Just maybe, the end is not nigh

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 probably not.

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 risen.

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 residents.

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 chickens.

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 come.

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 the footpath.

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 beyond 5125.

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 it.

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 Janeiro, 2016.

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 affairs.

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 Middlemarch.

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 floor.

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 glory.

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 $US16.39 trillion ($NZ19.75 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.

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