The World Report Card for 2017 would have to be a Fail grade, with the added comments ‘dangerous declines observed’ and ‘needs to do much better’.
But ISIS was defeated in Syria, wasn't it? Yes, sort of, but now the hunt if on for sleeper cells, and the fallout from the war is far from clear. The Kurds, who helped win the war against ISIS, have still not been given their homeland, or even recognition. There is still murderous hatred between Sunni and Shiite, and the dictator Assad, with a minority government, still rules Syria. Then there are the refugees - one million in Germany alone and two million in Turkey, not to mention the millions more flooding the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean. Here's a look at what it meants to be a refugee through the eyes of children:
It's worse than ever. Humans are still trashing the only known habitable planet in the universe, The World. According to National Geographic, forests are being cleared on a ‘massive scale’. Forests cover about 30% of the planet, but forested areas half the size of England are cleared each year. At this rate, the world’s rain forests could completely disappear by the end of this century.
National Geographic warns that deforestation results in larger amounts of greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere, thus causing a rise in global warming and increased climate change.
Also,animal agriculture is now choking the earth, according to James Cameron in The Guardian, ‘Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. Such animal agriculture also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution’.
Information yearns to be free, right? Well, keep on yearning, Freedom House reported on a global decline in internet freedom in 2017. Freedom House is the watchdog that exposes global repression, and it reported this year that a rise in internet repression, including governments implementing denial of service during political protests, and cyberattacks against news outlets and journalists.
Freedom House also reported that ‘The Chinese and Russian regimes pioneered the use of surreptitious methods to distort online discussions and suppress dissent more than a decade ago, but the practice has since gone global. Such state-led interventions present a major threat to the notion of the internet as a liberating technology.’
The question of responsibility exercised by the big internet platforms also became a big issue during 2017. During the 2016-2017 US Presidential elections, the tech giants whose products are most widely used on the internet reported to a US Congressional inquiry that Russian agents intent on sowing discord amongst US voters disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook and uploaded over 1000 videos to Google’s Youtube.
Facebook also reported that a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin, the Internet Research Agency, had paid more than $100,000 for political advertisements.
Was there any good news in 2017? Really good news? Well, sort of. A positive change was that the tech giants, after being interrogated by Congress about their role in the US Presidential elections, agreed to accept more responsibility for their effects on the offline world.
These tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, are amongst the most valuable companies of any kind that own or influence the major gateways to the digital economy. Their positioning is in terms of app stores, social networks, cloud servers and also shipping and logistics infrastructure.
Up until the Congressional inquiry, the prevailing ethos of Silicon Valley had been the very hands-off approach that, well, we just make and provide the tech, but how people use it is another story. Don’t blame us.
This changed dramatically after the inquiry. According to an opinion piece in the New York Times, ‘you could argue that (the tech giants) had no choice’ other than to accept responsibility for the role their platforms played in the dramatic rise in disinformation.
But the big question now is, what form, exactly, will this new acceptance of responsibility take? And how seriously will these big tech platforms balance responsibility with profit? An interesting question for 2018.
The other big change for the better has been the naming and shaming of prominent men who used their power to sexually harass, and sometimes, sexually assault females within their orbit. This has become the “Me Too” movement and is a seismic shift concerned with one of the most basic human rights – the right for women to be given the respect that they deserve.
The power of this movement was recognized by Time Magazine, which awarded “Me Too” the 2017 Person of the Year Award. In this cover piece, Time noted that this reckoning ‘appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose. They've had it with the code of going along to get along. They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women.’
Time also noted that in the October and November of 2017 alone, ‘nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced (and) in some cases criminal charges have been brought.’
Wait and See
In the category of Showing Promise is the recognition of world youth by Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionaries announced that its 2017 word of the year is ‘youthquake’.
The choice of this word was influenced by the role of young people in the June elections in Britain. An unusually large number of young people participated in the election and voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, thereby causing Theresa May’s Conservative Party to lose its majority.
Young people are a significant and growing proportion of the world’s population. The UN reports there were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years globally in 2015, accounting for one out of every six people worldwide. By 2030, this number is projected to grow by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion.
A paper published by the UN Population Division argues that if youth are provided with sufficient education, training and jobs, their numbers could be highly beneficial for development. But if this group continues to be unemployed, they will pose a challenge to sustainable development and could also prove to be socially or politically destabilizing.
Yes, a confronting year behind us, and an challenging year ahead.
Watch this space.