In this post RSGS Chief Executive, Mike Robinson looks back at the political, economic and environmental fall out of 2016. To catch up on what RSGS achieved this year take a look at our December Eblast.
2016 – What an odd and unsatisfactory year.
This will go down as the year of the Brexit referendum. When the UK voted to walk away from the EU. Largely it seems based on disgruntlement about local control, but undoubtedly influenced by false propaganda, false promises, and fears around immigration.
It is still too early to understand the full impact, but it will cost time, energy and money to extract ourselves from a 40 year-old relationship. Our universities are especially worried as they all currently rely on increasing the number of overseas students to generate enough money to fund and develop research.
RSGS began the year warning about the impact of education cuts highlighting changes in subject choice and teacher and pupil workload, on Geography in schools specifically. We have ended it amidst a growing concern about standards and greater parliamentary and media scrutiny around education. Politically, Land reform seemed like one of the hottest topics in January but has been wholly displaced by more immediate concerns around migration, sovereignty and our place within the European Union.
Migration, whipped up by media reports surrounding the desperate virtual evacuation of large parts of Syria, was the overwhelming issue of the first half of the year, and still threatens to pull the EU apart. Our January magazine about this issue is still a valuable insight.
I think the looming cuts to public spending are going to hurt, especially here in Scotland and the on-going political and economic uncertainty is not helping. It means that the decisions we make going forwards are going to have a potential impact for a generation. If we invest wisely we can build a more robust and sustainable society for the future. I believe we need to. But get these short term cuts and investments wrong and we will not only saddle the country with enormous national debt, but increase inequality and risk ever worsening climate change and international tension.
2016 began with the need for the ratification of the Paris Climate Change Agreement by the world’s governments, a process which took until November 4th to achieve the conditions for formal adoption. Meanwhile the atmospheric carbon dioxide level exceeded 400ppm for the first year, and the temperature (briefly for now) tipped over the 1.5⁰C mark above pre-industrial levels. 2016 unsurprisingly perhaps is the latest year to become hottest on record. So progress was slow but positive in terms of the political will to finally tackle this issue globally, whilst the problem itself continued to grow slowly but inexorably worse. But then Donald Trump, a climate sceptic, was elected the next President of the United States and so much that has been gained is now at risk.
With money becoming tighter still, widespread political confusion and a President interested only in personal wealth, money risks becoming an end in itself. But money has no morality so unless we choose to fund our schools, choose to fund research, choose to build sustainable economies and invest in forward thinking infrastructure, the temptation is to default to business as usual. And if one thing is certain it is that we cannot afford business as usual.
If I have learned one thing from 2016 it is to take less for granted. This is a time to reflect on what really matters. If you care and believe in something, now is the time to speak up for it, and loudly, because much that we now take for granted is only a decision away from being consigned to history. This coming year will be a time to consider our priorities and stand up for them. Standing still isn’t an option.