Why you should care
Because the glass might be half full.
It’s hardly a surprise that people have taken to social media to raise a collective middle finger to the annus horribilis of 2016.
Americans who expected Hillary Clinton to float above the glass ceiling this year are licking their wounds, and half of Britain remains gobsmacked by Brexit. Add to that terror and tragedy — in Aleppo, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Berlin and countless other places. Another blow? The multitude of cultural heroes who took their final bows: Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Prince, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder … the list goes on. There was Zika, and there was lead in pipes.
— Lindsey Klahold (@LohanHose87) December 22, 2016
I join you wholeheartedly in chilling the bubbly to slide away from the Year of the Monkey and into 2017 in style and celebration — or just plain sloshed. And yet: The past 12 months have not been without silver linings.
For starters, look north. Canada got a hot young prime minister hellbent on lifting the liberal mantle for North America, and Monsieur Trudeau’s countrymen have proven model citizens in their approach to accepting Syrian refugees. “Public demand for refugees to come here is outpacing the government’s,” says Jeremy Lüdi, senior editor and analyst for Global Risk Insights, referring to complaints by Canadians who feel like they’ve waited too long for Syrians they already agreed to sponsor. Likewise, Germany willingly accepted more than a million refugees, and Austrian voters said nein to far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer.
Just the fact that the Iran agreement has survived this long is a positive thing, given how controversial it was.
Then look south, and to normalized relations with Cuba for the first time in decades. We’re seeing the dawn of a new era — both for Cubans gaining access to the U.S. market, says Lüdi, and the American Cuban community, who can now more easily enjoy visits with extended family.
ISIS is on its back heels, territorially speaking. Thanks to the allied push against the so-called caliphate, ISIS holds just slightly more than half the territory it initially seized in Iraq, where soldiers are dismantling the jihadists’ stronghold in Mosul, and Syrian Democratic Forces have begun to retake Raqqa. “Loss of territory has translated into a loss of prestige and loss of charisma for the group,” says former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, noting that recruitment is a mere fraction of what it once was. ISIS-held towns in Libya also have been retaken, meaning they’ve lost their main place for regrouping outside Iraq and Syria.
Then there’s the much-touted, and maligned, Iran nuclear deal. While it may be just a “tiny opening wedge” toward change, says McLaughlin, the outlook now is better than in the past. “Just the fact that the Iran agreement has survived this long is a positive thing, given how controversial it was,” he says — though President-elect Trump and Israel certainly take dimmer views.
Colombia, unlike Britain, didn’t let a public referendum and initial political defeat for the government stop them. Voters shot down a peace deal with the FARC just days before Juan Manuel Santos nabbed the Nobel Peace Prize for it. So politicos made a few changes to get a positive parliamentary vote for the deal. This “persistence stands out,” says McLaughlin. He adds that while the peace deal may not cure the underlying political tensions that led to violence, it’s certainly “better than war.”
Another one for the plus column? The fact that countries like Jordan and Lebanon have borne the brunt of massive influxes of refugees and hung on without descending into chaos. Morocco and Tunisia have also done well — the first a monarchy that’s listening to the needs of its people, the latter the most successful example of transformation after the Arab Spring. Sure, there are tensions, says McLaughlin, “but their democratic system hasn’t been subverted.”
While international financial markets hemmed and hawed over Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, the Islamic finance Sukuk Market boomed, helping diversify investment for West African Islamic countries. This, says Lüdi, helps these countries wean themselves of dependence on institutions like the IMF and World Bank.
Right here at home, the U.S. has managed to confine the threat of terror to lone-wolf actors. For as horrific as the attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino the year before were, “we’ve continued to skate through without something on the scale of 9/11,” McLaughlin says.
For Mother Nature
Despite the drop in oil prices this year, which one could assume would make oil consumption more appealing, it’s been a great year for cheap, renewable energy. “Green energy investment is still higher than oil investment and it’s accelerating at a higher pace,” says Lüdi, noting that “the generating power equivalent to all of Africa came online just with green energy.” This trend is likely to continue as the technology becomes even cheaper, making it easier for businesses to implement more environmentally friendly technologies. Urban mining is also taking off, he says, with more firms diving into the game of mining landfills for recoverable resources — “a good counter to our throwaway culture,” Lüdi says.
For Redemption and Fun
For all the grief foisted upon Brazil this year — from poor Olympic preps to Zika, and with the 2014 World Cup loss to Germany still fresh on their minds — the country joyfully redeemed its honor, clinching men’s gold in the 2016 Olympics soccer final with Deutschland. And if nothing else made you smile this year, Lüdi suggests you look back on the year of Joe Biden memes. His favorites? All the ones relating to nuclear launch codes. Oh, wait, maybe that isn’t so funny after all. But hey, at least we’re not at war with China, North Korea or Russia … yet.
For all these reasons and many more — please add yours in the comments below — 2016 didn’t totally suck.