Found! Light at the end of the tunnel

Cause for optimism: Joe Biden has pledged to fight climate change and the Covid-19 crisis.

Could next week be a positive turning point for the world? As the vaccine rollout expands and Donald Trump leaves the White House, many believe it marks the start of a brighter chapter.

First the wildfires burned out of control, scorching the Australian landscape and forcing thousands of terrified animals to flee from their forest homes.

Then a pandemic took over the world, emptying bustling streets and filling hospitals with the sick and dying.

The summer brought plagues of locusts to East Africa and a deadly explosion in Beirut.

And in America, a year of turmoil and racial reckoning culminated in a riot at the Capitol which left politicians cowering in fear and five people dead.

One thing is clear: the last year has been one of the bleakest in living memory.

But now a glimmer of hope may be on the horizon. Here are three key reasons why experts believe good news could finally be just around the corner:

1. Covid-19. Herd immunity may already be slowing the course of the pandemic in Britain, according to scientists.

A new study has revealed that contracting coronavirus provides 85% protection against reinfection – nearly as good as the Pfizer vaccine, and even better than the Oxford jab.

Officially, 3.2 million people in the UK have tested positive so far – but one report this week estimates that one in five people in England have already been infected, equivalent to an astonishing 12.4 million people.

Combine this figure with the 2.6 million who have already received the vaccine, and the UK could be on track to return to pre-pandemic life as soon as Easter.

Indeed, as ministers prepare to double the vaccination rate to half a million people every day next week, confidence among the country’s most at-risk groups is soaring. “I think the summer holidays are on,” exclaimed one travel agent on Wednesday.

2. Climate change. Good news is rare at climate conferences. But now China, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has shocked the world by pledging to become carbon neutral by 2060.

For researchers, President Xi Jinping’s ambitious promise is a “game-changer”: it could encourage other countries to act faster to save the planet.

Meanwhile, in the US, greenhouse gas emissions declined by over 10% in 2020, the largest fall since World War Two.

The clock has turned back even further in Britain. Satellite images show that woodland now covers as much of the country as it did in the Middle Ages.

3. World peace. Last year Joe Biden made a declaration to the world. “Day one, if I win, I’m going to be on the phone with our NATO allies saying we’re back. We’re back and you can count on us again.”

Next week, America’s allies will finally hear their telephones ring. On January 20th, the 78-year-old will replace Donald Trump as leader of the world’s most powerful country.

Biden has also vowed to overturn Trump’s Muslim ban, rejoin the World Health Organisation and set up a Covid-19 task force.

But the implications of Biden’s win go beyond policy. As America reckons with its death toll, it will now be led by a man with human empathy who truly understands profound loss.

So, could next week be a positive turning point for the world?

Good days ahead?

Yes, say some. The nightmare is nearly over. For the first time, the vaccine presents a realistic route out of the coronavirus pandemic. With Donald Trump out of the White House, next week marks the start of a new era of civility and cooperation amongst global leaders. And as China commits to carbon neutrality, there is fresh hope the world can come together to finally end the climate crisis.

No, say others. We need to be cautious. It would be foolish to pin all of our hopes on the vaccine – for now, scientists simply do not know if the jabs will do enough to prevent the spread of the disease. And Donald Trump may have finally agreed to a peaceful transition, but he will leave behind a bitterly divided country. A turning point may be coming one day, but it will not be next week.

You Decide

  1. Will 2021 be a better year than 2020?
  2. Is “going back to normal” after the pandemic really a good idea?

Activities

  1. Write a list of the first five things you would do if you became the President of the United States. Then compare your list with your classmates.
  2. Research your country’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets. Do you think your government is doing enough to become carbon neutral? Write a letter to a newspaper explaining your thoughts.

Some People Say...

“To live without hope is to cease to live.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), Russian novelist and philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that watching or reading about negative news stories can itself have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. A 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association found that more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress. Even so, one in 10 adults check the news every hour. The bad news of 2020 inspired one US elementary school teacher and artist to set up a hotline allowing people to call and scream out loud for as long as they want.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether going “back to normal” in 2021 is really a good idea. Some point out that the lockdowns have had a number of positive side effects: more flexible work environments, more time for self reflection and crucially, a huge reduction in pollution and carbon emissions as people stay at home. But others say the cost of the lockdowns – economic devastation and social isolation – mean that we should aim to return to normality as soon as possible.

Word Watch

Racial reckoning
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman in Minnesota last May sparked months of protests in more than 60 countries.
Herd immunity
The term refers to having enough people in a given community who have been vaccinated or recovered from a viral infection and, therefore, cannot pass it on. This prevents a population from future outbreaks. Immunologist Anthony Fauci says between 70% and 90% of people must be vaccinated against Covid-19 to achieve herd immunity.
Carbon neutral
When a country or company’s carbon emissions are balanced out by the amount of carbon dioxide it removes from the atmosphere. Examples of carbon offsetting include planting trees or storing carbon underground.
NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance between European and North American countries. Trump has criticised America’s Nato allies for not spending enough money on defence.
Muslim ban
Trump signed an executive order banning refugees and people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US in 2017. The ban was upheld by the US Supreme Court, despite legal challenges.
Profound loss
Biden’s first wife Neilia and baby daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash in 1972, just months after he was elected as a Senator. His oldest son Beau died of cancer five years ago.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.