The news is not good: We're all toast in five years and 11 months if the great timekeeping Mayans had their stars right.
The ancient tribe was so sure, it named the date (psssst, it's Dec. 21, 2012) when they just stopped their calendars and said, in effect, the world as we know it would end.
This is not a new theory, but there is a new book out that backs the premise with all kinds of sleep-killing stuff like that we're a million years overdue for a good mass extinction. And that the Earth's magnetic field is developing a crack. And that the Yellowstone supervolcano is about to catapult those tiny 10 percent of us who survive it into nuclear winter.
A planet holds its collective breath. But wait, the author thinks there might be one place on Earth that can just survive the whole shebang intact.
Let the real estate land rush begin. Let the good times roll. Let us laugh at the Mayans.
Now let's see what this man's got by way of explanation.
Lawrence Joseph, author of Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization's End, says that Jerusalem, Angkor Wat, the Vatican and Mecca might be natural choices but, no, "of all the sacred sites in the world, none embodies the sacred Mayan values of service to humanity and Mother Earth like the town of Berea, Kentucky."
Joseph goes on for a page about the origin of the town's name (Acts 17:10-14), about the fabulousness of Berea College and its Ecovillage and about the whole region's remarkable seismic and volcanic stability.
Then he urges us all to pray and prepare and not panic.
The reaction to all this in Berea has been, well, not panic. And not exactly glee either.
Unless you're a Realtor.
Promised Land, Ky.
Landwise, we're talking about 7.8 square miles. Temperaturewise, on average, it's 56.8 deg. F. Rainfallwise, it gets about 48.8 inches a year.
"Things are looking up," says Phil Malicote, office manager and Realtor at Don Foster Prudential Real Estate, who is thinking of adding some extra staff to serve the expected realty-starved throng.
David Rowlett, executive director of the Berea Chamber of Commerce, thinks that folks in Florida are already in on the secret, judging from the number of queries he's getting from the hurricane-prone state and helping to make the area "one of the fastest growing in the state."
He adds that all are welcome, even the kooks. "We've got our share of those already."
The non-glee faction, on the other hand, isn't exactly oozing enthusiasm for the prospect.
Nuclear winter? Not that easy escaping that, says Richard Olson, director of sustainable and environmental studies at Berea College and on the city's Planning and Zoning Committee. Not even if you've got composting toilets in a fraction of your housing and heirloom beans on your vines.
As for sustainability, Olson says the town and the college are as tied to the electrical grid as anybody, with only three households in town on the net-meter system. That means that three households are "producing enough energy daily to run a blender."
He says the college is trying to decrease its energy usage from 2000 by 45 percent in the next eight years. The progress is uphill.
"We are as fragile as any middle-income community in America," Olson says. "We're less sustainable every year with more productive land going into development," he says, adding that "every additional home and car owner in town makes us even less sustainable, sucking in materials and energy and putting out waste."
The idea that Apocalypse 2012 puts forth of a special link between Berea and the Mayans (their longitudinal location and spiritual values) made Olson suggest that, while he's not amused by general planet abuse, he will most certainly entertain the notion of purchasing a Mayan Force Field for the city if one is offered.
Olson says that the threats to human civilization that are visible this minute -- the overpopulation, the warming climate, the social system breakdown, the warfare, the economic collapse of countries whose trade deficits could bankrupt them -- are real and severe and we don't have to go looking for errant spewing solar plasma to strike us down.
Still, he's thinks the planet will be here in 100 million years. Not so humanity, mind you, but the planet. And its biosphere should be back to being lovely by then.
This all sort of raises the question, why Berea?
Seems Apocalypse 2012 author Lawrence Joseph came to Berea in the early '90s after having met a trustee of Berea College at a party given by the Society of Kentucky Women (who apparently have emigrated happily to Manhattan). Anyway, the party was "both stately and julepy" and invitations flew around and one thing led to another and he found himself in "this impressive little place" while writing a book on how uncommon common sense is.
The book, Common Sense: Why It's No Longer Common, was Joseph's first, followed shortly by tomes on the Gaia movement, John Lennon and the 1980s lifestyle. He is currently the chairman of the board of Aerspace Consulting Corp., a New Mexico-based plasma physics company. He now lives in Beverly Hills.
A self-defined "Ivy League Northeastern liberal," Joseph couldn't figure out how this school in this little town was teaching all the stuff he should have learned at Brown but didn't get.
And so he was enchanted and, ultimately, the experience set him on a path to his research into the future of the planet and to the modest proposal that "things will not necessarily all go blank in 2012 but that the world will change dramatically and tumultously'' such that nothing will be as we know it.
Those of us who follow University of Kentucky basketball fear that every year.
Still, the topic is not new. Neither is the prediction.
While he was not immediately available for comment, Mark Twain was known to have addressed the whole region's ability to outperform the planet on Doomsday.
He had just spent a year in Cincinnati.
"'When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati," he said, "because it's always 20 years behind the times."