In the past 24 hours, I’ve noticed something. 2016 seems to have got a bad press. People have turned ‘2016’ into memes. All the awful things that have happened this year. There’s one featuring Leonardo DiCaprio that I have featured here. But here’s the thing. I don’t like cynicism, or negativity. I see these jokes about how awful 2016 has been, and think “it can’t have been that bad”. So I’m going to look at all that has happened this year. The good and the bad. But I’ll avoid politics. Take Brexit for example. Some people think that Brexit makes 2016 a good year. Some think it makes it a bad year. I’m going to avoid the things that have happened that some people think are bad, and yet some people think are good. I’m going to talk about the undisputed. For all the awful things that have happened in 2016 that I will list here, there will be just as many happy and wonderful things.
In 2016 we lost some great people. I’m not going to list everyone, just those who for me, were the greatest. In January, David Bowie passed away after having suffered with cancer, and then just 4 days later, Alan Rickman. Rickman, having featured in the Harry Potter films, was a shock for me, and Bowie, by myself and around the world, was recognised as one of the greatest singers to have ever lived. Terry Wogan passed away as well. For those of you who read this outside of the UK, he was extremely popular, working on the radio and on the TV. Before his retirement in 2009, he was the most listened to radio broadcaster in Europe, with 8 million people regularly tuning in to listen to him. His charity work for ‘Children in Need’ mustn’t go unnoticed. In February, Harper Lee, famous for writing To Kill a Mockingbird, died, and then in March, Nancy Reagan passed away. The tale of her husband, Hollywood movie star turned arguably the greatest non-wartime president in US history, has to be the best political journey ever; indeed his legacy has proven powerful. After his death, the former First Lady remained active, campaigning for stem cell research, and preaching her late husband’s legacy. In June, ‘The Greatest’. Muhammad Ali. You could spend hours watching YouTube videos of him talking, and in the ring. I love some of the things he said. “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am”. “I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today.” And of course: “Float like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.” The man was a legend. Later that month, Jo Cox, the labour MP, was assassinated, doing the job that people loved her for. No matter what you thought of her political standpoint, it was an event that hit the UK hard. It was beyond belief. In November, Fidel Castro died. The longest serving communist leader, I don’t think this death is either a good or bad thing. But it was a huge moment; the man transformed Cuba, and famously got caught between John F Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Earlier this month, John Glenn died aged 95. He was the first American to orbit the earth. Yuri Gargarin may have been the first human in space, but Glenn was the first American, and they have pioneered and continue to pioneer space exploration, leaving the Soviets, and then later the Russians in their wake. And finally, Carrie Fisher, and her mother Debbie Reynolds, died a few days ago. The response to Carrie’s death around the world is testament to what an amazing women she was, as well as being a brilliant actress.
The year has also seen some sporting events that should be celebrated. The Olympics in Rio obviously being a highlight. Not just for Team GB, who won 67 medals, but also for countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Kosovo, Fiji, and Puerto Rico, who won their first ever Gold medals in Rio. In rugby, England went the year unbeaten. Played 13. Won 13. A highlight for me also was Land Rover BAR. The team spearheaded by Sir Ben Ainslie, plotting to bring the America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in sport, back to the UK, and so far, doing brilliantly. I also feel compelled to mention Leicester City, who have risen to fame around the world for their astonishing win in the Premier League.
Of course I can’t ignore the fact that in 2016, some awful things happened. In June, a lone shooter killed 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the deadliest mass shooting in US history. In Europe, the cities of Brussels and Nice suffered awful attacks inspired by Islamic State, with a combined death toll of 122 people. The racial tensions around the world continue to grow; the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States is evidence of this. The outbreak of Zika in the Americas hit the news in 2016; for a time it even jepardized the Olympics in Rio, although in November, WHO declared the continents to be Zika free. The migration crisis that is currently hitting Europe got worse in 2016. Around 90 people every week die trying to reach the shores of Europe; this is far higher than in 2015. As I have said in earlier blogs, we will resolve this crisis by removing the factors that force people to leave. People are being persecuted and systematically starved in places like Iraq and Syria. We can’t blame them for leaving. Its been a sad year for aviation too; 66 people died when EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed in May, and 71 people were killed when the aircraft carrying the Chapecoense football team crashed in Columbia in November. Earlier this month, 12 people were killed and 49 injured when a lorry drove through a christmas market in Berlin. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Indeed in June and July, Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks that combined, killed 800 innocent people over a 4 week period. In the past 48 hours, 28 people have been killed in Bagdad, and 35 have been killed in Istanbul. The suffering Islamic State is having around the world is profound; don’t be fooled into thinking that they only attack us in the west. Attacks in places like Iraq kill just as many people, on a far more regular basis, however they don’t make western news.
The year has seen moments of suffering and loss. Of acts that we can’t comprehend. But as we begin a new year, we’re now going to reflect on all of the wonderful things that also happened. In society, the good stuff is always underreported. Take the Paris climate change agreement, signed in April. 128 nations, plus all of the EU member states, signed the agreement, effectively limiting the amount of greenhouse gases we can emit. The only issue is, there are a large number of corporations around the world that don’t actually know how much greenhouse gas they emit, and so limiting to a level may prove difficult. Regardless, an agreement on climate change signed by the majority of the worlds nations is something to celebrate from 2016. The US – Iran nuclear settlement is also something to celebrate, as is the solar plane that completed its circumnavigation of the earth in July. The significance of this is clear: there’s not much that jet engine powered planes can do that solar ones can’t. It’s now a question of making them faster. Aviation also became the first global industry to limit its carbon emissions, in a move that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) made in October. Not only are we exploring better means of flight with solar power, but we’re limiting the damage we can do to the planet. In November, a peace agreement was signed between the Columbian government and the nation’s army, bringing an end to the conflict in Columbia: a hugely underreported civil war, that has been raging since 1964, and has resulted in over 200,000 deaths. In January, Bill Gates and the British Government pledged $4 billion to fight malaria. On the topic of the disease that kills over one million people every year, in September, WHO declared Sri Lanka malaria-free. This is a remarkable achievement for public health; Zika may have been one of the worse stories to hit the news in 2016, but this has to be one of the best, saving a huge number of lives. In March, President Obama became the first US president to visit Cuba since 1928, effectively ending the period of negative relations between the two nations; another historic move that we can be proud of in 2016. WHO released a report in May that shows African life expectancy is going up, rapidly. It’s at its highest point ever. Since 2000, the continent has, on average, gained 9.4 years of life expectancy. Africa has gained the most out of all the continents around the world. According to WHO, this increase is mainly down to the success in the past 2 years in fighting AIDS and HIV in the region. Good news again. 6 countries in Africa have a higher life expectancy than the global average. I’m pretty sure if I asked most people, they’d say none do. A study released in May uses statistics to show that ending extreme poverty is possible, and is happening at a faster rate than many of us think: the global poverty gap has gone down from $300 billion in the 1990s, to under $80 billion today, and the projections suggest that shrinking even more in 2017, that the amount it did in 2016. World hunger is at its lowest point in 25 years. In June, Liberia was declared free of Ebola, meaning West Africa as a region is now Ebola free. And to top all of that off, in July, India achieved a world record, by planting 49.3 million trees……IN ONE DAY! The effort was in response to India’s signing of the Paris peace deal which I mentioned earlier. Data released by the UN showed that 93% of children are now learning to read and write. In the 1970s, this was below 50%. 93% is the highest proportion in human history. Enrolment in schools in sub-Saharan Africa has risen from 62 million children in 1990, to 149 million today. And finally….in 2016, pandas were declared no longer endangered, and Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar.
As I said at the start, I don’t like cynicism. I didn’t like people saying at midnight last night “well thank goodness that’s over”. 2016 was not a bad year. Some terrible things happened. But some wonderful things also happened. As we begin 2017, lets celebrate all of the good things that 2016 brought us, and look forward to what 2017 has to offer. 2016 was a good year, and I know 2017 will be even better.