Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – My late friend Fernando Coronil once observed that in order to understand the people of the past we must also understand their own visions of the future. In the 2014 science fiction film Edge of Tomorrow, based on a Japanese young adult novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, overcoming a time loop finally allows an alien invasion to be defeated in 2020.
It is the only good thing I can think of about 2020, and it didn’t happen.
1. The unprecedented Great Australian Bush Fires spilled into January, 2020. Over 100 raging fires burned 25 million acres, an area the size of South Korea, killing or displacing 3 billion animals. There are fears that it may drive the koala bear to extinction. There isn’t any doubt that the human-caused climate emergency contributed mightily to the outbreak of the fires. The really bad news is that there will be more of them, and not just in Australia. The US West also saw massive wildfires, with millions of acres burning in California.
2. The miserable war in Yemen ground on in 2020. Both houses of Congress demanded that the US withdraw from backing the belligerents, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Trump vetoed the measure. Two million face a crisis of hunger, and half of the 28 million people are food insecure. Deaths from the coronavirus could hit 213,000, on top of everything else. Maybe the Biden administration will manage to bring pressure to bear to end this fruitless struggle.
Personal checks should be made out to Juan Cole and sent to me at:
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3. The Atlantic hurricane season broke records and for names we had to go into the Greek alphabet. Pensacola, Fl., saw the highest water levels of any city since New Orleans in 2005 and Katrina. There were 30 named storms and 6 major hurricanes (111 mph or more). Some 18 of the past 26 years have seen above average hurricane seasons, and this is the fifth consecutive year with such massive, lashing storms being far beyond the twentieth century norm. There were also heavy cyclones in the Pacific, and huge monsoon flooding in the Yangtze river valley in China.
4. The Amazon rainforest continues to burn down, another effect of global heating caused by humans driving gasoline cars and burning coal and gas for heating and electricity. The far right Bolsonaro government is also actively encouraging the clearing of the forest for agriculture and cattle ranching. The BBC reported deforestation surging to a 12-year high. A total of 11,088 sq km (4,281 sq miles) of rainforest were destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020. Brazilian scientists have discovered that some non-rainforest forests (deciduous etc.) in Minas Gerais state have become net emitters of carbon dioxide instead of being carbon sinks. This ultimately could happen to the Amazon rainforest. This development would be an enormous catastrophe for each of us. The Amazon rainforest absorbs 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. That is five percent of all annual CO2 emissions around the world.
5. Mark A. Thiessen at WaPo/ the Neoconservative American Enterprise Institue detailed what he thought were the worst 10 things the odious Trump did this year. They include a couple of things I’d agree about, including his discouraging of mask-wearing during the pandemic. Only half of Americans say they typically wear masks when they go out, and we’re heading toward half a million dead as a result. Taiwan and Hong Kong have near universal levels of mask wearing, and they have had very few deaths. He pardoned war criminals. But Theissen is upset that Trump is drawing down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (Thiessen used to work for George W. Bush, who put them there). Let’s leave off his inside-the-beltway list and think more broadly about America. Trump used Federal forces to clear legitimate protests from LaFayette Park and wanted to deploy the army widely. He sent in Federal forces to arrest 200 protesters in Portland Oregon. He blamed the protests against systemic racism on “Antifa,” which is not an organization and anyway is an anti-fascist tendency that only fascists would be afraid of. He continued to tear babies from their mothers’ arms at the border. He rolled back 100 environmental regulations, endangering us all.
6. The novel coronavirus was bad, but other countries dealt with it relatively well. China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Iceland, Singapore, Vietnam all put it in the rear view mirror by late summer, even without a vaccine. The US had one of the worst responses, as Trump tried to avoid doing anything on a national scale and kept hoping it would just fade away “like a miracle.” States had to keep going into lockdown, keeping millions unemployed. A winter wave hit, leaving 0 capacity in many ICUs. The US has been suffering deaths on the scale of 9/11 every day. There is hope on the horizon. Joe Biden will swing into action, putting Federal resources into the effort, and we may be able to reach herd immunity by late August, which will cause cases to spiral on down to almost nothing.
We aren’t out of the woods, but 2021 gives us light at the end of the tunnel. It has been so dark so long.