- 13 Jan 21
"Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal."
The year began in flames. Vast fires in Australia. Destruction on a scale we can’t even begin to imagine here in Ireland. Hell on earth. Imagine it: fires so hot they create their own climate, changing the very rules of conflagration. The smoke and ash obscured the sun and fell like black snow. It was seen from space. It felt like the beginning of the end of times.
I know. We hardly needed another reminder that the world is overheating and that the climate crisis is an existential threat to life on earth. But still, there it was, as stark as could be. A billion birds and animals were incinerated. The destruction was immeasurable.
People spoke of an apocalypse and that’s exactly what it was. It only lacked four horsemen and then, right on cue, there they were too. The assassination of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani could have sparked an inferno as monstrous and destructive as the Ozzie firestorms. Thankfully, the Iranians resisted the provocation.
Back home we voted in what became known as The Change Election. Nobody won, not even close; but Sinn Féin took the honours, and deservedly so. They played a different game and it changed everything.
But the central story of 2020 was already beginning to unfold elsewhere. Gradually, the appalling truth dawned. We were not going to escape. Across the world, this would be the the year of Covid – and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do to change that. A virus is a tiny thing – but this one packed some wallop. From the same family as SARS and MERS, and also OC43, the coronavirus that caused the global pandemic of 1891, once it cut loose there was no way back. The only question was: how bad was it going to be?
Virtually everything changed, and utterly at that. All areas of human endeavour and behaviour were retooled to limit the spread and toll. We bunkered down and placed our trust in science; or at least some of us did. There was the basic science of how to wear a mask, wash our hands, meet and work. But beyond that, we had to become familiar quickly with the inter-related sciences of immunology, virology, biochemistry and, of course, developing treatments and especially making vaccines.
It’s not been pretty.
The initial unity of purpose is a rare and precious thing. But it wasn’t built to last. It became overused, and in many ways abused. It lost its sheen. We’re all grumpy now, not helped by being talked down to by uber-cautious, inward-looking medics.
What did it all mean? What did it – or might it yet – change? Everyone has a view. Many have an axe – or two – to grind. The virus is a blank page on which people scrawl their dreams and despairs, their fears and furies.
Contradictions have been rife. We have lived in hope while battling with despair. We have seen manifestations of both the best and the worst in people. Thankfully, as US CMO Anthony Fauci says, the cavalry is coming in the form of a vaccine. In Ireland, holding your breath is not recommended. Our health bosses don’t rush things here, do they? Unless it’s bouncing us into lockdown at Level 5, that is.
Trust me, tears will be wept and teeth ground down before our vaxxing’s done.
Don’t start us on “done”. After all, that was what was supposed to happen with Brexit.
This time last year we might have thought we’d be finished with Brexit by now. But four years after their vote, the British are still messing around. Devious, laughably incompetent, stupidly self-important, and utterly hypocritical, under Boris Johnson’s shambling, lying leadership the Brits probably shouldn’t be trusted to sit the right way round on a toilet seat, to quote Rowan Atkinson.
It may yet end with the shit hitting the wrong surface. But the landing area for sympathy is tiny. If it weren’t for the complications of that border with Northern Ireland, you’d have applauded an EU decision to say ‘Good look, chum – see you later’.
And then there’s the United States of America. Or after four years of Donald Trump maybe that should be the Disunited States?
During his term, race relations have disintegrated. The far right has become a significant presence in the US and elsewhere – indeed white supremacists are regarded by US security forces as the number one terrorist threat. That’s before we mention the militias patrolling with enough armaments to overpower a mid-sized country.
For all his populist promises to the Rust Belt Trump leaves office with the rich richer and the poor very much poorer; the opiate problem no closer to being resolved; tech firms no closer to being controlled; the wildernesses hocked and hawked to fossil fuel companies and mining interests; and, perhaps most unforgivably, the worst pandemic illness and death rates in the world, in what is the richest nation of all.
The extent of the damage wrought by Donald Trump is like the forest fires in Australia. There is no way of measuring it accurately. But it is potentially catastrophic.
We all know that Trump fostered a greatly increased level of stupidity and irrationality; of belief in conspiracy theories and in fake news. The swine is so crooked he has to screw himself out of bed in the morning. He knows that the best thing a cheat can do is accuse everyone else of cheating. The scariest thing is that in the USA, over 74 million people voted for the creepiest creep ever to crawl of of Creepytown.
And yet, despite his deeply malign and poisonous influence, the struggle for equality goes on. The battle against hunger. The fight against racism. The campaign to resist the toxic impact of social media.
It’s no accident that global climate change is affecting the poor of the world much more than the rich. Nor is it any surprise to find that SARS-Cov-2 has proven vastly more deadly among blacks and minorities in the United States, the richest country on earth by a very great distance.
But unexpected, positive things happen too. Look at the success of Normal People and what it has potentially done for Irish film and TV production.
No tears will be shed as 2020 ends. It’s been the worst of years. Some things will get better soon. Vaccines will stall and then kill off the pandemic. And we’ll get back in the air. But there’ll be little plain sailing next year. Too soon for that. Apart from the bleeding obvious, like restarting our stalled economy and getting things moving again, there will be Brexit; and there will be the increasing urgency of dealing with climate change.
How fast can we go? Not very, if we rely on our NPHET. As a breed, they are uber-cautious and fussy, at this stage far too wedded to power plays, high drama and intrigue. The danger is that a dragged out vaccination process will be played like a soap opera; the bright lights won’t be surrendered without a fight.
In politics, February’s election left us with a new landscape, though the shape of it is not fully evolved yet. The big winners were Sinn Féin, who have brought a more abrasive note to politics. Their use – and sometimes abuse – of social media has changed the nature of the game.
For a start, the Shinnerbot twitterati delight in taunting and attacking those who are more moderate and consensus-driven. But they have put their feet – individually and collectively – in it too, to the extent that people are now wondering about the nastiness that has been deleted by SF Central Command. Curiously too, the Government, persuaded as much by Covid as conviction, has adopted rather Shinnerish Big State policies. Perhaps the lure of “change” will fade. We’ll have some fun watching, that’s for sure.
Meanwhile, it will take work and plenty of good will to maintain the unity of purpose that has characterised our Decade of Centenaries to date. It’s likely to fray as we start to deal with the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. But, in this regard, we really do need the centre to hold. It is important. But it is history. We should look back carefully and clinically and see what we can learn and understand, especially in relation to what we weren’t taught in school.
Even as we recall the savagery of those conflicts, we’ll be waving goodbye afresh to the UK. But this time it is they who are leaving us, and Europe, and irrevocably diminishing our ties to the Anglosphere, politically and culturally. How’s your French? Your German? Your Spanish?
Daunting times ahead, perhaps. Exciting, certainly.
A new dawn awaits…