There is a sense in the air that 2018 concludes on a bitter note. It seems that people either replay in their minds the series of catastrophic and daunting incidents that blemished this year, or are rather in a state of complete denial—hoping that by squinting and blocking out the noise they could be siloed from the collective sense of anxiety. For days I’ve been wavering between the two mindsets, but found that neither gave me much comfort. Finally, only a sober look and an honest reflection on where we stand as a human race and where we can go from here proved to be an effective method of quelling the inner storm.
So where are we, then? America is in a state of social, political, and economic instability. So is Britain. And the rest of Europe. And large swaths of the Middle East. And Africa. And several countries in Asia. Central America is ablaze and Brazil may morph into the world’s next dictatorship. I honestly have no idea what’s up in Australia, but I hear they’ve been facing some of the usual issues as well: rising right wing and anti-immigrant sentiments, government corruption scandals, and waves of “toasty temperatures” due to global warming. So yay.
But if we were to dissect the chaos and broaden our perspective, we would come to realise that all events are, ultimately, inextricably linked. The looming recession in the U.S. (indicated by sharp undulations in the stock market) is directly connected to trade wars waged by the current administration, and its effect will be amplified by the gutting of the middle and working classes through draconian fiscal policies and the ruthless domination of the country by corporations.
In the Middle East and Central America, what perpetuates war and civil unrest in countries like Syria and Ecuador is often the interests of power-hungry leaders situated thousands of miles away from the actual area of conflict. These wars ultimately spawn waves of migrants seeking safety, who then feed the narrative of nationalistic factions in the host countries that drum up race-based paranoia among the locals.
Finally, it all boils down to climate change, and 2018 constituted a dismal indicator of the consequences of global warming. Signals came both in the form of alarming reports compiled by scientists, governments, and organizations such as the UN, as well through devastating droughts, floods, and wildfires that resulted in dire humanitarian and economic crises.
The destruction of dear mother Earth is thus undoubtedly the most crucial challenge, and risk, facing us. As indicated by the IPCC report in October, failure to get emissions under control in the immediate future and transition into a more sustainable economy will render the vast majority of this planet uninhabitable sooner than we think. Yet, leading governments, pressured by major corporations, do all in their power to scale back on climate policies and accelerate production of oil, placing the short term profit of a privileged few over the wellbeing and future of the entire human race.
It is not unreasonable to think, then, that a global bubble is in the process of bursting. Whatever is happening—it just isn’t working. Climate change ravages. Inequality cripples. Wars devastate. And perhaps what we are witnessing is not merely the spattering of governments and economies, but that of an ideology; a socio-political ethos that turned on its people and left the majority of humanity bereft and angry and hungry for change. Any change.
Will 2019 bring us a step closer to a global transition? And if so, what would it look like? Will right wing nationalists have their way? Will oil giants succeed in quashing the sprouting climate policies? Or will those pushing for more humane and sustainable agendas manage to tame the horror and damage?
Although we often forget it, the answers to such questions ultimately lie with us. It is easy to feel intimidated and overwhelmed by world events; yet as humans we are endowed with tremendous power to challenge and inquire and demand. History shows that such powers can translate into significant action once people are united in their message and goal.
And so as we stride into 2019, let us be conscious of our agency. Let us remember that our fates and paths are intertwined. Technology, and smartphones in particular, seem to wrap us in bubbles of loneliness and indifference. Yet, if we choose to, we can utilise them to achieve just the opposite: a global network comprised of individuals who are alert and engaging and committed to the prosperity of all.
In his book The Age of Discovery, the economist Ian Goldin contends that there are enough resources on the planet for us all to share. He argues that the inclination of most of us is to reach a state of cooperation and that globalism is on a trajectory that’s expected to further evolve and expand. Yet he also mentions that this phenomenon will inevitably result in forces pulling us in the other directions, namely separatism, protectionism, and nationalism. I suppose it is up to us to determine which of the forces will prevail. It all depends on how calm and aware we can remain throughout this turbulent process.
I, for one, have hope for our future.