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7Robots Fantastically Terrible Podcast ep36: Apocalypse Now…and Again

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Episode 36: Apocalypse Now…and Again

Last week we looked at the History of the End of the World (click here to read more). Today, we’ll look at more recent doomsday predictions, which, surprise, surprise, never happened. It’s time to celebrate failed predictions of armageddon, from the population bomb, to Y2K, to the Mayan apocalypse, to the black hole of doom! From thousands of years ago to the present day, there have been countless predictions about the end of the world that have…well, failed. Lucky for us, we’re still alive and kicking.

The Fantastically Terrible Character or creature this week is Meng Po, the Chinese goddess of forgetfulness. She gives you forgetfulness soup to wipe away any memories of your previous life or time in hell.

★ Scroll down for more information on Meng Po. 


The Draw of Doomsday: Why People Look Forward to the End

When Doomsday Isn’t, Believers Struggle to Cope


Malthusianism is the idea that population will grow exponential while resources remain fixed. This eventually reduces living standards for some and wide scale famines for others. This event, called a Malthusian catastrophe, or a Malthusian trap, population trap, Malthusian check, Malthusian crisis, yada yada yada, is something we’ve all heard. I’m here to tell everyone – fuhgeddaboudit. It’s bull. It’s yet another doomsday event that has been both imminent and rescheduled over and over again for 200 years.

So, who was Malthus? Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus wrote about his theory in 1798, “An Essay on the Principle of Population”. That means that all of these seemingly scientific ideas of a population time bomb came from an essay from a British, Anglican cleric and influential economist, although not a very good mathematician.

This is from “A fundamental criticism of Malthus was his failure to appreciate the ongoing British agricultural revolution, which eventually caused food production to meet or exceed population growth and made prosperity possible for a larger number of people. Malthus also failed to anticipate the widespread use of contraceptives, which brought about a decline in the fertility rate.” [Read more…

Malthusian ideas were applied to government policies that basically stopped countries with higher populations (aka poor countries) from growing so they don’t reduce the living standards of the wealthy countries. It’s a basic haves vs the have nots type scenario. Many people of Malthus’ generation, which was during colonization and slavery, were happy to promote this “scientific idea” of reducing the world population. Unfortunately, we still hear this apocalyptic claptrap today.


★ Malthusianism 

★ Thomas Malthus 

The Population Bomb

In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote a book called, “The Population Bomb” in which he described a world where poor countries were recklessly overpopulating and overwhelming the earth’s resources. Ehrlich described an apocalyptic world, just like Malthus, where these people would eat everything creating a global famine that would kill 20% of the world’s population by the END of the 1970s. This caused a huge global panic. Western academics were quick to agree with his theory, with no math to back it up. The United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA was quickly established and raised mad cash to address this catastrophe.

This is from an article by Fred Pearce called, “Is the way we think about overpopulation racist?”

“It is just 50 years since the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s book “The Population Bomb” galvanised the global discussion on overpopulation. Published in 1968, his million-selling Malthusian polemic suggested that over-breeding poor countries were killing the planet. And it began in a megacity: India’s capital, Delhi.

On the first page, he wrote of a taxi ride “one stinking hot night in Delhi. We entered a crowded slum area. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window begging. People defecating and urinating … Since that night I’ve known the feel of overpopulation.”

But did he? Was he describing a city stretched beyond its limits, in a world similarly stretched? As the Australian demographer Jack Caldwell later pointed out, he could have seen as many people in similarly crowded conditions during any rush hour in London, Paris or New York. “What he did see were poor non-Europeans.”

This is the rub when we express fears about the teeming megacities of the developing world. Whether it is Delhi or Dhaka, the shanty towns of Nairobi or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, are we just reacting badly to people different from us? Is there sometimes a tinge of racism in our environmental concerns?” [Read more…

Reality Check

Hunger remains a problem in many parts of the world, but it is not caused by the number of people. Scarcity is not due to overpopulation. It’s misuse of resources, hoarding and extremely high consumption and emissions from a few countries.

The global ‘total fertility rate’ (TFR) is falling. You heard that right. The TFR from 1950 to 2020 has fallen from 4.96 to 2.47.   [Read more…

According to the UN’s “WORLD POPULATION TO 2300” report from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2004), between 1950 and 2000, the world population grew at a rate of 1.76%. It’s expected to grow by 0.77 percent. So yes, because 0.77 is greater than zero, it is a positive growth rate, and the world population will continue to grow, but not exponentially. [Read more…


The Population Bomb (wiki) 

The Population Bomb: Exploding the Myth 

UN “WORLD POPULATION TO 2300” The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2004) 

Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born 

How many people can our planet really support? 

Is the way we think about overpopulation racist? 

UNFPA’s View on Population: an Economic Analysis by Alejandro, Cid (Universidad de Montevideo,  Uruguay) 

Energy usage of the United States military 

Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change,and the Costs of War by Neta C. Crawford, Boston University 

Costs of War (Brown University) 


If you think that was a slightly pathetic prediction of the end of the world, might I introduce you to the Year 2000 problem, aka Y2K, or the Millennium Bug. This was the apocalyptic prophecy made when a design flaw in mainframe computer software was noticed, which threatened to cause havoc in data centers around the world. I kid you not.

Before 2000, programmers formatted dates with 6 digits – where the year only went as high as 99. to save on memory. When the year changed to 2000, the dating system would display 1900 instead of 2000. They literally thought that this would break all of the electronic equipment and appliances in the world!

Unfortunately, everyone (at least in North America), thought the world could end or there would be massive disasters. They warned that elevators could stop, all heat would cease, airplanes might fall out of the sky, trains would suddenly stop. Even President Bill Clinton warned us about the imminent danger. [watch video…]

Religious fundamentalists assimilated Y2K into their doomsday predictions. They literally thought the end of the world, as outlined in the Book of Revelation, would start on December 31st, 1999. Absolutely everyone was preparing for the worst. I’ll have links to a few news broadcasts at the time. People joked about staying in their bunkers for New Year’s Eve. 


★ The Y2K Scare | National Geographic (video below) 

USA: President Clinton Millennium Computer Bug Speech 

From Freaked to Fine: Celebs React to Y2K (1999) | MTV News 

Y2K: The Movie (NBC TV Spot) 

Where were you when the world was panicking over Y2K? 

Great Tech 1990s 

The Large Hadron Collider of Doom!

Do you remember back in 2008, tons of people thought that the world would be swallowed by a huge man-made black hole? Hold on to proton packs! We’ll explain this bizarre doomsday prediction. As a side note, that was indeed a reference to one of our favorite apocalyptic movies – Ghostbusters!

On September 10, 2008, the Large Hadron Collider or LHC in Switzerland hit the switch on the largest and fastest particle accelerator ever built. 

To better set the scene, I’m going to read from this 2008 article from Time Magazine entitled, “Collider Triggers End-of-World Fears”:

“From the flagellants of the Middle Ages to the doomsayers of Y2K, humanity has always been prone to good old-fashioned the-end-is-nigh hysteria. The latest cause for concern: that the earth will be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever-increasing black hole next week.

On Sept. 10, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory in Geneva will switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a $6 billion particle accelerator that will send beams of protons careening around a 17-mile underground ring, crash them into one another to re-create the immediate aftereffects of the Big Bang, and then monitor the debris in the hopes of learning more about the origins and workings of the universe. Next week marks a low-power run of the circuit, and scientists hope to start smashing atoms at full power by the end of the month.

Critics of the LHC say the high-energy experiment might create a mini black hole that could expand to dangerous, Earth-eating proportions. On Aug. 26, Otto Rossler, a German chemist at the Eberhard Karis University of Tubingen, filed a lawsuit against CERN with the European Court of Human Rights that argued, with no understatement, that such a scenario would violate the right to life of European citizens and pose a threat to the rule of law. Last March, two American environmentalists filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Honolulu seeking to force the U.S. government to withdraw its participation in the experiment. The lawsuits have in turn spawned several websites, chat rooms and petitions — and they have led to alarming headlines around the world (Britain’s Sun newspaper on Sept. 1: “End of the World Due in 9 Days”).” [Read more…] 

So what happened? In 2009, scientists fired up the LHC. There was no black hole created that swallowed the world. Phew!


★ Collider Triggers End-of-World Fears 

★ Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is live–And so are we 

★ The Large Hadron Collider: Countdown 

★ 9 Global Disasters That Never Came to Pass 

★ CERN to re-create Big Bang after restarting powerful particle accelerator 

2012 Mayan Apocalypse

Did you know the world ended on December 21, 2012? Sorry, I got that wrong. My bad. The world did not end, but a whole lot of people were pushing the idea. Religious fundamentalists, TV shows, news reports, even movies.

The basic premise is that the Maya Calendar ends on December 21, 2012, which apparently mean that the world would end. Instead of thinking that the Mayans just turned the page of a new calendar (which they did), people in western countries, the US in particular, went ballistic!  Like Y2K and the Large Hadron Collider of Doom, it’s hard for us to imagine now that people actually thought this was the start of the apocalypse. But one should never underestimate the ability of a large amount of people to believe almost any doomsday scenario and panic accordingly.

The ancient Maya civilisation had many major cities in Mesoamerica with populations approximate to modern day Los Angeles. They practiced advanced mathematics and astronomy and had an elaborate writing system. They had a long count calendar that counted into the billions of years. It’s the most complex calendar system we know of using modern typography, similar to the odometer in a car. The numbers roll forward and when they reach the end of a cycle, then they start over again.

Apparently, their efficient and eloquent system was just too…transparent for the modern human mind. We decided to ignore the fact that 1 follows 0. Many convinced themselves that a comet or another planet that no one could see was going to collide with the Earth. For an idea of what they thought might happen, check out the movie “2012”staring John Cusak, where a series of global catastrophes threatened to annihilate mankind! I haven’t seen the movie, but the trailer has a scene where a huge crack appears down the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, separating God’s finger from Adam’s.  Or you might prefer the more lighthearted, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” with a countdown to the end of the days and all your classic rock favorites.


ScienceCasts: Why the World Didn’t End Yesterday (video Below) 

The real deal: How the Mayan calendar works 

 After Mayan Apocalypse Failure, Believers May Suffer

Maya calendar 

Haab calendar 

2012 movie trailer (video) 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World movie trailer (video)

Fantastically Terrible Character or Creature: Meng Po

The Fantastically Terrible Character or Creature this week is Meng Po, the Chinese goddess of forgetfulness.

The Chinese believe in that there are multiple underworld regions and Meng Po rules over the Diyu, which is the realm of the dead. She prepares and serves soup or the Five Flavored Tea of Forgetfulness to the souls of those who are ready to be reincarnated. She meets them on the Bridge of Forgetfulness or the Nai He Bridge to offer them the soup which wipes away any memories of their previous life or their time in hell. The concoction provides instant and permanent amnesia to unburden the souls of past sins and forget their sufferings before they start their new life.


Top 25 Gods of Death, Destruction, and the Underworld 

Meng Po (wiki) 

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