New Internationalist’s top reads in 2019
It has not been a great year for global politics. Climate change continued to cause disaster across the world throughout 2019 – wildfires have battered the earth while glaciers and permafrost melt, pushing more and more species to the brink of extinction.
At the same time, far-right populist strongmen have continued their rise to power just as incessantly. 2019 was Bolsonaro’s first year in power in Brazil (can you believe there could be *three* more?) – and the Amazon burned at unprecedented speed; Indian voters rewarded Modi with a new term in office – and he rewarded them by stripping millions of their citizenship; Salvini’s policies caused unnecessary suffering to tens of thousands of refugees in Italy; and the UK voted in as Prime Minister a gleefully immoral narcissist who glories in his inability to tell the truth.
But there’s cause for some optimism, with mass movements erupting in Chile and much of South America, Hong Kong and Algeria – and with minor anti-Putin rallies now held even in Russia. Young people have also begun reclaiming their future, with the School Strikes for the climate booming across the world.
At New Internationalist, we’ve sought to bring fresh arguments, marginalized voices and new perspectives to the debate. Here’s our countdown of what readers found most interesting on our pages:
10. I WAS WRONG ABOUT EXTINCTION REBELLION. THIS IS WHY
When New Internationalist first contacted activist Isaac Rose, chair of the Manchester branch of Momentum, to ask his opinion of the Extinction Rebellion, he was sceptical. ‘Extinction Rebellion have correctly recognized [how urgent climate action is], but their strategy will not work,’ he said at the time, arguing that the climate movement had to stop blocking bridges and should instead form an alliance with the labour. In this piece, Rose explains what made him change his mind about XR.
‘Extinction Rebellion’s masterstroke has been the way it used language. By focussing on terms such as “extinction”, “climate emergency” and “earth systems breakdown” and the demand of “telling the truth”, they have zoned in upon and overturned one of the key blockages to dealing with the crisis: consciousness of its urgency.’
9. JOURNALISTS MUST PAY ATTENTION TO JULIAN ASSANGE
Julian Assange faces up to 175 years of jail time if he is extradited to the US, with most of his charges criminalizing common practices in journalism and setting a dangerous precedent to target news organizations that hold governments to account. Even those who have spent years criticising Assange have recognized the danger his trial represents for democracies.
‘The indictments for which Assange is now imprisoned have nothing to do with Sweden, Russia, Trump or his cat. They are a straightforward attempt to prosecute a publisher for committing acts of journalism.’
8. DON’T CALL THE ESSEX 39 A ‘TRAGEDY’
On 23 October 2019, 39 people were found dead in the back refrigerated lorry in Essex, South East England, with media outlets reporting that the victims may have frozen to death in temperatures as low as -25C. Many have called the events a ‘tragedy’. But writer and researcher Jun Pang argues that this is just a way to dodge Britain’s responsibility for the deaths.
‘The conditions that produced these 39 deaths emerge from the same set of policies that deny asylum, justify indefinite immigration detention, charter deportation flights, and restrict migrants’ access to fundamental rights – that is, the so-called “Hostile Environment”.’
7. WHY IS GREECE STILL ‘CONTAINING’ REFUGEES IN CAMPS?
The refugee crisis may seem like a distant memory – but it is not. At least 12,500 refugees are still trapped indefinitely in Greek islands, living in ragged, overflowing tents and prevented from rebuilding their lives. In this article, Isabelle Merminod and Tim Baster look for a reason for the way things are.
‘The number of those arriving has seen a decline in recent years, but the policy of containing people on the islands – rather than allowing them to settle on the mainland – continues, multiplying the difficulties for those seeking protection in Europe.’
6. WILL THE RICH ESCAPE CLIMATE APOCALYPSE?
2019 was yet another year in which the climate emergency showed its strength. Wildfires ravaged California and Australia, while typhoons battered east Asia, Cyclone Idai submerged much of Mozambique under rising floods and Western Europe shattered its record-high temperatures ever recorded. Meanwhile, some billionaires have been observed building bunkers to escape a possible apocalypse.
‘The actions of rich preppers are a reminder that climate change is class war.’
5. ‘LITTLE AFRICA’ IN CHINA
Carlotta Dotto reports on Guangzhou, the Chinese city with the largest immigrant population. As many as 15,000 Africans have settled there, lured by business opportunities, reputable universities and low living costs.
‘While Europe is rejecting migrants, China is doing a lot for helping us.’
4. THE ASSAULT ON ROJAVA
On 6 October 2019, the Trump administration ordered American troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria, also known as Rojava, where the US had been supporting its Kurdish allies. Turkey attacked the Kurds immediately. What is at stake in north-east Syria is more than the fate of the Kurdish people or even the fight against Isis: it’s a unique alternative to our current civilisation in crisis. A model that by its existence could help us imagine alternatives before it’s too late.
‘This is a blueprint for the kind of society that many of us have been campaigning for all our lives – and yet it is the best-kept secret in the world.’
3. THE INTERVIEW: SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK
2019 was chaotic, confusing, infuriating. So we asked someone wiser than us to help us make sense of it. And the renowned Slovenian philosopher, sociologist and cultural critic unpacked what many of us can’t get our heads around: Donald Trump, the Left’s failures across the world, digital technologies.
‘I think a new world order is emerging. A rule that is ideologically and politically “America First”, “Russia First”, “China First”, “Turkey First” … We have to move beyond this level. It’s literally becoming a matter of survival.’
2. WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP CLIMATE CHANGE?
Lifestyle changes are no substitute for collective action. But as we begin to see glaciers melt, the Amazon burn and wildfires ravage not just Europe and California but Greenland, personal carbon-cutting has to be on the table for all of us. It’s a powerful way to signal the climate emergency to those around us, move the needle on policy and set bigger cultural changes in motion.
‘Adjust your diet. Fly less, or better, stop.’
1. PROGRESS AND ITS DISCONTENTS
Our most-read piece of the year is a long, passionate article debunking the myths put forward by the ‘New Optimists’ – the comforting theories proposed by the likes of Bill Gates and Steven Pinker. They claim that the world has never been better: from global poverty to inequality between nations, all the indicators are showing progress. But Jason Hickel finds this is only true if you don’t question the statistics you are fed.
‘We are actually doing worse than at any time in history, as our capacity to end poverty has grown rapidly, while poverty itself remains widespread. In moral terms, we have regressed. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change the rules of our global economy to make it fairer for the world’s majority.’