2011 in Review

Everybody else is doing it, so why not me?

First the big stuff. A year ago, professional intelligence analysts thought that Belgium was more likely to experience political turmoil than Egypt. Then the Arab Spring happened, and ordinary people rose up and overthrew governments across the region. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, dictators fell like dominoes. In Bahrain, protesters were crushed with overwhelming force, and in Syria the battle rages on. Just compare Foreign Policy's top 100 global thinkers in 2011 and 2009, and you can see the kind of change that nobody foresaw. The Arab Spring was echoed by protests worldwide, most notably the Occupy movement in the United States, anti-austerity riots in Greece, and the first mass protests in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. This is the kind of people power that hasn't been seen since 1968, and possible even since 1848, years which shook the old order.

If networks and bottom-up ideas had a banner year in 2011, centralized institutions managed not to fall apart completely. Congress's brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling dropped America's credit rating from AAA to AA, not that financial markets have appeared to notice. The European Union could't come to a decision on the Greek debt crisis, casting the very future of the EU into doubt. And in Durban, the IPCC agreed to come to an agreement about global carbon emissions in 2015, with binding limits coming into effect in 2020. It's been a lousy year for experts and elites, and if you know of any centralized decision-making bodies that haven't made complete fools of themselves recently, I'd love to hear about them.

The only group that came out worse than experts were authoritarian leaders. Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt were forced out of office by popular revolutions. Qaddafi was shot by rebel forces. Kim Jong Il died. And after 3 terms, Silvo Berluscion was forced to resign under a cloud of corruption and scandal. If I were a colorful authoritarian leader, I'd be watching my back.

As for what happens next in the world, who knows? The Arab Spring could quite possibly lead to another round of dictators or theocrats. Some vital cog in the global economic system could come undone, with catastrophic results. But personally, I'm hopeful. The refrain of the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe, whether economic wizards or brutal dictators, has always been "There is no alternative." If there's one lesson that we've learned from 2011, it's that there are lots of alternatives. 2011 was a year to dream and deconstruct. 2012 will be a year to learn and grow.

And since this is also my personal blog, I'd like to take a moment to review the year personally, since so much happened that I almost didn't have time to realize how much it totally rocked! I'm starting to come into my own in grad school. I took some amazing classes (Crow and Sarewitz science policy, 2 history of medicine classes with Ben Hurlbut), ~30 lectures at ASU, and learned a lot over the summer as at the Breakthrough Institute. We're still totally screwed on energy, but I'm glad I put my time in the trenches. On the input side, I read 112 books, about 300 academic articles, and thousands of news pieces of various levels of seriousness. On the output side, I wrote 100 pages of academic papers, some of which might eventually see the light of day (hah), ~40 blog posts for We Alone on Earth, and 3 for Science Progress. The Prevail Project launched, and it might come to something. I actually finished a D&D campaign, Emerald Island with the epically quotable #ASUDND, and started another iteration of my perennial campaign, Under No Banners. And finally, (and I can't put enough emphasis on this one), I met a truly wonderful girl, who's smart, sexy, sharp as a tack, has great taste in music, and could totally smoke me on her bike. I love you, Marci!

Okay, sappiness over. Here's to an even awesomer next year!

1 comment:

  1. FYI, Durban was the UNFCCC, not IPCC.

    XOXOXO :)