Doomsday Question” a Chimera? Carl Jung wrote, “we are again living in an age filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction.” Does our collective cellular memory “remember” having lived through painful disasters before? Jung’s one-time colleague, and correspondent of Einstein, Immanuel Velikovsky, was convinced that we have: “upheavals in nature, with the unleashing of frenzied elements, shocked the minds of survivors and left there an indelible, heritable impression.” Like amnesia victims incapable of remembering and healing a traumatic past until the painful memories resurface and are repeated, is human culture condemned to fulfill the dire prophecies accordingly? Thomas Banyacya, a Hopi elder, tells us, “if man keeps himself in balance, the earth will keep itself in balance.” Survival, not just for humans but for all of our animal and plant friends, is thus somehow integrally tied into regaining a lost ethic in our personal relationships and our spiritual ties to the earth, our womb of life.
Ancient peoples’ reverence of the earth was grounded in harmony and oneness with the “spirit-that-moves-in-all-things.” Today, millions are rediscovering this awareness, sharing in the knowledge that the earth is alive and sentient, our one true tangible connection to a Supreme Consciousness. Deep ecology, ecofeminist visions emerging, and the Gaia hypothesis provide this native spiritual understanding with a neo-scientific framework to show how the earth is indeed a living being, a self-regulating, conscious entity, capable of adapting, changing, adjusting, and compensating. Part of this process involves cleansing and detoxifying, as when a sick person vomits, defecates, sweats, belches, farts, expectorates, shakes and sneezes. Sometimes death prevails, must prevail, as the ultimate prophylaxis.
Whereas Western peoples tend to view the Gotterdammerung
of civilization with horror—as they do with individual death—the keepers of the prophecies and those who revere the traditions herald the coming of earth changes as a great purification of the planet. A time to start all over. Old, corrupt worlds destroyed, a new cycle of civilization beginning. It won’t be the first time. Some have foreseen this before, perhaps having sensed similar disasters already occurred millennia before their own lifetimes. Seneca, a contemporary of Pliny and mentor of Nero, wrote, “a single day will see the burial of all mankind. All that the long forbearance has produced, all that is famous and all that is beautiful, great thrones, great nations, all will descend into one abyss, will be overthrown in one hour.” Netzahualcoyotl (“Hungry Coyote”, the poet-king of Texcoco in ancient Mexico) proclaimed, “all the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it. . .filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential dust once flesh and bone, once animate bodies of men.”Out of the rubble a few human survivors will emerge, trying to pick up the pieces, and learn from past mistakes. Over millennia, the reality that was our contemporary global civilization will become “creation myth” or “religious allegory” as new generations regroup, repopulate and rebuild. The Fifth World will be our next chance to walk again in spiritual balance with the earth, our last chance to hopefully be a part of, not a part from, all Gaia-inspired life.