Another year over, and a new one just begun… It used to be that a New Year involved looking back fondly on the year just gone, and looking forward with hope and optimism to what the new one might bring. I’m not sure that is the case this time around. Most people will be glad to see the back of 2023: wars and rumours of wars, floods, wildfires, drought, famine, countries leaning to the Right, others leaning in every direction. And, as usual, the Excited States of America leading the way with near-surreal behaviour at home and abroad. Not that our own nation(s) presents a completely benign example of democracy and tolerance; but let’s be grateful for what we have and who we are not, yet.
As we look ahead to 2024, many of the horrors of 2023 come along for the ride. Wars in Ukraine and Gaza, both of which, the perpetrators announce with some satisfaction, are expected to continue throughout this year, at least. COVID continues to be an unwelcome guest at the party, and as for the environment! Over and over again, we hear the experts tell us that this year, this time, we really have reached the point of no return, and if we don’t act quickly and radically, we are doomed, doomed! In response, the powers that be make big statements that reflect Shakespeare’s judgment: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
Feeling a little dejected now? Not to worry: 2024 will see an amazing number of elections around the world, an opportunity for all of us to have a say in our collective future. That is what democracy is meant to provide, isn’t it? In 2024, there will be more than 60 elections worldwide, involving something like half the world’s population. These include contests in Taiwan, which may or may not, upset China to a dangerous degree, a presidential election in Mexico, many such contests throughout Africa, and provincial elections here in Canada in B.C., Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick. We in Ontario will have to wait another year to have our say provincially and municipally.
The elections in Russia and Belarus are rather predictable, but those in Lithuania and Moldova could be significant in the context of the war in Ukraine. And then there’s the Excited States, where they love elections so much that they have many of them, just for the presidential contest, and then basically ignore the results in favour of the Electoral College. Classic American democracy, where an individual like the multi-indicted, sex offending, and business fraudster Trump is the leading candidate to be the next “Most Powerful Man in the World” ©.
Of course, all of this may be irrelevant given the sad condition in which we have put our planet. Across the world, experts have noted that 2023 was the hottest year on record, as reported recently in the Guardian: “The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration previously calculated that there was a “greater than 99% chance” that 2023 would be the hottest year in its 174-year dataset. This followed six record warm months in a row, including the northern hemisphere’s warmest summer and autumn”.
There are two ways of responding to all of this doom and gloom. We can claim that this is an unusual situation, and that the human race is smart enough to pull back from the precipice before it’s too late. As an historian, I have to say that this is a rather fanciful view: mankind has a sad track record of ignoring precipices until it’s far too late. The other response may be to accept the situation as it is and find ways to adapt to what is probably a permanent change in the situation. The alternative, crawling into a corner and crying helplessly, is not really practical. We go on living day to day. We work, we have families, we go on vacation, we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, we continue to live our lives. Everything we can do to make things better, we should do. We start with the world as it is, not as it was, or as we wish it to be, and we work at change from here. Does that sound pessimistic to you? Perhaps.
But change starts with a recognition of reality and goes on from there. It may be a matter of perspective. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? In reality, it is both. So we have to take a more balanced, less panicked view. There have always been wars, usually much worse than the ones we see today. There have always been floods (one really big one!), fires, plagues and other disasters. Even the climate has changed radically over time throughout history, though this time we may have pushed it too far.
You and I can do our part, but there’s not a lot we can do to change government policies and behaviours, other than vote. Our vote won’t affect Putin, or Trump, or Xi, or Big Oil, but we do what is to hand and treat each other with respect, acceptance, and willingness to co-exist with those who think and believe differently from us. Perspective: some things are bigger than the various things that divide us. We are all in this together, whatever Facebook posters might like to think. Wars, climate change, fascism, climate disruption, terrorism, discrimination – for 2024, the boys are back in town. Oh, and so am I. Hello to all those who will cringe at my return as Editor, and to all the wellwishers too. Happy New Year!