2018 A Year in Review

Written by BlackbirdGo December 28, 2018
The History

For many people, 2018 felt like an especially long year.

With a litany of events capturing the attention of the 24-hour news cycle—the seemingly endless scandals and statements originating from the Office of the United States Presidency, meaningful shifts in the composition of the United States Judiciary, abundant international human rights abuses, milestones in entertainment, and revelations about the impacts of the increasing digitization of our lives—it may have been difficult to stay up-to-date on some of the most important developments taking place in the world this year.

Here’s a round-up of some of the year’s biggest stories, presented in no particular order. Some stories are positive and uplifting. Others may be troubling. Each portends a foothold to another point in the future—and may be the signal you need to start making some choices or changes in your own life.

Canada and Mexico Pave the Way for a New Cannabis Economy

As we reported in early November, on October 17, Canada joined Uruguay as only the second nation in the world to federally legalize and regulate recreational cannabis throughout all of its regions. While consumers celebrated, public health and safety officials expressed concerned, and legal scholars wondered what the granular realities of legalization would turn out to be as this “massive experiment” moves from theory to practice. Within the first two weeks of legalization, it was reported by Statistics Canada that consumers spent over $43M on cannabis-related purchases and that marijuana seizures at the United States-Canadian border were up by nearly six percent.

Weeks later, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that the total prohibition of cannabis consumption and private production was unconstitutional. While, unlike in Canada and Uruguay, this did not mean that everyone of age could begin commercially distributing or recreationally consuming cannabis products at their leisure, it signaled a shift in the Mexican government’s relationship with cannabis and suggested that the country’s incoming Obrador administration would seek a friendlier relationship with the cannabis industry over time, seeing it as a key economic and social opportunity for a region that has long been troubled by the impacts of various illicit drug markets with international reach.

The Realities of Climate Change Grow Dire

On Black Friday, the United States Government published a stunning report via the National Climate Assessment, subtly rebuking President Donald J. Trump’s skepticism about “global warming” and warning Americans across all sectors that unchecked climate impacts could result in catastrophic loss of life (human, animal, and plant alike), greatly diminish quality of life, and damage the U.S. economy to the tune of hundreds of billions each year.

While climate scientists have, for the most part, reached consensus about the reality of climate change, many Americans and nearly half of the United States’ “ruling political class” have expressed their doubts, suggesting that the consequences of climate change would be minimal if indeed they took place at all. This report illustrates, in no uncertain terms, that the savings (in terms of human life and finances) netted from climate change mitigation would far outweigh the costs of doing nothing, which could result in generation-spanning, compounding costs and damages.

Elsewhere in the world, the impacts of the industrialized world’s activities seem even more apparent. Ice caps and blocks throughout the world continue to rapidly melt, endangering the lives of indigenous beings who find their natural habitat increasingly difficult to survive in. Increasingly extreme weather and other environmental dangers disproportionately affect the world’s poor in the form of death-toll driving tsunamis and health complications from pollutants like those seen in the Flint Water Crisis.

#MeToo Movement Continues to Make Strides, but Challenges Remain

While dialogue about sexual assault, harassment, and coercion remains in the public discourse (and while some victims are beginning to see justice after years of maligned reputations and silence), the #MeToo Movement, first coined by Tarana Burke and later boosted by actress Alyssa Milano, has seen its share of setbacks in 2018.

Perhaps the most devastating of those setbacks was the appointment and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who, despite appearing to face some scrutiny in relation to his alleged assault of Doctor Christine Blasey Ford, enjoyed a relatively soft line of questioning about his behavior and the inconsistencies in his defense. His treatment, bolstered by a fervent desire for a conservative stronghold in the United States Judiciary, made it all but certain that a desire for power, blended expertly with masculine entitlement, would result in Kavanaugh’s success, even as victims across the United States saw it affirmed once again that their voices could be effectively silenced and the principles of justice manipulated whenever those in power find it politically convenient to do so.

The Stakes of Online Life are Getting Dangerous

In a series of events that seemed to blend the plots of the James Bond series, The Manchurian Candidate, Patricia Cornwell’s Depraved Heart, and any Frederick Forsythe novel, United States investigators have determined that a network of powerful and connected individuals—including figures at Facebook, in the United States Government (including the President and several of his advisors), in foreign governments, and in financially powerful political groups throughout the world—have worked (sometimes together and sometimes independently) to use the massive data-mining operation that is social media to influence the outcome of elections, public opinion, and policy on a scale and with an efficacy never witnessed before. The implications of this are critically important, in part, because, as reported by the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union, a full 51.2 percent of the world's population are now using the internet. That’s a great deal of reach for bad actors.

While the details of this reality are still unfolding, it is known at this point that Facebook used its considerable resources to target and vilify critics; that the Russian government used “Troll Farms” and Facebook ads to deepen feelings of dissent, discourage political action, and support the election of Donald Trump in the United States; and that, at the FCC under the leadership of director Ajit Pai, spoofed identities were used to produce public comments in favor of doing away with net neutrality.

While the present realities are proving challenging to citizens and legislators around the world, the revelations of these data-related manipulations have contributed to a resurgence in conversation and activism pertaining to digital literacy, which may be the key to addressing these problems head-on.

Humanitarian Crises Around the World Deepen, and People Get Involved

At a time when humanitarian crises are deepening throughout the world, the current United States leadership has demonstrated a relative disinterest in dealing with these realities by withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council and seeking to tighten asylum restrictions.

Perhaps not coincidentally, asylum-seeker deaths are becoming more common worldwide, and the violently displaced are finding themselves turned away at each juncture, sometimes in spite of known asylum laws.

Beyond macrocosmic human rights violations and humanitarian problems, more local but critically important matters are unfolding. Throughout the United States, journalists find themselves imperiled by increasingly hostile attitudes—stoked in part by the words of the President of the United States—resulting in incidents such as the Capital Gazette Shooting and the murder and subsequent political indifference about the murder of Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Further, nationwide in America, the conversation about gun violence and what to do about it rages on, particularly in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL, after which Douglas High School survivors mobilized to lead a 700,000+ strong March for Our Lives demonstration.

Finally, in China, geneticist He Jiankui has sparked worldwide debate—and concern—about the ethics of human genetic modification following the announcement of the birth of two twin girls whose DNA he allegedly modified in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV infection. Previously understood to be an unquestionable taboo, the international scientific community has largely criticized Jiankui’s action and expressed fear for what may become of the twin girls, additional youth to be born early next year, and the world should such experimentation continue.

While these stories reflect some of the biggest and most consequential news stories unfolding in 2018, they hardly touch on all of the challenges—or rapturous joys—we experienced over the past fifty-two weeks. Rather, this selection of stories points to items still unfolding in public discourse and that are likely to have a significant impact on the next year; they are also stories we can reflect on as we determine what role we will play in the unfolding of a dynamic, challenging chapter in world history.