We Made It To The Future (Again)

Happy New Year!

It’s that time again. As we get over our NYE hangovers, it’s time to look back over the last year and look forward to the new one. After 22 years I’m still not 100% used to the way we get periodically tossed into the future like this. But here we go. 

Looking back

This time last year I wrote a similar blog post, in which I said I was anticipating three major things in 2015. One was personal (finishing my undergraduate degree), one was national (the UK general election) and one was global (the Paris climate change conference).

So what happened?

University went fabulously: I smashed my dissertation and graduated with First Class Honours. I’ve boasted so much already so I’ll leave that there. The UK election went disastrously. Counter to what the pollsters told us, the election turned out not to be at all close or complicated. The Tories won an outright majority and got a free pass to spend another five years fucking over my country. What? No, I’m not bitter! The COP21 climate conference went as well is it could have done under the circumstances and within the context of chronic failure that characterises the last 20 years of climate talks. We now have the world’s first truly global and (partly) binding climate change agreement!

Off the top of my head, here’s some other interesting things that happened.

After I finished university I did a short stint of telephone fundraising for the Green Party; then I did a marketing internship for a sustainability consultancy/events company; I took over management of the Post Growth Alliance, an awesome initiative by the Post Growth Institute which brings together like-minded groups to share each other’s work through social media; and I’m soon to start a new internship, in communications for a eco-architecture company. I’m super psyched for this new opportunity. The first few months of my post-grad working life have been amazing (punctuated with short periods of panicked unemployment when my best friend had to continuously promise me I wouldn’t spend my whole life waitressing in a low-budget restaurant).

Politically it was a mixed year. The election result was a shock to everyone, including the winners. There seemed to be a stunned political silence for some weeks afterwards while the leaders of Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP all resigned. Sadly Farage quickly changed his mind and came back. The SNP won an incredible 50 out of 52 Scottish seats and became the third largest UK party. The Greens failed to get any more seats, showing up the absurdity of an electoral system where 1.2 million votes can equal one MP while less than 20,000 votes can also equal one MP. Surprisingly, left-wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn became the new leader of the Labour party. Even more surprisingly, he got almost 60% of the vote to a distant second of 20%, giving him the strongest mandate of any recent party leader. Despite this, he has been the subject of constant ridicule, fear-mongering and personal smears from the press since he took up the job, and many of his own MPs have even been plotting against him. All because he’s a centre-left social democrat who talks his mind and wears cardigans, rather than a centre-right neoliberal suited robot fresh out of Eton. One of the Tories’ most horrible plans, to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a new weaker version, was ‘postponed’ (until  we’re not paying attention) after massive public opposition. Osbourne was also forced to U-turn on his plan to cut Working Tax Credits after mass public opposition persuaded the House of Lords to buck convention and veto it. Not only did they make a surprisingly good call, their cheek may prompt the Tories to finally reform the feudal throwback and give us an elected upper house like an actual democracy.

Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the UK Labour party

Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the UK Labour party

Environmentally, it was mostly bad news amid public defiance. The government decided solar power needed to stand on its own two feet without subsidies (unlike fossil fuels and nuclear which need lots of help despite being the best, obviously) and slashed funding by 65%. Although this will be a terrible blow to the industry and thousands of jobs, it’s actually something of a popular victory because the government planned a 90% cut and compromised after the massive Save Our Solar campaign. The government passed an act allowing fracking in National Parks and other “protected” sites. More hopefully though, they agreed to phase out coal power plants in this country over the next 10 years. Like 2014, we had the biggest climate march in national history, with well over 50,000 marching in London. Like 2014, it was again the hottest year on record and the north of England suffered widespread floods.  England introduced a 5p plastic bag tax, resulting in an 80% drop in their usage from some major supermarkets.

We also sent our first astronaut to the international space station. Woohoo! Space!

For me the COP21 climate conference and its Paris Accord was the biggest story of the year. You can read my commentary on it here. The global marches beforehand once again broke records, with over 800,000 people involved. The two other major environmental stories were Shell backing away from the Arctic and Obama rejecting the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Massive public pressure played a key role in both, which shows we can make a difference when we try hard enough.

The Paris climate march was cancelled after the terror attacks, so 22,000 people left their shoes instead.

The Paris climate march was cancelled after the terror attacks, so 22,000 people left their shoes instead. Creative Commons licensing.

2015 has also seen several messy wars and conflicts, the biggest refugee crisis since the Holocaust and the rise of the Daesh terrorist group (aka ISIS, ISIL, IS and other acronyms involving I and S). The year began and ended with terror attacks in Paris, and my country is now ‘bombing its way to peace’ in Syria, because we’re such a compassionate country we thought we’d just go ahead and do Daesh’s propaganda drive for them.

Feminism made some strides. The UK got our first ever female bishop (better late than never) and Saudi Arabia allowed women to vote and stand as candidates (likewise) – resulting in the first four female Saudi politicians.

Looking forward

So what’s in store for 2016? Here’s five things I’ve got my eye on this year.

  • The UK is holding a referendum on whether to leave the EU or not. This is a very important decision and I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. I think we’ll probably stay in, purely because the biggest political parties want to stay in, and unsure people tend to err on the side of the status quo. But you never know.
  • The USA is having their general election in November 2016. Obama is not allowed to run for a third term so it’ll be a major change whatever happens. The party nominations haven’t taken place yet, but some of the more notable possibilities are diplomat Hilary Clinton, socialist Bernie Sanders, climate-denier Ted Cruz or wannabe fascist Donald Trump. Who sits in the White House has such a major impact on the world that I almost feel like we should all get to vote in their election… If they elect a Republican, the world is basically doomed to uncontrollable wars and runaway climate change so let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
  • The 5th International Degrowth conference is taking place in Budapest from 30th August to 3rd September. I doubt I’ll be able to make it, but if Hungary is accessible to you and you’re interested in making the global economy more sustainable, just and democratic, then I highly recommend it.
  • The renewable energy industry is steaming ahead and set to continue. The UK will see 50 onshore wind power plants come online (three times more than 2015) despite uncertainty brought on by government cuts. China will continue to lead the world in production of solar technology, and it will continue to fall in price, meaning it will soon be competitive with fossils even without subsidies.
  • The Post Growth Institute, where I am a co-director, is publishing an awesome book this Spring. Called How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-For-Profit World by 2050, it outlines a post-growth macroeconomic model based on not-for-profit enterprise. This means businesses that operate like any business except all profits are reinvested into their social mission, which more effectively meets social needs, doesn’t incentivise environmental destruction and prevents the consolidation of wealth. You can learn more and pre-order on the website. If you only read one non-fiction book this year, make it this one. It’s going to be amazing and you don’t need to understand conventional economics to read it.
The cover of How On Earth by Donnie Maclurcan and Jen Hinton, out March 2016

The cover of How On Earth by Donnie Maclurcan and Jen Hinton, out March 2016

What would you add? Tell me in the comments below or tweet to @EarthBabyBlog!

Here’s to 2016 and the hope of a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.

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