COMMENT:

I have been rebuked, gently and with love, for not providing a special-occasion column last Sunday that was full of heart-warming, blessing-counting references to Christmas, served up on a steaming bed of festive cheer.

I thought this was in readers' best interest, predicting – all-too accurately – that there would be no shortage of seasonally themed pieces by other columnists to sate the appetite for all things yuletide.

I had a secondary agenda, too. I've long considered that the belief that all news ceases and that the weeks around Christmas are a "silly season" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. My comment to some colleagues just a few days prior that there would almost certainly be a tsunami somewhere to fill the media vacuum proved unpleasantly accurate.

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I probably should be more careful about these throwaway remarks. On Christmas Eve two years ago, while Last Christmas by Wham! was playing in the house, I said out loud: "Wouldn't it be weird if this really was George Michael's last Christmas?" And lo, it came to pass the very next day, on December 25, 2016. I've resolved to choose my words more carefully and would like to conclude 2018 by hoping that next year President Trump gets everything he deserves.

I have one more excuse for neglecting seasonal references, which is that one of our hens has taken it upon herself to turn the liturgical calendar upside down. It's Easter around here thanks to our black hen Penny and the nine eggs she hatched on Christmas Day.

But if Christmas is a time for looking back and counting our blessings, the beginning of a new year is a time for looking forward, which brings our thoughts inevitably to Armageddon. In a bracingly realistic series called The End of the World, podcaster Josh Clark lists the numerous ways in which this could happen: artificial intelligence, biotechnology experiments gone wrong, accidental release of manmade pathogens, particle physics experiments gone wrong, the greenhouse effect and natural catastrophes (supernovae, asteroid collisions).

You'll notice that with the exception of natural catastrophes, these are all the products of human activity. Surviving them, therefore, is also our responsibility, and will depend on us acting in our own best interests.

Which isn't looking too likely at the moment.

I base that assumption on that fact that, although the total number of planets we have on which to live is one, many people think banning single-use plastic bags will ensure its survival.

Here's a statistic to put that in perspective - percentage of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the Chinese coal industry between 1988 and 2015: 14.32 per cent; percentage attributable to plastic-bag production: way less.

Until those 100 companies that, according to 2017's Carbon Majors Report, cause 71 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are brought into line, no number of kitchen benchtop compost buckets or reusable straws can make a difference. Yet people keep making compost buckets and China keeps burning coal.

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The number one threat to humanity's continued existence is human beings - in all our gobsmacking stupidity. Hopefully people will become increasingly educated on these issues and agitate for change where it counts – in corporate boardrooms, not on kitchen benches.

This isn't a good week to get yourself educated though - looking up some basic stuff for this column, I was told by the United States Geological Survey website that "due to a lapse in appropriations, the majority of USGS websites may not be up to date and may not reflect current conditions". Never fear - once the money is found to build that wall, the USGS will be able to get back online and people will be able to get information in which our survival may depend.

In the meantime, it's not looking good for too many happy new years to come.