Forget doomsday, we've more pressing issues to worry over

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 3:35am

The last incredible apocalyptic scenario came and went 12 years ago with barely a hiccup. Remember Y2K, or the millennium bug? Yet predictions without any basis in science or reason continue to come around. The current one holds that the end of the ancient Mayan calendar on December 21 - this Friday - portends a dire event, or even the end of the world.

Forebodings about Friday tend to be found among the uneducated, gullible and more-than-ordinarily superstitious. They are spread by word of mouth and by runs on emergency provisions like candles. As 1999 drew to an end, however, techheads and technophobes alike fretted about Y2K, the name given to a potential problem with computer hardware and software that used only the last two digits of a year rather than all four. It was feared essential computer systems could be vulnerable to interpreting the year as 1900 when they ticked over from 99 to 00 for the year 2000. Damage scenarios ranged from global meltdown to minor irritation. Contingency plans were prepared to protect essential services and some people went as far as to prepare for the collapse of civilisation.

Apocalyptic scenarios can create business opportunities, whether it be making a killing on candles for a prolonged blackout or producing an "end of the world" menu, as one Tsim Sha Tsui restaurant has done, for more than HK$2,000 a head if the world does not end.

That said, there is one credible apocalyptic scenario going around at the moment - global warming. Unlike Y2K and doomsday, no one can put a date on it. Perhaps that accounts for the lack of a shared sense of urgency about reducing greenhouse emissions, in evidence at the recent world climate conference. This is a reminder to Hong Kong that we have more important things to worry about than doomsday, such as air pollution, unaffordable property prices, a housing shortage, poverty, a wealth gap, health-care reform, care of the elderly, retirement protection for an ageing society, and so on. That is unless it is too late now for worrying.