Bruce Munro shares 12 reasons why it might not be the end
of the world.
This could be the last thing you will ever read, though
The world is supposed to end today.
December 21 was the last day of the 5125-year-long Mayan
calendar and, according to doomsdayers, the date when the
earth would be sucked in to a black hole or destroyed in a
collision with the planet Nibiru.
But it is December 22 and we are still here, you cry.
Yes, but it is still yesterday in Mexico where the Mayan
civilisation was based. They are 19 hours behind us. So if
you are reading this over brunch - or the noise of your
teenager's stereo - then you have about eight hours before
you know for sure the apocalypse has been postponed.
And there have been indications that the end is indeed nigh.
On March 21, about 400 people attended a public meeting in
Clintonville, in the Midwestern United States, to air
concerns over mysterious, night-time sounds which the good
townsfolk described as loud booms ''as though someone was
beating on an underground pipe''.
A day later authorities said the cause was small underground
earthquakes, the noise of which was being amplified by the
Wisconsin bedrock. A portent perhaps?
Then, on July 27, a global television audience of billions
drew a sharp collective breath as it watched Queen Elizabeth
II leap with James Bond from an airplane during the London
opening of the 30th Olympiad. What had become of the majesty
and dignity of the Royal Family? This could not bode well.
But the clincher, would surely have been this month's
resurgence in the value of Facebook shares.
In May the social networking site raised US$14 billion with
its initial public offering of US$38 shares. The share price
slumped to US$18 by early-September. But then, with better
than expected earnings and inclusion among Nasdaq's top 100
non-financial stocks, Facebook share prices have risen and
This week they were trading at about US$28. Billions of
dollars being traded on teenage girls' insatiable appetites
for ''liking'' Twilight (13,707,599 likes) and Icecream
(12,308,015 likes)? This madness has to end!
But the world has kept turning, so far.
And perhaps, with hindsight, we can see the events of this
past 12 months have given us enough clues to guess the world
is not about to end.
1. On January 20, internet mogul Kim Dotcom was arrested in
an airborne dawn raid on his $30 million Auckland mansion
where he was celebrating his 38th birthday. Police moved on
Mr Dotcom (also known as Kim Schmitz) at the urging of the
United States Department of Justice and the FBI, which shut
down his Mega websites - some of the most popular filesharing
websites in the world. US authorities wanted to extradite the
German-born permanent New Zealand resident to face charges of
racketeering, money laundering and copyright breaches worth
US$620 million in missed royalty payments. Then a series of
bungles began to emerge. The most intriguing was the
involvement of the Government Communications Security Bureau
(GCSB) which was not supposed to spy on New Zealand
Its spying on Mr Dotcom made the January raid illegal and led
to the court ordering the GCSB to ''confirm all entities'' it
gave information obtained during its illegal interceptions of
Mr Dotcom's communications. The order extends to ''members of
Echelon'', an international intelligence network of which New
Zealand and the US are members, along with Australia, Canada
and the United Kingdom.
Conclusion: Surely the end of the world will have to wait
until New Zealanders get a fuller understanding of how their
shadowy spy agency operates.
2. Asset sales were on the agenda when Prime Minister John
Key spoke at Waitangi on February 6.
Speaking in defence of the government's planned partial sale
of four power companies Mr Key said it would provide much
needed capital for social investment. But by Waitangi Day
this taniwha had already grown a second head. Who owns the
water that drives the electricity-producing turbines - Maori,
everybody, nobody? A Waitangi Tribunal report and a brief
government consultation with affected iwi saw the issue then
going straight to court.
The Maori Council argued in the High Court that the sales
should be blocked until a mechanism to address Maori
proprietary water rights was established. But last week the
court said the Government could proceed with its assets sales
programme. The Council has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Globally, water is quickly being recognised as one of the
most valuable resources.
Conclusion: It should be no surprise if the whirlpool of
water ownership has more pulling power than a black hole.
3. Early in March, workers at KiwiRail's Hillside workshop,
in South Dunedin, heard a petition to save their jobs had
been rejected by a parliamentary select committee. The
petition, signed by almost 14,000 people, called on the
government to ensure the state-owned enterprise did not
reduce its workforce at Hillside and Woburn engineering
workshops and instead committed to building rolling stock
rather than outsourcing contracts to China. It did neither.
Hillside was put up for sale and last month its 115 workers
were told 90 were being made redundant.
But it is hard to imagine a story combining such an important
industry as manufacturing and such an efficient means of
transport as rail is finished.
In 1993, the government sold what was then New Zealand Rail
for $328.3 million. Ten years later it bought back the rail
network and a 35% stake in what had become Tranz Rail, before
completing its buy-back in 2008 at a cost of $665 million.
Politicians often seem to take quite a while to recognise
those increasing numbers of roosting animals are indeed
Conclusion: Until then the wheels may have to keep turning.
4. Port Chalmers farewelled the last of its cruise ship
passengers on April 19 - and dreamt of even bigger vessels to
It had been a record cruise ship season, pumping 40 million
much-needed dollars in to the local economy. There were more
cruise ship passengers photographing the Dunedin Railway
Station, a lot more taking Taieri Gorge Railway excursions to
the city's hinterland, and many, many more wandering the town
oblivious to the notion of walking on the left hand side of
And future cruise seasons, beginning in October each year,
will only get bigger. The Voyager of the Seas, which visits
five times this season, can carry 3100 passengers and 1185
crew. That is a lot of people all over the footpaths.
Conclusion: It would not be right for Armageddon to arrive
before all locals have been forced on to the roads just to be
sure the traffic coming towards them will keep to the left.
5. In May Dave Davies, the man tasked with making a success
of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, announced he was resigning
for family reasons. In the same month the organisation Mr
Davies ran, Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML), reported
losses of $1.9 million in six months.
It was not what city councillors nor Otago residents wanted
to hear. Since then, Dunedin City Council has committed to
giving a further $750,000 a year to DVML which has overall
debt of $146.6 million. But the council itself has debt that
has grown to $616 million in the past financial year,
sparking negative attention from international credit rating
agency Standard & Poors.
Conclusion: In the interest of seeing stadium patronage
increase and debt paid off, all forms of planetary
destruction have no doubt been suspended until further
notice. We should have seen that coming.
6. On June 26 the spacecraft carrying the rover Curiosity
made one of four trajectory corrections during its eight
month journey to Mars. Curiosity is one of only two craft to
have successfully landed on the red planet, and the only one
that has kept going for more than a few seconds.
It has now begun two years of sniffing, blasting, x-raying
and sampling Martian biology, chemistry, and geology. But
because Curiosity is powered by plutonium, it could be
operational for decades to come.
Conclusion: It would be a shame to waste all that for the
sake of some long-gone civilisation that could not count
7. When athlete Valerie Adams was completing her build-up to
the 2012 Olympics with a win at Tomblaine, France, on July 8,
she had only an inkling of the tumultuous times that lay
ahead in London.
Aware her rival, Belarusan athlete Nadzeya Ostapchuk, might
be a drug cheat, Adams was then unsettled by accommodation
arrangements when she arrived at the Olympic village. A
bigger challenge though. was staying focused after
discovering she had been accidently left off the original
shot put start list and twice having to work to get put on
Adams was in the depths of despair after losing to Ostapchuk,
and New Zealand commiserated with her. But sadness turned to
elation a week later when proof of her rival's drug-taking
saw Adams awarded her second Olympic shot put gold medal.
And now Adams has her sights set on the road to Rio de
Conclusion: Hell, high water and doomsdayers had better get
out of her way.
8. On August 19 three New Zealand soldiers - Corporal Luke
Tamatea, Lance-corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard
Harris - died instantly when a 20kg roadside improvised
explosive device destroyed their Humvee in Afghanistan's
northeast Bamiyan Province. The deaths came just a fortnight
after a Taliban ambush killed Lance-corporals Pralli Durrer
and Rory Malone.
New Zealand has had SAS and Provincial Reconstruction Team
soldiers in Afghanistan for a decade, but winning the peace
still seems a way off. In fact, commentators say the United
States and Nato no longer view a comprehensive win over the
Taliban as possible.
And it is not just Afghanistan that appears to hang in the
balance. There is also Syria, North Korea, Egypt, Gaza . . .
Whether that balance will swing in favour of greater security
or global conflict is moot at the moment.
Conclusion: Certainly, exiting from the universal stage in a
few hours would not leave a laudable legacy. Perhaps the
forces of good will give us a little more time to sort our
9. With much fanfare the trailer to The Hobbit was released
in the last week of September. The Sir Peter Jackson-directed
trilogy was filmed throughout New Zealand, including
And shots of familiar hills in the trailer to the first
installment gave Middlemarch residents hope their area's
magnificent scenery would gain international exposure rather
than end up on the digital equivalent of the cutting-room
The town, with a population of 432, has big hopes of becoming
the Middle-earth of Hobbit-related tourism.
Conclusion: It would be churlish to deny them their shot at
10. A 230-million-year-old delivery to Orokonui Ecosanctuary,
north of Dunedin, on October 16 also provides assurance time
is not short.
Forty-four tuatara, flown to Dunedin from Stephens Island in
the Marlborough Sounds, became the first free-roaming tuatara
in South Island forest for more than 100 years.
They are also the first step in a plan to restart the South
Island's wild tuatara population.
Conclusion: When dealing with an ancient reptile that only
produces eggs once every two to five years and then takes a
year to hatch them, a breeding programme of just over two
months duration was never going to cut it.
11. November belonged to the United States presidential race
and burgeoning world debt. Barack Obama won that race. But
when he crossed the finish line he was handed, not a gold
medal but a national debt fast approaching $US16.39 trillion
Leaders throughout the world are sitting on uncomfortably
large piles of debt. Greece is staggering, punch-drunk by the
upheaval that facing its debt has caused. Other countries are
scrambling to avoid the same fate. New Zealand plans to let
its debt peak at $72 billion in 2014 (up from $8 billion in
2008). But even our Minister of Health Tony Ryall has said
many think the world debt crisis is likely to get worse.
How did we get here? Wasn't debt and growth and profit and
consumerism all supposed to be a joyful, ever-upward spiral?
Where will it all end?Surely not before the false simplicity
of prevailing theories are exposed.
Conclusion: It would be deeply disappointing to collectively
step off this mortal coil without the high priests and
choristers of free-market, trickle-down economics first
having to eat humble cake. Why humble cake? Because that is
all that is left when the people have no bread.
12. In December the All Blacks' 20-match unbeaten streak,
stretching back to the World Cup, came to an end when they
lost 38-21 to England. In the same month cyclone Evan tore
through Samoa and Fiji with deadly force. Closer to home a $3
million fundraising campaign to retain neurosurgery in the
South reached a successful conclusion.
Which thread to pull?The December 1 announcement that the $3
million target had been reached was greeted with happiness
and relief by campaign committee chairman Dr Brian McMahon. A
public outcry over a threatened loss of the service in 2010,
spearheaded by the Otago Daily Times (ODT) with support from
The Southland Times, resulted in a Government-appointed panel
deciding Dunedin would keep neurosurgery services.
But a minimum of three neurosurgeons was required. So early
this year fundraising was launched to establish the two
academic posts needed to support that staffing level.
All year long, community events raised money and the
campaign's profile, while southern institutions, businesses,
and trusts provided big-ticket donations. As the ODT
editorial put it on the day the target was reached, ''We
rallied with spirit and determination at the unfairness of
losing an essential service. And then we rallied again,
sustaining fundraising efforts across 12 months.
At a time when disengagement and apathy are increasingly
commonplace, we demonstrated resolve, purpose and pride''.
Conclusion: While there is still such goodness in the earth
we can have hope for another day.