Entering the ooze

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    What does a new year feel like? I’m old enough to remember entering ‘the ooze’ – the first decade of this century, one which never really got its name straight. Was it the ‘aughts’? The ‘two-thousands’, ‘twenty hundreds’, ‘ohs’, ‘double ohs’, or ‘zeros’? Some people favour the ‘noughties’, although I am not one of them. 

    The ‘oh ohs’ seem more appropriate. Like many Aucklanders cityside, on the afternoon of 31 December 1999 I filled my bathtub with water. On 1 January 2000, I pulled the plug out. Thanks to much unsung labour behind the scenes, the computer-induced millennium bug, Y2K, failed to wreck global infrastructure, and we could all get on with our hangovers.

    On another New Year’s Day in the late ‘90s I was sipping a restorative Bloody Mary on Jervois Road with my (former) beloved when a gigantic Perspex ‘E’ fell off the building wall above us, missing me by the length of a martini glass. Don’t mess with E, kids. It’s got too many pointy bits. 

    In retrospect, there were things I should have been worrying about more, back then – fossil fuels, for instance. Anthropogenic climate change was barely mentioned in the mainstream media and when it was, climate change deniers were given equal space to researchers who understood its processes. Most people, including magazine and newspaper editors, thought there was a scientific controversy when there wasn’t. 

    But a number of heroes saw the world more clearly; courageous pragmatists like Susi Newborn, a co-founder of Greenpeace, who died on the last day of 2023. Susi was an effective activist who never left the frontlines of protest. During her last months on earth she cheerfully picketed corporate greed, fought for affordable housing as a human right, and a ceasefire in Palestine. In an island filled with singular, charismatic characters, Susi was a supernova, one who never stopped inspiring others. 

    We need her spirit. The commitments made this year at COP28, an event hosted by a petrostate, feel hopelessly inadequate. Farcically, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, also head of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company, was forced to deny BBC reports the UAE planned backroom oil and gas deals during the conference. 

    And yet the concluding COP28 statements reflect how much attitudes have changed since Susi began her activism. “[The final statements] tells us what we already knew,” wrote climate activist Vanessa Nakate. “The fossil fuel era is ending.” 

    In a not completely irrelevant aside, two conservative English newspapers, the daily Telegraph and the weekly Spectator are being eyed by a fund controlled by the UAE, a country that ranks 145th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index. The English press is understandably horrified, although The Guardian’s Marina Hyde couldn’t resist this pearler: “I agree with [a former Telegraph editor] that a UAE state-backed takeover of the Telegraph titles would obviously be a bad idea, not least because it would mean a tragic farewell to the Telegraph’s fearless climate change coverage (27 November – 28 November 2023. Taken too soon).”

    The coming year will be a global vote-fest: the most general elections in a single year, ever, with some 50 countries going to the polls, including India, Russia, Pakistan, South Africa, Indonesia, Taiwan, the EU, the UK, and the US. 

    The geopolitical and economic impacts of “so many ballot box battles occurring more or less at once, may combine to further destabilise an unstable world – for good or bad,” writes Simon Tisdall.

    Taiwan’s election will be one to watch. If Beijing doesn’t like the result, it might do more than rattle its sabres. 

    In India, Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh, the muzzling of critical media and the jailing of political opponents make the electoral outcomes all too predictable. As for Russia, it would take an asteroid landing on the Kremlin to disrupt the smooth re-election of President Putin, the longest-serving Russian/Soviet leader since Stalin.

    Much of our news this year, though, promises to be dominated by the fascinatingly toxic campaigns unfurling in the US, between the oldest Presidential candidate in history and the one with 91 felony counts. It will be media catnip, for good reason: the stakes could not be higher. 

    “A Trump victory – and the ensuing chaotic Jacobean-style revenge tragedy it will inevitably trigger – could permanently upend the international order, tipping the balance towards authoritarianism and dictatorship” sighs Tisdall.

    So, hold on to your hats and keys – 2024 is going to be a bumpy ride. For those with friends and family in conflict zones, news headlines will not only be read, but experienced as painful and frightening messages from loved ones. 

    Responding to appalling massacres in Israel and Gaza, the Jewish author Naomi Klein wrote in October: “In these difficult times I’d like to be part of a left [which practices]… fierce opposition to all forms of identity-based hatred, including antisemitism. An international left rooted in values that side with the child over the gun every single time, no matter whose gun and no matter whose child.”  

    My heartfelt condolences to the whānau of Susi Newborn. Rest in power, Susi. • Jenny Nicholls

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