The past year has given more reason than usual to reflect. I would say that 2020 brought harder times than ever before, but that is not necessarily the case. As a species, we have faced widespread disease and challenging times. Indeed, this is the first in our lifetime, but with our current lifestyle statistically not to the last.
I don’t want to write a depressing or fear-provoking piece that no one has an interest in reading, but I also feel compelled to shift the narrative from “2020 is over, now we can go back to life as normal”. The reality is we shouldn’t and cannot. We all need to make sacrifices and lifestyle changes from this step forward. A pandemic is only the start of the challenges we face if we don’t adapt as a species. We are all capable of critical thinking, and it is clear that if we continue to consume in the way we do currently on a global scale, this path will lead towards other worldwide crises.
Now that we all have 20/20 hindsight, let us reflect upon the ten most essential advancements in a year that desperately needed them.
They are saving lives with new vaccines.
In January 2020, COVID-19 had killed a handful of individuals in Wuhan. Scientists sequenced its genetic code and provided it to peers around the world. Scientists across the globe spared no time developing vaccines, spending billions of dollars and racing toward human trials in just months. Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines arrived with speed and success rate (both around 95 percent effective). Distribution of the vaccine remains a challenge for 2021. But given that experts once warned we might not even see a vaccine next year, and here we are with healthcare workers are getting their shots in December is a reason for celebration.
Women got the job done.
2020, the year that the United States elected its first black female vice president, was also an inspiring moment for women worldwide. The prime minister of New Zealand, led a bold effort to eradicate the virus and propelling New Zealand to become the world’s most COVID-resilient country. It should also be noted that she won reelection by a landslide. Taiwan also currently has a female president. Both Germany and Finland’s female heads of state received praise for their swift responses to COVID-19. It’s not as if we conquered misogyny in 2020, but the year was certainly a lesson in why we can now dismiss the assumption that men are inherently better leaders.
This year, something worth mentioning is of the countries most resilient to COVID, 8 of 10 were democracies. It boils down to trust in leadership being what matters most when it comes to battling a pandemic, and it goes to show that the most trusted governments are those based on democracy.
Strides towards racial equality.
While policy change in relation to policing can be painfully slow, we can find comfort in the sheer size of this mass movement which is estimated to be the largest in U.S. history. We have a long way to go in order to uproot systematic racism on all levels of our governement, but both Republican and Democratic run states alike decriminalized cannabis at an unprecedented rate this year. Blacks comprise 62.7% and whites 36.7% of all drug offenders admitted to state prison, even though federal surveys show clearly that this racial disparity bears scant relation to racial differences in drug offending. There are, for example, five times more white drug users than black. This widespread legalization and decriminalization of cannabis is bound to have a ripple effect into reducing the amount of inprisioned persons of color.
Carbon emissions fell more than ever.
While a pandemic is hardly the best way to cut humanity’s output of greenhouse gases, emissions did fall by a record seven percent in 2020. One would assume they are likely to rebound in 2021, but there are glimmers of hope that countries worldwide are putting these emission reductions to good use. China, Japan, and South Korea all committed to becoming net-zero emissions by mid-century. Joe Biden was elected promising a 2 trillion dollar climate plan. The EU is pledging a reduction of nearly 55% of emissions by 2030, and numerous corporations are following suit.
Electric cars are becoming a hot commodity.
Globally, 10 percent of all vehicles sold in 2020 were EVs, which counts for a 28 percent increase compared to 2019. Sales are predicted to increase by 50 percent in 2021. The EU is driving much of that growth, but California just mandated an end to internal combustion engine sales by 2035.
More cities are prohibiting cars.
As traffic dropped everywhere, so did pollution. It seems as though people in major cities around the world realized it is nice breathing fresh air, and walking increased as a result. The mayor of Paris (who happens to be another smart female leader) was re-elected after her ambitious promise to eliminate half of all on-street parking spots and prioritize cyclists. She also plans to begin repurposing major avenues into pedestrian zones. Barcelona just announced similar plans as well recently.
The Earth is greener.
Seeing the world getting greener in satellite photos was easily a highlight of this year. Finally, we are starting to help on an unprecedented scale. This one blew my mind, guys… two million people in India planted 250 million trees in one weekend this year. This is all part of a global effort to restore our planet’s wildlife which has dropped by 52% between 1970 and 2010. Many countries from Costa Rica to the UK have been committed to this for years and pay landowners to let their fields grow wild.
The oceans are cleaner.
In December, 14 nations that own 40 percent of the world’s coastline banded together to create the world’s most significant ocean sustainability initiative. This will protect a massive area in the middle of the ocean to restore fish populations and reefs while eliminating plastic.
We even saved animals.
Finally, announced in 2020 China’s Wildlife Protection Law will apply to the seas as well and reduce its fishing fleet’s massive footprint. Interpol launched a widespread international crackdown on multiple forms of protected species smuggling. Lastly, less traffic meant fewer animals killed by cars. Fatal collisions with wild animals in the US alone were down 58 percent this year.
Plant-based meat alternatives had a great year.
Humans are finally realizing we can survive and do so while eating less meat. Global meat consumption was down by three percent overall. It wasn’t just from the pandemic; we saw a similar decline in 2019. Two consecutive years of a reduction in meat consumption has never happened before. This is reassuring news for our wanna-be vegan family who strives to sacrifice meat often (not because we don’t love it), but because it is a small and effective way for us to make an impact.
This exercise of selecting problems I find extremely alarming and finding ways that in 2020 we managed to improve those problems – gave me more hope than I have had all year. This served as a reminder that even in the darkest times, there can be light. We can grow and move forward. The work doesn’t stop here, and in 2021 I encourage you to focus less on traditional goal setting, and decide one way you and your family can change something within your own home that will impact our entire world and all future generations.
It doesn’t have to be rocket science or earth-shattering (pun intended) if you open your mind to change. At our very nature, we are adaptive creatures. It is within us to change, but we need the knowledge to know better and the motivation to care. Let 2020 be both of those. Let your frustration with missing out on life bring to light how precious life truly is. On that note, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year, and if you are looking for a fun way to celebrate the New Year at home go checkout my blog post for a fun family-friendly fondue recipe we whip up on New Years annually.