What could 2024 possibly have in store for us?
The last year has been devastating in many ways. We could use a break, but we may not get one.
“Don’t think about 2023 in summary.” That’s what I’ve been telling myself for a month now. But the effort is something like the old “Don’t think of an elephant” bit. As soon as you try to stop yourself from thinking about the animal, it’s the first thing that pops into your head. That’s how brains work. Blame evolution. As soon as I tell myself not to review the last year, off I go, sifting through the wreckage of a dreadful twelve months in the news.
I’m not going to update “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on the fly here. Well, maybe just a verse or two. The last year saw the affordability and housing crises drag on along with the pandemic and new Covid variants. It saw extreme weather events, including the worst wildfire season in Canada’s history and the hottest year on record for the planet. It saw modest but insufficient gains in the struggle against climate change as we march towards, and surely past, the 1.5 degree of warming threshold we’d hoped to avoid surpassing. It saw the war in Ukraine drag on and the eruption of a catastrophic war in Gaza that has become a humanitarian nightmare. It saw the further development of a great powers showdown that will reshape the global geopolitical order.
For the purpose of a summary of news events, a year is an arbitrary unit of distinction. There’s nothing in particular or inherent about the last twelve months in a row that stands out as a period of interest aside from the fact that we humans like to categorize things. But insofar as we do categorize things, we give a certain significance to the period of a year. We plan around twelve months, assessing them in hindsight, looking forward to the next batch, and organizing bits of our lives, legislatures, and industries around them alongside subdivisions of time including weeks, months, quarters, decades, and centuries.
Accepting that years as periods of review shape our understanding of place and time, we can look ahead to what we might expect in the coming year — and assess whether we think it will be, on balance, good, bad, or something in between. Thinking about 2024, it’s hard to imagine it will be a good year. It’s easy to imagine it will be a dreadful year. Perhaps we’ll be surprised, and it’ll be a run-of-the-mill bad year. A guy can dream.
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As we stare down a possible recession, the affordability crisis that is crushing millions of us will continue into 2024. Should the economy slow, we’ll be facing layoffs and shuttered businesses while consumer debt in the country remains high and a looming mortgage crisis threatens to see people lose their homes and more. Prime Minister Trudeau expects interest rates to start coming down by mid-year, but who knows what will happen. And even by then, lots of damage will be done as people struggle to pay their bills and as two-thirds of mortgage renewals come up for negotiation.
The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East will almost surely continue into the new year and may persist well into 2024. Even if they don’t, the post-war environment in both cases will be brutal. It will almost certainly also be a part of a changing world order in which the rosy liberal outlook, which has so long masked the brutality of the underlying regime and realpolitik of the thing, will continue to belie an unsteady state of affairs. Meanwhile the struggle and realignment between the United States and China portends something akin to a new cold war, even if what’s emerging isn’t a precise analogue to the obsession that shaped so much of the last century.
It might not help that Donald Trump stands a decent chance of returning to the White House in the 2024 U.S. presidential election. In late November, Robert Kagan warned of an “increasingly inevitable” Trump dictatorship. The former Republican president recently replied, saying he’d only be a dictator for a day. That is, obviously, not reassuring. A Trump presidency will further erode the American republic and disrupt global affairs and domestic affairs in Canada.
The UN climate change meeting, COP28, in Dubai has had some modestly encouraging outcomes, including US and Canadian plans to limit oil and gas industry methane emissions and a Canadian framework to reduce overall emissions in that sector. But the latter represents a softening of the original Canadian targets, and all three are subject to being mugged by reality — which is to say, the details, industry and sub-national government resistance, and implementation, will matter a great deal. All of that is TBD. Meanwhile, the planet is warming fast, extreme weather events are worsening, and we’re running out of time, even though the pace of the energy transition to renewables is picking up and is moderately encouraging.
The issues I’ve touched on are a few of a many that will shape next year and years to come. The idea of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ year is necessarily a generalization. But the takeaway is sound. We are facing several major crises, some of which will overlap, intersect, and reinforce one another. Our leadership across governments and borders isn’t doing enough to addressing them, and as such millions upon millions are suffering, not the least of whom are the vulnerable and marginalized who, as ever, bear a disproportionate amount of the burden, such that those who are least able to manage are asked to shoulder the most.
Shifting the arc of next year, and the years to come, requires multiple structural changes that would see a shift in power and resources from the few in the upper class to the many in the working class. It would see a shift in the legal regimes that benefit the wealthy at great cost to the poor. It would see shift in the global order, a commitment to deep multilateralism, global multi-polarity, and a surge in humanitarianism accompanied by strict punishment for rule breakers. It would see a transformation in cycles of production, consumption, and trade backed by an expectation that the biggest beneficiaries of the system that has produced climate change do the most to shift to a new and sustainable series of practices.
These developments would make for a remarkable, and better, 2024 – and many more years to come. But the struggle for these changes is beyond difficult and certainly not guaranteed. As things stand, we’ll be lucky to simply make it out of 2023.
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