Sports, space and scandals: your guide to 2018

Game on: Political parties, sports teams and space companies will all be competing this year.

Will this be a good or bad year? In such turbulent times, predicting the future is even harder than usual. Start by noting down these five key events in the 2018 calendar…

1/ Feb: Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

South Korea’s games will play out amid military tension on the Korean peninsula. The cold war between North Korea and the West escalated in 2017, as Kim Jong-un fired missiles and traded insults with Donald Trump. Some believe nuclear conflict will break out in 2018. That said, this week the two Koreas took steps toward relaunching stalled diplomatic talks.

2/ Jun-Jul: FIFA World Cup in Russia

This year’s World Cup is already shrouded in controversy. Russia’s doping scandal, alleged corruption at FIFA and the bad rep of Russian hooligans have tarnished its image. Meanwhile, the FBI’s probe into the country’s interference in US politics digs ever deeper. Vladimir Putin is up for re-election in March; expect him to win comfortably.

3/ Nov: Midterm elections

Most seats in the US Congress will be up for grabs in these elections, which will be seen as the first nationwide referendum on the Trump presidency. The Republicans control both chambers. The electoral maths is not in the Democrats’ favour, but Trump’s unpopularity could help them. If they take back control, they could stall the president’s agenda, and even start to impeach him.

4/ Dec: UN Climate Change Conference

The COP 24 conference will be held in Poland. World leaders will look at how to implement the Paris Agreement, even as the USA turns away from it. Global greenhouse gas emissions are due to reach a record high in 2018, but progress on areas like electric cars and renewable energy could give the conference something to cheer about.

5/ Late 2018: A trip to the moon

Rocket company SpaceX plans to send two tourists around the moon this year, in one of many space exploration milestones scheduled for 2018. Firms will step up efforts to mine asteroids for resources and a NASA craft will analyse Mars’s properties to determine whether humans could live there. The aim, says one space entrepreneur, is to become a “multi-world species”.

Back to the future

I’m pessimistic, say some. The two greatest threats to humanity — nuclear war and climate change — both grew in 2017. Politics is more polarised than ever, the world is led by tyrants and madmen, and it is hard to know who to trust. The events of 2018 will only inflame these tensions. Even the sports, usually fun occasions, will be overshadowed by conflict.

Cheer up, reply others. Last year showed that people tend to find a way to avoid crises. The USA ditched the Paris Agreement, but other nations renewed their commitment to it. Kim got nowhere with Trump, so he opened dialogue with South Korea. Pragmatism will get us through 2018 too. And if things go really wrong, well, soon we’ll all be able to move to space!

You Decide

  1. Will 2018 be better or worse than 2017?
  2. Is it useful to make such predictions?

Activities

  1. Write a list of predictions about your personal life in 2018. Keep it safe, and check it this time next year. How many came true?
  2. Other than the five listed above, what will be the most important event in 2018? Explain your choice in a two-minute presentation to the class.

Some People Say...

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

- Yogi Berra

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Of course, we know which events are scheduled to take place in 2018. We also have access to all kinds of information to help us make predictions about those events, and the year in general. For instance, an analyst gauging the probability of nuclear war will look at everything from Trump’s past statements on nuclear weapons to the frequency of North Korean missile tests.
What do we not know?
Needless to say, we cannot be sure how the year will pan out. We cannot even say for certain that these events will happen: the World Cup could be cancelled in the event of war, say. Some philosophers go further, arguing that we can truly know nothing about the future — even “The sun will rise tomorrow,” is a prediction (albeit one that is very likely to come true).

Word Watch

Steps
In his new year’s address, Kim said that he would be willing to discuss North Korea’s participation in the Olympics with his southern counterparts. There have been no formal talks between the two nations since 2015.
Electoral maths
Of the 33 Senate seats (total 100) being contested, Democrats (and their allies) have to defend 25. Their path to a majority in the House of Representatives is clearer; all 435 seats are being contested, the Republicans hold 241.
Paris Agreement
A framework created in 2015 for nations to halt global warming. The USA has vowed to leave it; if so, it will be the only non-signatory.
Two tourists
The two anonymous passengers have paid a lot of money for the privilege. The spacecraft is due to loop around the moon in a trip lasting five days.
NASA craft
The unmanned InSight spacecraft will dig into Mars’s ground, detecting minerals, analysing temperatures and putting out feelers for earthquakes (or “marsquakes”, rather).
Renewed their commitment
China’s Xi Jinping and France’s Emmanuel Macron have been particularly vocal in their defence of the agreement.