2019 has been a bleak year. Overshadowed by the IPCC’s October 2018 Special Report on 1.5 Degrees, progress on sustainability in all of its forms has seemed hard to come by – or even going backwards. Protests in Hong Kong, originally about the region’s right to self-govern, have evolved into ongoing mass conflict with police over human rights violations. The continuing resurgence of nationalism and sociopolitical tribalism in the Global North, embodied most characteristically by President Trump, has stoked dissent and provoked widespread division – in some cases, resulting in open intolerance and ethno-religious violence. Accompanied by economic protectionism that has destabilised global trade and threatened to upend the Washington Consensus of the late 90’s, it’s a scary picture – and not one that’s likely to go away any time soon.
We cannot, however, view the events of this year in isolation. As we approach the dawn of a new decade, we must look back to the one we’re leaving behind, and recognise that the darkness has been gathering for far longer than the last twelve months.
In 2008, what has become known as the ‘Great Recession’ hit economies across the world. With financial systems more interconnected than ever, a contagion beginning in the United States – characterised by weak property markets and a catastrophic attitude to risk on the part of major investors – led to a global collapse in growth, embodied by the only global fall in greenhouse gas emissions so far this century (Ritchie & Roser, 2017).
Against the resultant backdrop of unemployment, inflation, and rising commodity prices, civil stability across the world took a hit. In 2011, much of the world could only watch on as the Arab Spring erupted, the result of socioeconomic crises across the Middle East and North Africa, leading to revolution and civil war across the region. Closer to home, in August 2011, riots broke out in towns and cities across England after the death of Mark Duggan, a mixed-race British man, who was shot dead by police in North London: many have attributed the outbreak of violence to underlying race- and class-based tensions, aggravated by economic decline and unemployment.
It is, perhaps, a sad reflection on our ability to think forward that these events – and it would be remiss to not note that these are merely two examples from a long, long list – didn’t cause us to wake up, take notice, and effect change.
To environmentalists, this correspondent is sure this won’t be an unfamiliar picture. In 2007, respected environmental writer George Monbiot published ‘Heat’, seeking to expose to the public the dangers of climate change, and lay out our global escape routes. Some of the dangers he cited include:
- Hundreds of millions at risk of greater incidences of malaria
- 75-200m people at risk from saltwater flooding caused by storm surges
- Significantly increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes and heatwaves
- 15-37% of the world’s species being “committed to extinction” by 2050
- The loss of 97% of the world’s coral reefs to bleaching
- The transformation of ecosystems from carbon sinks to carbon sources
- The triggering of monolithic positive feedback loops in climate systems, including the loss of ice albedo and the melting of Arctic permafrost
To those that are current with the climate change literature in today’s world, none of those dangers will be news. Indeed, by failing to act over the course of this decade, we’ve only succeeded in increasing the global temperature anomaly from 0.6°C (Monbiot, 2007) to 1-1.1°C (IPCC, 2014).
At the risk of taking this illustration too far, economic inequality, social divisions and climate collapse are only some of the sustainability challenges that have mounted – almost entirely unabated – over the last ten years. Microplastic pollution; irresponsible corporate greenwashing; overexploitation of marine resources; climate injustice and denialism; fast fashion; nuclear power; social media and fake news; energy insecurity; human rights and oppression; neocolonialism… the list goes on: these are only some of the challenges that this very publication has sought to expose in our community. The sun is very clearly setting on our successes; the scale of our achievements undermined by the cracks that have become so very visible as the weight of our civilisations expands. While, as a liberal, this correspondent shares in the belief, held by thinkers across a spectrum from Keynes to Hayek, that ‘things tend to get better’, we cannot continue to ignore the threats and injustices that surround us today.
And so, we must turn from this piece’s titular ‘dying light’ to its ‘dreaming’.
We must embrace the challenges that we have created, and champion the solutions that we already possess – in the name both of the precautionary principle, and of a value system that drives away from the focus on wealth creation and resource use that has characterised this century to date. We must learn to work together, across national, racial, and religious boundaries, and to navigate the differing languages, perspectives, and values that have to date held us back.
We must accept the mistakes that we have made, recognise when they may have manifested in ways that we could never have anticipated, and be prepared to accept that change will be needed in ways that will cut close to home for all of us. We must openly acknowledge, too, the scale of these changes and the challenges that necessitate them. We must not shy away from calling out the Climate Emergency or ecosystems collapse; our language should adapt to more explicitly recognise the comfortable euphemisms that have protected our consciences and mental complexes to date.
We must, too, remember that these challenges go beyond individuals – and not only because many of them are incumbent upon corporations and governments for their causes. We must value the diversity in us all – in our perspectives, our priorities, and our personalities – and embrace new ideas to add to the strength of those that have gone before.
It is, therefore, in the name of this progress that the time has come me to stand down as the Editor in Chief, to allow another to bring new passion, creativity, and imagination to this great undertaking. That other is our current Assistant Editor, Tori Keene, who over the time that she has been working with us has shown drive and dedication towards GLOBUS’ mission and ethos far beyond the call of her role. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to lead our team for the last two years; I have absolutely no doubt that Tori will take GLOBUS to many new heights, and I look forward to seeing the progress that she, and the rest of the team, make.
We know that we live in troubled times. We know that the challenges we face are great in scale and in number, and that, in many ways, to overcome those challenges we must rebel against the lifestyles and institutions that make possible our comfortable existence.
Whether we will succeed is a different question entirely – one that I am in no way qualified to begin answering. Traditional liberal optimism aside, though…
Aren’t rebellions built on hope? [i]
IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf [Accessed 17 November 2019]. Geneva, Switzerland: IPCC.
Monbiot, G. (2007). Heat: How we can stop the planet burning. London: Penguin Books.
Ritchie, H., Roser, M. (2017). CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Our World in Data [online] Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions [Accessed 29 December 2019].
The Economist (2018). The prophets of illiberal progress. [online] Available at: https://www.economist.com/schools-brief/2018/09/06/the-prophets-of-illiberal-progress [Accessed 29 December 2019].
[i] For those versed, yes, this is a quote from ‘Rogue One’, a chapter in the Star Wars saga, by which the lead character encourages the Rebel Alliance to undertake an apparently hopeless mission against near-insurmountable odds to destroy the newly-built Death Star. On the face of it, the comparisons might seem far-fetched – but when you consider that both the Alliance and humanity are fighting against a potentially civilisation-ending threat in open rebellion against the status quo… well, there’s an interesting set of parallels!