Ed. Note: Happy New Year to all PineTreeRepublic citizens! As a brief personal aside, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, like, share, and perhaps even comment on the posts that have appeared on this blog over the past year. I started this project just under a year ago out of a personal passion to better understand global affairs, and it has been even more rewarding than I imagined. I’ve especially been grateful for the family, friends, co-workers, and new contacts in the blogging world who have offered generous encouragement and keen feedback on my writing. If I had one blogging-related wish for 2016, it would be to generate even more discussion and a sense of community on this blog. So, please don’t be shy about commenting on any of the posts you come across this year, and please also feel free to share any suggestions to make this blog more useful via the comments or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you do find any posts particularly enjoyable and helpful in explaining what’s going on in the world, please consider sharing – you can always do so via the blog’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
And most importantly, all the best for a happy and healthy 2016. I look forward to exploring more of our fascinating world together over the coming year. Now, for a review of last year’s highlights…
Every turn of the calendar offers a chance to reflect on the events, leaders, and trends that changed our world over the past year, and each year seems to be ever more complex and turbulent than before. This pattern held true in 2015, which provided ample material for the inaugural year of PineTreeRepublic. The past year was roughly bookended by two terrible tragedies in Paris – the January 7 shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the November 14 attack on the Bataclan and other nightspots. In between, a brutal civil war in Syria entered its fourth year, and over 1 million migrants made perilous voyages to Europe, eliciting vastly different responses amongst the countries on their paths, and posing fundamental questions about the meaning and structure of the European Union. The past year was also notable for the progress that was achieved on social and environmental issues, from a referendum in Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s publication of findings and recommendations to overcome the legacy of indigenous residential schools in Canada, to a landmark global agreement in Paris to limit the dangerous progression of climate change.
We are all limited by time and access to information in recognizing and understanding all the important developments that shaped 2015, and which will continue to shape our societies in the years to come. But, as one fun (and hopefully useful) way to remember the year that was, below is a list of the 10 top news articles I came across in 2015 – mostly taken from Canada’s main paper of record, The Globe and Mail. I found these articles to be particularly powerful and enlightening in putting together some of the pieces of the global puzzle in 2015. As you read through this list, please share your own top articles in the comments below!
January 8: “Paris Attacks Illustrate the Power of Mockery“, by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail)
Last year opened with the shocking and tragic attacks on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, along with a shooting at a Parisian kosher market. The events prompted a considerable amount of questioning and soul-searching on the sometimes tenuous balance between freedom of expression and the accommodation of minority cultures and religious taboos. In this analysis, Saunders provides historical context for understanding the role of mockery in undermining political authoritarianism in all its forms – from Charlie Chaplin’s satire of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, to the Russian punk band Pussy Riot’s more recent satire Vladimir Putin. In the aftermath of the attacks, Saunders’s piece was both cathartic and illuminating for placing these events in a wider historical picture. Sadly, this was not the last time that Saunders was called upon to help us make sense of tragedy in 2015.
February 1: “As Ebola Ebbs in Africa, Focus Turns from Death to Life“, by Norimitsu Onishi (New York Times)
Each year is seemingly best remembered for big, shocking, often tragic events, and 2015 will likely be no different. But one of the year’s most underreported stories was about a tragedy that didn’t happen – or rather, that wasn’t a tragedy to the extent that most experts anticipated. In the spring of 2014, an Ebola epidemic broke out in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, fuelling fears that the deadly virus would swiftly spread throughout the region, and perhaps even throughout the world. Yet, despite projections by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that the number of victims in Liberia alone would top 1 million, by February 2015, only 22,000 cases of infections were reported in the three countries. The story that surprised nearly all experts was the resilience of local communities in quickly changing long-established practices in handling the sick and dead, which contributed to stopping the virus’s spread more quickly than predicted. By the end of 2015, Ebola was effectively wiped out throughout Africa. In this article, Onishi details the combination of local and international efforts that proved effective in avoiding doomsday scenarios – and that may serve as a useful model for other international development and public health interventions.
April 25: “The Real Reasons Why Migrants Risk Everything for a New Life Elsewhere“, by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail)
Though it had already reached crisis proportions far before 2015, the migrant crisis that dominated world attention for much of the past year first grabbed headlines in April, when 850 people drowned in the Mediterranean on an overloaded boat trying to reach asylum in Italy. Because the story had been underreported to that time, this tragedy sparked increased scrutiny on the migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa attempting to reach Europe, and the different responses from European countries to the crisis. Here, Saunders again places the crisis of the day in the broader historical context of migration to and from Europe. Crucially, he undermines several key myths that dominated political and societal discussion at the time, ranging from the perception that all migrants are poor people, to the belief that this latest flow of migrants represented a flood of immigration beyond what Western countries were able to handle.
June 19: “Democracy, Interrupted: Myanmar Has a Make-Or-Break Year Ahead“, by Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail)
One of the major positive events in 2015 was the first democratic national election in Myanmar, or Burma, since military rule began in 1962. A few months prior to the November election, Globe and Mail Asian correspondent Nathan Vanderklippe provided this three-dimensional portrait of the country and its prospects for democracy. In his travels through different regions, Vanderklippe details ethnic militias who profit from illicit trades in opium and natural resources, Buddhist monks who stoke nationalist fears of the Muslim Rohingya minority, the ever-present influence of China on the northern border, and the impact of returning Burmese ex-pats who seek to transform their home country’s economy and political system. It is an enlightening look at the many forces shaping this complex country, which will surely continue to play a prominent role in its post-election future.
July 20: “On the Road to a New Economy, with Uber at the Wheel“, by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail)
Arguably, the most significant story at the intersection of technology, society, and politics in 2015 was the expansion of the ride-sharing service Uber throughout Europe and North America. (PineTreeRepublic featured a guest post on the social unrest this provoked in France in June.) While the company’s status has yet to be settled in many jurisdictions, Uber appears to be well on its way towards disrupting the taxi industry, and contributing to a broader revolution in how we view transportation and the fundamental meaning of work. In this short op-ed, Yakabuski astutely reflects on some of the key changes Uber will likely bring about, focusing on the meaning and potential impacts of the “gig economy”, where more and more people derive income from non-formalized jobs.
August 23: “Fading Economy and Graft Crackdown Rattle China’s Leaders“, by Michael Forsythe and Jonathan Ansfield (New York Times)
No recap of global events can be complete without a story on developments in China, so great is the country’s influence on the world. In August of this year, the country’s stock market index plummeted and the government initiated a rare devaluation in its currency, reflecting broader weakness in its export-oriented economy that had built up over several months. In this article, Forsythe and Ansfield analyze President Xi Jingping’s initiative to reshape China’s economy to one that is more market-driven and less reliant on exporting cheap goods, as well as his accompanying crackdown on corrupt government bureaucrats, many of whom were top political rivals. The journalists note that the initiatives have the potential to set China on the path towards long-term growth, but also risk shaking up well-entrenched institutions that could trickle over to broader social unrest. The questions raised in this article are worth following closely into 2016 as President Xi continues with his reforms.
November 6: “Where Oil and Water Mix: Oil Sands Development Leaves Fort McKay’s Indigenous Community Torn“, by Shawn McCarthy (Globe and Mail)
In Canada, most of 2015’s key events could perhaps be summarized by three trends: (1) The conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and increasing attention on Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples; (2) uncertainty over the future of natural resource industries, particularly in the oil sands; and (3) the election of a federal Liberal government that promised to reset government policies on both of these issues, among others. Shortly after the federal election, the Globe and Mail published this in-depth profile that brought together all three themes. McCarthy reports on the state of the indigenous community of Fort McKay, which has seen economic growth, but also considerable environmental damage, from the development of nearby oil sands resources. McCarthy explores diverse local perspectives on what this means for the community, including tensions between government-run environmental monitoring agencies and local elders on what constitutes environmental and spiritual contamination. With the Trudeau government promising to lead a reconciliation process with Canada’s indigenous peoples, this article provides a helpful case study in the intricate issues and perspectives that are likely to be part of this journey.
November 17: “How Syrians in Lebanon Are Living in Limbo“, by Mark MacKinnon (Globe and Mail)
By late 2015, the plight of migrants from Syria in particular began to galvanize some international efforts to accommodate an increased number of refugees; Germany announced plans to take in nearly 1 million Syrian refugees, and Canada announced a commitment to take in 25,000 refugees over the next few months. These initiatives in turn helped focus attention on the conditions of the 4 million Syrians who had already taken refuge in neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, some in massive refugee camps set up by the United Nations, and others in informal housing situations, either in large cities or the countryside. In this report, MacKinnon surveys the state of the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, many of whom were recently pushed to more precarious living conditions as a result of a more than 50 percent cut in UN food stipends and increased strain on the government bureaucracy. While many Western countries debated whether to take in a few extra thousand refugees at a time, MacKinnon’s portraits of Syrians struggling to survive in Lebanon demonstrate the scale of the migrant crisis for Syria’s neighbours, which can be measured in millions of people. This article also forces us to ponder the effects of a generation of Syrian children who won’t have regularly access to school without a much larger effort to manage the crisis.
November 20: “Integration: A New Strategy“, by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail)
In the days following the second major set of terrorist attacks in France in 2015, we learned that several of the perpetrators were European citizens who grew up in Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels. This revelation led to many articles concerning the failure to integrate second-generation immigrants in large European countries, precisely at a time when the continent faces an influx of migration from predominantly Muslim countries. This article was one of the best and most well-rounded analyses, in which Doug Saunders profiles two neighbouring suburbs of Brussels – Molenbeek, which has indeed struggled to integrate immigrants, and Curegham, which has enjoyed considerably more success in this endeavour. Saunders contrasts the two neighbourhoods to demonstrate how seemingly small policy changes – including removing barriers for immigrants to start small businesses and own property – can have a big impact in the success of integrating immigrants and their children. (Saunders provides a much more detailed set of case studies in his 2011 book, Arrival City.) At a time when many politicians used the equivalent of a blunt axe to argue whether or not borders should be entirely closed to certain groups of immigrants, this article was a much needed fine-toothed comb to illuminate policy proposals for integration that could actually work.
Dec. 11: “Like It Or Not, India Must Be at the Forefront of the New Green Revolution“, by Eric Reguly (Globe and Mail)
The year 2015 finished on an optimistic note, with an international accord on climate change that raised hopes for progress on one of the planet’s most vexing issues. But, while the agreement represents a significant achievement, the true hard work begins now, as countries must figure out how to transition to a low-carbon future. In this short analysis, business writer Eric Reguly notes that India will play a key part in this shift, given its massive population and high reliance on carbon-intensive industries. He compares the transition that must take place to the Green Revolution of the 1970s, in which advances in agricultural technology helped the country avoid mass starvation and feed its booming population. The low-carbon transition represents a potentially lucrative market for investors, including the global $20 billion clean energy fund recently announced by wealthy billionaires entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. However, the comparison to India’s previous Green Revolution – which has drawn criticism from environmental and community development groups for enabling big agribusinesses to develop too much control of food systems at the expense of small farmers – raises important questions over who gets to control the coming low-carbon revolution.
Please share your thoughts and top articles in the comments, and stay tuned for PineTreeRepublic‘s upcoming preview of key world trends to follow in 2016!