As published by the Otago Daily Times on December 23, 2016
2016 is drawing its last breaths, but in so doing, it consistently reminds us that this is not the same world that elected Barack Obama under the banner of change. 2016 reminds us that earth shocks can apply both literally and figuratively in a world where some continue to push for open borders, while others seek to encircle themselves with rigid, insular barriers of differentiation.
This is no longer the world where gathering in a place of worship means anything other than a pursuit for inner peace and community-building. Recent events in Zurich remind us of that. These and the other shameful tragedies of 2016 have deeply compromised our ability and willingness to congregate, but aside from the possibility of bodily harm, this mentality damages us in another way: We are no longer capable of coalescing behind a common goal.
2016 will go down in history as a pivotal year: 12 months that made the populations of the world doubt each other with unprecedented overtness. Brexit may have sealed the destiny of the European Union, at a point in its history when ultra-nationalism and economic precariousness were already rocking its very foundational principles. Even though a revised agreement was given congressional approval, the previous Colombia-FARC peace agreement was defeated in a referendum that many thought had the potential to stall the entire peace process. And to the dismay of most progressives, the Trump electoral victory cements this general trend of scepticism, which is leading our global ship to relatively unchartered waters.
This scepticism, will become most evident in the way our policy-makers deal with fluctuations in environmental conditions. Disbelief of the human environmental footprint will translate into blurring simple arithmetic truths: more humans on the planet means more mouths to feed, more bodies to clothe, more roofs over their heads, and stronger social security networks, all of which will inevitably amplify our already high demands for natural resources. If these truths are met with suspicion by our political leaders, our societies will continue to rust away with growing inequality and injustice.
In the world painted to us by 2016, individuals seem relatively bereft of decision-making power beyond the thin curtain of liberal democracy. This is not true. Positive, local change remains at the grasp of anyone who wishes to extend his/her hand in friendship. Peace is not an imposed phenomenon, or an inheritance that gets passed on by one individual to the next. Peace is owned by those who wish to embrace it, with no other prerequisite attached to it. In a world where conflict seems inevitable, there remains space for us to understand the hardships of our fellow compatriots and planet dwellers, for the challenges we must face are not exclusive to any given geographical location, political system or constructed reality. In a world where change is both real and unpredictable, our political leaders have decided to turn the other way, but so can we.
Let 2017 be the year that brought us back to the fold of shared citizenship, trust and respect. Let us not be defeated by the shifting tectonic plates of the world.