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The turn of a year, from old to new, is a special moment in time when optimism comes naturally. Last year’s successes and failures are behind us, and we can look to the year ahead as a clean slate, and plan our lives to move closer to our personal goals. Every new year brings the future one year closer, and sharpens our view of the challenges which lie ahead of us.

Today, we can see how our collective personal goals are dependent on a healthy global ecosystem, and why we each need to develop life plans which include strategies for reducing our environmental footprint. Saving energy, conserving water, reducing consumption, minimizing waste, and shedding the use of toxic chemicals are the new life skills for 21st century living, and we need to be busy learning how to incorporate these values into our future lifestyles.

Unfortunately, this New Years is also a time for escapism. In lieu of sober assessments and realistic plans, we can take the simpler route and indulge in escapist fantasies which free us of responsibility for making personal changes which address the real challenges we face.

This year’s great escapism is the absurd belief in an ancient Mayan prophecy of global cataclysm forecast for the year 2012. The New Year’s Day editions of CNN International, the Washington Post, L.A. Times, and many other prominent news outlets feature stories about the Mayan 2012 prophecy. There are plenty of survivalist websites, full of accounts of people preparing for the coming TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World As We Know It), which cater to doomsday believers, but mainstream media coverage gives oxygen to these fantasies and accords them an undeserved amount of attention.

In these same media outlets today, there are no articles about the climate-related challenges we may face in 2012.

The Mayan doomsday scenario gained steam with the release of last year’s movie “2012,” which entertained viewers with a depiction of the destruction of planet Earth. In recent years, dozens of books have been written with titles such as “Apocalypse 2012: The Ticking of the End Time Clock,” “2012: The Awakening” and “The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies and Possibilities”. Ironically, there seems to be a future in the doomsday prediction business.

Ironically, there seems to be a future in the doomsday prediction business.

Apocalypse 2011 was brought to us by the ‘religious broadcaster’ Harold Camping. The media was awash for months with reports about his doomsday “Rapture” prediction. In his books, We Are Almost There! and To God Be the Glory!, Camping claimed that the Rapture would take place on May 21, 2011, destroying Earth and transporting the righteous — approximately 3 percent or just over 200 million of the world’s nearly seven billion inhabitants — to heaven. When May 21 passed without event, Camping simply advanced the date a few months. CNN and other prominent media outlets took the bait once again and dutifully reported the story through October.

I remember a few years ago a similar story captured major media headlines for days. A comet was on “possible” collision course with our planet. The news articles described vivid scenarios of how the impact would destroy life on earth, yet buried in the details was the scientific likelihood of collision being less than one in a million! This over-reported story seemed to stand in contrast to the under-reported warnings from our scientific community about more plausible threats to the health of our planet.

When confronted with today’s planet-altering threat of climate change, the closest thing we have to a real doomsday scenario, the mainstream media seems to take a cautious approach. After all, large media businesses are supported by corporate advertisers who have a stake in the status quo. Today’s media has a difficult job of balancing objectivity with corporate survival.

Apocalypse predictions may be broadcast by the media, but they are fueled by us, the readers. We have long held a fascination with doomsday scenarios, and our interest seems to be on the rise. Why is it that these absurd stories capture our attention? Because in each doomsday scenario, we humans bear no responsibility for the cause or the consequences of the impending threat. We can dwell on the drama of destruction, and many of us take shelter in religious beliefs that all will end well in the eternal comfort of heaven. In no instance are we expected to take responsibility or action to address our earthly fate.

Implicit in the notion of apocalypse is victimhood. We are doomed by an overwhelming force which we cannot redirect or prevent. And herein lies the danger of apocalyptic prophecies and doomsday scenarios. If we see ourselves as victims to global threats, our inaction will hasten our demise.

If we see ourselves as victims to global threats, our inaction will hasten our demise.

In all the political discourse we have endured thus far in the lead-up to the 2012 elections, there has been no mention of climate change. Many of our political leaders won’t even discuss climate change. The biggest threat to mankind is absent from the headlines. Yet, if there are to be any earth-changing events in the near future, they will likely be associated with climate change. This is the ‘apocalypse’ we should be focusing on.

New Years is a prime time for reflection and planning. It’s a shame to waste this valuable moment with distractions such as Doomsday prophecies when we need more than ever to focus on the real matters at hand.

A Happy New Year isn’t something that just happens. It is what we make it. Happy New Year to you, and the birds, animals, fish, trees, plants and all of wild nature! May your future be grounded on a path towards sustainability.