Nathan Yang looks back at the first half of 2020 and the defining moments that lead to radical shifts in societal priorities and reflects on the events that sparked global change. He also questions the possibilities of the rest of 2020 and the future.
The year 2020 certainly has written a story much greater than any fiction author could have ever dreamt up, and even though it feels things have been happening for an eternity, it is only halfway over.
Typically, every year has only a few defining moments, yet within only six months, 2020 has already been filled with a barrage of world-changing events altering nearly everything. From the loss of some of society’s major figureheads and inspirations to the overwhelming shift in norms created by one of history’s largest pandemics, the events of this year shown how fragile human society can be.
The following is a snapshot list of some of the influential events from January to June 2020:
3rd – A US airstrike outside Baghdad, Iraq kills multiple Iraqi and Iranian military officials including Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. His killing began days of demonstrations throughout the middle east and retaliatory action on US military bases in Iraq.
26th – Retired NBA star and father of four, Kobe Bryant, daughter, and seven close acquaintances are killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on the way to a basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. His passing sparked global mourning and tributes as the basketball legend was an inspiration to many.
30th – The novel coronavirus, Covid-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Heath Organization. Over the next months, countries began seeing increasing numbers of cases leading to city and country lockdowns.
31st – Brexit. The United Kingdom officially splits from the European Union. While negotiations and developments are ongoing, the UK no longer retains its seat in the European Parliament and will not be partaking in future endeavors of the European Union directly.
5th – The United States Senate votes to acquit President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment. The impeachment started by the US House of Representatives in December 2019 with charges of Trump abusing power in asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and obstructing Congress for slowing the House’s investigations.
12th – Locust swarms stemming from the Middle East and East Africa overwhelm multiple East African nations. ten billion or more of the around 7cm large desert locust are swarming across much of the region, destroying crops and threatening already problematic food security issues. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation the destruction will affect about 10% of the world’s population.
2nd – Following over 240 days of continuous brush and wild fires, the state of New South Wales, Australia saw no fires. This comes after one of Australia’s worst fire seasons in history beginning in 2019, burning over forty seven million acres, killing at least thirty four people, and killing millions of animals.
11th – Former American film producer Harvey Weinstein is convicted of rape and sexual assault in New York. His sentencing of twenty-three years in prison comes after accusations by many women in 2017, giving rise to the #MeToo movement and opening up a greater number voices to hold powerful men accountable for sexual misconduct.
11th – The World Health Organization declares Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. This comes after assessments finding more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 deaths.
3rd – Global confirmed cases of Covid-19 surpasses one million. The United States has the most cases, surpassing previous hot-spots of Italy, Spain, and Germany. Further travel restrictions and economic fallout develop in multiple countries around the world
20th – The price of oil becomes negative (-$37USD per barrel) for the first time ever in 150 years of global oil pricing records. This comes as after a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia started on March 8, 2020. With the global pandemic, demand for oil fell, causing an over supply in the market as oil production cannot be efficiency stopped. This lead to global economies and stocks to fall.
19th – According to research published in “Nature Climate Change,” global daily CO2 emissions decreased by 17% by early April 2020. This statistic is in comparison to 2019 records where compared to years previous where an increase of 1% on average was seen each year leading up to 2018.
25th – The killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by an officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota sparks outrage and reignited the Black Lives Matter movement for minority rights and freedoms. This leads to major protests and riots in many cities around the world but primarily in the US for reforms regarding racial bias and prejudice by government and law enforcement.
30th – Private spacecraft and rocket manufacturer SpaceX, successfully launches astronauts bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on a journey to the International Space Station for a 110-day space mission. This is the first occurrence in human space exploration history where a private company has sent humans to space.
7th – Black Lives Matter Protests continue worldwide in large numbers. In Bristol, UK, a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston is pulled down and thrown in the Bristol Harbour. This is one example of many initiatives to rename buildings and remove figures in negative relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement. One such renaming includes UCL Geography’s own Pearson Building; now renamed the North West Wing.
30th – The World Health Organization marks six months since receiving the first reports of an unknown “pneumonia” in China. This would later be discovered as the virus, Covid-19, developing into a global pandemic that still continues to this day.
30th – China enacts a new national security law for Hong Kong prompting international criticism and fear among pro-democracy figures. The law would prohibit acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign entities and establishes some of the Chinese Government’s legal system and security in the territory.
As students not only of Geography but of the present world we are entering, it is important for us to explore, understand, and take careful action towards the issues we all face. It is unfortunate that societal change requires a pandemic or rioting beyond reason to incite a conversation or alteration in view, but 2020 so far has shown what extremes can look like and what change that needs to occur.
Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.Out of My Later Years by Albert Einstein
This year has uncovered the reality of this so called “globalized” world because for such an interconnected Earth, the fractures are truly in full display. Humans are vulnerable and will likely never be able to predict what the future has to offer, however, leaders, citizens, and individuals alike can be prepared to face each next chapter.
Also, looking back on a half-year that has been filled with negativity, destruction, and uncertainty, there have been many positives that have been more than overshadowed. Too often in contemporary news media, breaking news consists only of the death and destruction within our communities, yet positive growth, advancement, and innovation have steadily occurred in the background. From private company SpaceX launching astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time to the slight development global in emissions reductions, the events of this year have uncovered what is possible for the future.
Looking forward, societies will be a different and new; societies that had never been imagined before. Workplaces and offices will shift to the computer; holiday travel may become that little bit harder to justify; classrooms and education will advance to teach the history of the issues faced this past half-year through more socially distant means; global leaders will change their policies and approaches to fit the present; and economies will make headway for new opportunities to invest in, but society will evolve to meet the demands of the events that have occurred.
Moreover, the rest of 2020 will certainly be an interesting one to live through. Will the pandemic ever be contained? Will social and economic situations worsen? When will prejudice, bias, and sexual misconduct be dismantled in public perception? These are all questions where answers cannot really be predicted, but we do know that social, political, economic, and environmental change will happen. Humans are innovative and as Geographers and citizens of the world, we can make the decision to take those changes to heart to reach a positive outcome and future.