Just when it appears we can perhaps breathe a little easier, literally, with the Covid-19 virus morphing into a less severe or lung-damaging, although still highly contagious, variant, and there are signs that virus fear is loosening its grip on our minds, another potential end-of-times scenario is being unleashed upon the world and will keep the fear cauldron bubbling away.

At the end of November the Jerusalem Post carried a story which warned, ‘Large asteroid stronger than nuke heading towards Earth late December’. The asteroid named 2018 AH, the Post informed us, was ‘a large asteroid the size of the Washington Monument (why, one wonders, is this monument chosen for comparison if you are the Post out of Jerusalem?) ‘that, if it impacts, would cause devastation far greater than an atomic bomb’. It was only in paragraph four that we were told it was unlikely to hit our planet.

Nasa regards a near-earth object passing at less than 7.4 million kilometres to earth and of around 150 metres in size as potentially hazardous and tracks all of them closely.

Of course, as even the average Joe or Joanna knows these days, computers, simulations, scenarios and modelling can get things wrong.

But, as we are still here and already into the New Year, 2018 AH clearly passed us on 27 December, as did the less reported 2021 YK on 2 January, as calculations had predicted.

If you are interested in all the near-earth objects that are heading our way in the near future, or you are a Nervous Nellie, you can check the data on them here.

Satirises humanity’s response

My interest in this Post report – which I also found on many other sites – was piqued by the report’s synchronicity with the cinema and TV launch of the big celebrity-filled Netflix comedy, Don’t Look Up, which satirises humanity’s response to an imminent earth-destroying asteroid.  

Was the Post hyping this Nasa-sourced story in order to serve up more powerful apocalypse clickbait, as so much of our media does? Was it simply doing its duty and informing us of an unusual event?

Or, I idly wondered in true conspiracy-theory style, was this report evidence of the media entertainment complex being in cahoots to promote the film.

Netflix is famous for its ‘unconventional marketing’, which includes its breakthrough ‘native ad’ or sponsored content deal with the New York Times in 2014 for its TV series Orange Is the New Black.

It’s probable, however, that Netflix simply does good pre-pitch research into possible real cataclysmic scenarios and times its launches well.

But it is understandable these days if we are distrustful of the media and entertainment world, so complicit in the current catastrophe hype and contributing to what Chris Stirewalt, writing in The Dispatch, has labelled the age of anxiety.

Although we’re getting a handle on living with Covid, and are clearly more resistant to all the strictures first imposed on us when we were (with some justification) ‘afraid and petrified’ in early 2020, we will now have to add asteroid anxiety along with climate hysteria to the list of things to get anxious about, and see them pushing their way into the limelight and to the top of the political and news agenda even in poor countries like ours.

Apocalypse porn

The apocalypse porn didn’t let up over Christmas. Phillipa Nuttall in New Statesman gave us a piece on ‘Why we all – and men especially – must eat less meat to save the Amazon’.

‘We are committing ecocide on a biblical scale’, Dave Goulson says in his book Silent Earth, Averting The Insect Apocalypse.

The NYT Opinion offered an interactive article mapping climate impacts across every country (‘Postcards from a world on fire’) with the chilling words: ‘Cities blanketed in dust, graveyards swallowed by the sea, for years scientists have sounded the alarm. Now it’s here.’

Over at the playground of the earnest naives at Vox, Anna North asked petulantly: ‘The world as we know it is ending, why are we still at work?’

No wonder many delicate millennials can barely lift their heads from depression.

So who are these climate catastrophists of whom I speak? Who are the pushers (intentional or otherwise) of the ‘imminent doom’ cult, apart from the big players in mainstream media and entertainment?

Would I be a conspiracy theorist if I included politicians and administrators seeking budgets, status, a chance to win over or control citizens or to simply avoid blame for their strategies; lobbyists and institutions dependent for their existence and jobs on satisfying the crusading urges of their donors; and last but not least comfortably off citizens, what some among us have dubbed ‘single-book’ readers who seek meaning in their lives, according to psychology professor Clay Routledge, by being part of something bigger than them.

Or those who simply have a need to signal their virtue and go with the fashionable flow? My less generous accusation.

Best quality of the environment

Marian L. Tupy, in a 2019 feature in Human Progress, told us something we know first-hand here in Africa: environmental concerns are most keenly felt in rich countries where people enjoy the best quality of the environment.

‘Poor people are preoccupied with meeting their basic needs, including access to adequate food, water, warmth and safety, they are, to put it bluntly, primarily concerned with their survival. All other considerations are secondary.’

As Stirewalt says in his article: ‘Obsessive concern about problems mostly beyond our control can prevent us from taking action on the ordinary important work institutions are supposed to do.

‘Exaggerated, dislocated anxieties, even when sincere, are keeping us from our real work.’

He speaks sense.

It is time for the pervasive fear culture (plus our state of disaster, command councils and talk of government vaccine mandates) around Covid to stand down. It is also time, in South Africa, to dampen inappropriate climate hysteria to focus on the basic things that need doing properly – improving funding, resources, management and communication in health care and our hospitals (in case of a worsening or future pandemic), creating real jobs, providing water, ensuring food security, supplying cheaper, reliable power to everyone. 

As Jordan B. Petersen succinctly pointed out in a Christmas Day tweet: ‘Make people rich and they’ll clean up the planet.’

Making people and our country more prosperous is the best way of enabling the delivery of food, water, warmth and safety. So that’s what I wish us all – a New Year in which South Africa begins to get back on the road to prosperity that benefits everyone.

It may take a change in national government to get firmly on the road. But, hey, that’s only a couple of years and months down the road now.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.