The year’s days are numbered, which is guaranteed to mean one thing: the internet and airwaves are awash in “year in review” articles and news segments. Rather than jump on that (potentially depressing) bandwagon, I’d like to offer a more hopeful approach that looks to the year ahead, a “year in preview” segment, if you will. No—I’m not going to predict the happenings of 2021. Instead, I want us to manifest what happens, to bend the downward curve of the past year into an upward arc, which we can do with some positive action.
Here for your consideration are six issues to care about and support in 2021. Some are things for which you can take immediate, personal action, while others you can simply strive to learn more about. All of them can have positive impacts at personal, local and global scales.
Yourself. Your own wellbeing should always be number one on your priority list. It’s next to impossible to give your time and passion to any of the causes below if you yourself are falling apart. There are plenty of self-care articles out there, like this one from Vox about surviving winter blues, or this one keyed to wellbeing solutions for quarantine, to help you find creative and inspired solutions for maintaining your best physical and mental health in the year ahead.
Plastics reduction. Plastics have revolutionized our world, yielding societal benefits we simply could not have achieved with other materials. Yet, the proliferation of plastics in our modern society is a double-edged sword. The benefits of safety and efficiency are tainted by the harm of pollution and microplastics. They’ve reportedly been found in fetuses, for frocks sake. Purposeful reduction of plastic use—particularly single-use plastics—is something we can aspire to on a personal consumer level and advocate for on a societal supply level.
Income equality. Income inequality has steepened in the United States (and globally) in the last few decades, an inequity that is largely drawn along racial lines. Income equality isn’t about instituting full-board socialism. It’s about ensuring that those who toil at the “bottom” of society to the benefit of those at the top are adequately compensated and cared for. Increasing taxes on the top 1% is only one way to achieve that. Income caps and guaranteed living wages are others. There may be arguments to be had about limiting personal liberty to accrue wealth, but such arguments pale against the societal ills of allowing full-time laborers to choose between paying rent and starving a couple days a week.
Bees. When you think “bees,” what comes to mind? Honey? Stings? Being busy? How about planetary pollinating saviors? Bees are responsible for pollinating a staggering amount of the agricultural crops that keep humanity and livestock fed and much of the wild plant life that keeps our planet functioning. Yet, bee populations face ever-declining numbers due to climate change, agricultural pesticides, and invasive species that harm them. The good news is that we can turn the tide with a bit of conscious effort.
Voting rights. (This one is more United States-centric, but could potentially apply to democracy worldwide.) One primary value has held our collection of states together for the past 244 years: the belief in a government by, for and of the people. This past election cycle has given us reason to doubt the dedication of certain groups to our democratic principles, and the outlook for the sanctity of future elections feels shaky. Now is the time to learn as much as possible about the current inequities of our voting processes, such as gerrymandering, congressional apportionment, and voting ID laws (many of which disproportionately disenfranchise people of color), and find ways to advocate for positive change.
Space exploration. Okay, so this one is a personal passion, but allow me to make a case. Space exploration is the artistic expression of science, an inspired display of our achievements and potential. Art isn’t strictly necessary for survival, but it’s creation gives us a raison d’etre, a meaning beyond mere survival. Existing one day, one year, one decade to the next, is what daily human life is essentially about. But humanity’s survival from one century, one millennium, to the next, is what artistic expression is about. In the scientific realm, that translates to space exploration. If that doesn’t convince you, then consider these practical reasons for space exploration, which include asteroid defense, mining, and colonization.
This is not intended to be an inclusive list of the only issues that matter or a guide to the ones that “matter most.” There are many others that should command our collective time and attention, such as immigration and refugee policies, reproductive health, racial and ethnic equality, nuclear threat reduction, LGBTQIA protections, criminal justice reform, water and oceans conservancy….well, the list goes on.
Modern civilization with its ever-increasing world population makes for a complex and volatile ecosystem, which means there’s no shortage of causes to champion in pursuit of a healthier existence for all. But as the always astute Hasan Minhaj mentioned on his close-out Patriot Act show of 2019, compassion fatigue is a real thing. For the sake of the first item on the list above, it’s perfectly understandable and acceptable to select a limited number of causes to focus on in the year ahead.
With that, I wish everyone a happy holiday season. If you currently have no holidays on the calendar to celebrate, then I wish you a safe, healthy and happy year. No matter what causes we choose to champion, health and happiness is something we all deserve.