2015 has been quite a year. In just 12 short months, we have seen a serious increase in migration to the EU from the Middle East and North Africa, unprecedented terrorist attacks in Paris, a quite unexpected outcome in the UK Parliamentary Election, the devastating earthquake in Nepal, significant developments in Greece's government-debt crisis, among many other issues. Here, the talented editors, writers, and contributors of IANS reflect upon the culture, politics, and stories that people talked about most in 2015.
2015 in Google
When trying to figure out what was most talked about in 2015, I turned to Google to find some answers. And as with most things, Google delivered. So what were the most searched-for events of the year?
As we are all well aware, 2015 saw tragic events too numerous to count. November's terrorist attacks in Paris triggered 897+ million views, more than any other event in 2015. In addition, the Germanwings plane crash at the beginning of the year had 129+ million wonder about the events, while Nepal’s earthquake in April triggered 85+ Million search requests.
It was also a quite eventful year in world politics. Google lists the Greek financial crisis (35+ million), the Iran Nuclear Deal (20+ million), the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (13+ million) [note that countries of the global South issued three times more search requests than countries of the global North], the Chinese stock market crash (12+ million), and the refugee crisis in Europe (23+ million) as the most searched-for events in 2015. For the latter, Google has listed the five most-asked questions per country – stats which suggest something about the attitudes in respective countries
2015 also saw numerous scandals. For Google, the corruption scandal involving FIFA officials and the following institutional crisis accounted for 42+ million hits. By contrast, the Volkswagen emissions scandal only triggered 13+ million requests. Less scandalous was the 'Dressgate' phenomenon all the way back in February, with 73+ million requests. Nevertheless, it was searched for significantly more than the news of water on Mars, which triggered just 10+ million requests.
In sports we had higher interest the Cricket World Cup (323+ Million) than we had in the Rugby World Cup (246+ Million). This may be attributed to the fact that we know less about it Both, however were beat by Adele’s new album ‘25’: Google received 439+ Million search requests around the release. In comparison, the new Star Wars film ‘only’ triggered 155+ Million requests.
Jenny Munro, Editor and Managing Director
Obergefell v. Hodges
In probably the only piece of good news all year, the United States Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges that it was unconstitutional for states to declare same sex marriage unconstitutional. This came eleven years after Massachusetts became the first state to rule same sex marriage legal. While the LGBT rights movement, like that of all minorities, has a long way to go till it can disband, this is one of the few moments of notable progress this year. It was only three short years ago in 2012 that President Obama became the first sitting president to support same sex marriage.
Of course, the celebrations came with subsequent reflections on what else needs to be done including workplace rights, as well as what efforts need to be made to bring forward the cause of transgender rights. These are incredibly important discussions that we should be having, and I’m as thankful for milestones for the changes they bring as the reminders they are that there is more to be done. And no doubt there will be efforts to undermine its reach as is done constantly to Roe v Wade, but the highest courts of the American nation told us that states have no rights to ban what is an inalienable right. I had grown accustomed to living abroad and defending the US Supreme Court’s abysmal decisions making – looking at you, Citizens United – but this time they got it right. Now, if only they could do something about gun control.
Michal Shimonovich, Staff Writer
No Flak for This
I find myself startled to be looking up to find 2016 just around the corner. I think we, myself definitely included, can forgot to stop, pause, take a look around and reflect in our headlong rush ‘to get it all done.’ So, I was glad when editor-in-chief at IANS asked us to do just that – reflect on one of 2015’s most defining moments. There’s no argument that 2015 has had its share of both highs and lows, and in celebration of the New Year soon upon us, I’d like to point out one of the many ways in which we, human at large, did well. As an American living abroad, at times I have the lucky task of fielding a fair bit of flak for my country’s current political landscape and challenges. But, on July 26th, no flak was given and I was immeasurably proud. The U.S. stepped up to the plate, joining a legion of other countries in making marriage a right and a freedom for every one of citizens. It was a moment in which its leaders saw through the narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of bigotry, hate, and fear and took decisive action to expand the opportunities for people to celebrate love and create families. This Supreme Court ruling marks an incredible shift in the ethos of my home country in a positive direction, and I'd argue, a shift that will soon be realized farther and wider in other countries as well. There is work left to done (as always!) but such an event showed to me that with good work founded on expansive-ness, more positive change is possible, and coming.
Lilian Kennedy, Editor
I do Does Not Mean We’re Done
A month after Ireland’s referendum on 22 May in favor of legalizing same sex marriage, the landmark US Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges ruled in favor of legalizing same sex marriage in every state. This was a monumental victory for same sex couples and, was the product of decades of activism. The Supreme Court decision occurred alongside the rapidly growing support of marriage equality in the US. This was a day of widespread celebration. It was also pride month, and the ensuing pride events had much to be proud of.
However, through the years of campaigning for same sex marriage, marriage equality had somehow become the defining goal of LGBTQ+ equality. Marriage was a fundament right being denied to all same sex couples regardless of race, gender, or class. It was a tangible goal with a clear outcome. So it is easy to see how marriage equality gained such huge symbolic meaning. But it has been argued that marriage equality was the agenda of wealthy white cis-gendered homosexual men. Because while activists were fighting for same sex marriage, LGBTQ+ individuals were legally being denied federal funding, being kicked out of their homes, and refused educational opportunities. And this sort of discrimination was significantly more common for racial and ethnic minorities, trans individuals, and women. When you get fired for being gay, the right to marry becomes less important on the list of rights being denied to LGBTQ+ individuals.
But maybe the marriage equality campaign was a driving force in the increasingly public support of LGBTQ+ rights. Because this same year in November President Obama openly announced his support for the Equality Act 2015 which would ensure protection against LGBTQ+ discrimination in areas such as housing, education, employment, federal funding, etc. The Human Rights Campaign has recently paired up with Kennith Cole to promote the Equality Act with shirts saying “I DO DOES NOT MEAN WE’RE DONE”.
Marriage equality is a clear victory. It may not have been the victory that raises up the most disadvantaged of our community but it was a clear, tangible, and measurable victory. It may be that the marriage equality victory has helped open the gates to the possibilities of actual LGBTQ+ equality under the law and maybe in 2016 we will see a more egalitarian fight for LGBTQ+ rights because of it.
Nichole Fernández, Creative Director
The Year in Politics
A Year of Hard Labour
Without a doubt, the Labour leadership contest was the political “event” I talked about most in 2015. A parochial topic in some ways, but so much seemed to be at stake for British politics. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall – the three losers in the contest – all comprehensively failed to offer their party anything new. None showed anything to look forward to under a Labour party led by them. Not one of them showed any real intent to change or rejuvenate Labour, a party that to most people in the UK, especially in Scotland, looked like a party without a purpose. This was remarkable, if not surprising. The way Labour handled the 2014 Scottish referendum nearly cost the Union; just how out of touch the party was with the electorate was dramatically reinforced in the May 2015 election. And so Jeremy Corbyn, the 100/1 outsider, “a funny little old man” (Stewart Lee), cruised to victory. Obviously Corbyn won: he was the only candidate who placed any urgency on the need to rethink the purpose of a “Labour party” in the twenty first century; the only candidate who reached out to disenfranchised voters; the only candidate who wanted to open up debate rather than shut it down; the only candidate who without qualification expressed his intention to include all sections of the Labour party in any future shadow cabinet. With controversial ideas and an unconventional demeanour, Corbyn’s victory was risky for the party, but had he not won Labour might have rendered itself extinct. After 100 days under Corbyn, the future of the Labour party is open and unpredictable, faced with a range of possibilities. Not ideal, but not bad conditions for the party to rediscover its purpose. After the May annihilation, it’s perhaps the best Labour could have hoped for.
Tom Cunningham, Staff Writer
#ThisWasACoup: Greece's capitulation to its creditors
It would be strange not to talk about what happened in my homeland, Greece, during the first months of this summer. After a strenuous tug-of-war between Greece and its creditors the debt bailout six-month negotiations reached an impasse. Following this bind, a referendum took place on the 5th July which delivered a stunning NO to austerity, despite the unprecedented media scare-mongering and the economic asphyxiation incited by the ECB. Nevertheless, the result soon was reversed. The urgency for Greece to receive the next bailout installments in order to meet its fiscal obligations forced the Greek government to capitulate to its creditors’ demands, by accepting a new brutal and illogical memorandum of austerity policies, leaving Greece somewhere close to where it was two years ago. What is most daunting, however, is the brutal and uneven power plays that took place after the Greek referendum.
From this point on it is not just about Greece. When those pulling the strings in Brussels keep such an intransigent stance to alternative proposals, when they insist on policies which have arguably afflicted people’s lives or consider on showing the exit door to defiant countries, they actually put in danger the whole democratic structure of EU. The polarizing consequences of such practices have evidently instigated the rise of populist far-right and Eurosceptic parties, which seem to gain more and more ground throughout Europe.
Europe has taken a critical direction. The only way out of this predicament is for EU leaders to develop new political-economic ideas and policies that will enable them to effectively confront the behemoths of xenophobia and ideological fanaticism that seem to drive Europe back to where it was more than sixty years ago, when the entire project of European integration was just but a wishful thinking.
Nikos Kanellopoulos, Staff Writer
A Year of fear
Despite my usually persistent optimism, what has most defined 2015 for me has been the pervasion of fear into our public lives. Every positive stride, however inspiring, has been tainted by powerful, often violent undercurrents of fear: xenophobia, Islamophobia, fear of minorities, fear of law enforcement, fear of (gun) violence, fear of having one’s rights taken away, fear of change, fear of anything we do not understand...
Fear has tightened its grip all over the world at a seemingly accelerating pace, but for me, it was thrown into sharp relief when my parents moved to Dallas, Texas, this summer. The Dallas metropolitan area is a sort of microcosm of global society, growing very rapidly and seeing large changes in its demographic makeup. Not coincidentally, it has also this year been the site of Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest for bringing a clock to school, a 12-year-old Sikh boy’s arrest for carrying a backpack that ‘looked like a bomb’, escalating anti-Islamic armed protests and a threatened Ku Klux Klan presence, a violent altercation between police and black teens at a pool party, and many, many more incidents that I or the media have overlooked. I can’t help but be reminded of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination just over 52 years ago, as he drove through the streets of downtown Dallas, just a few months after his seminal Civil Rights address. I wonder if we are now, half a century later, at a turning point of the same magnitude—on local, national, and increasingly global scales—as the bloody civil rights battle and paranoia-driven lead-up to the Cold War.
My deepest hope for 2016 is that we face this turning point with all the courage we can muster, and refuse to let our collective judgments be clouded with fear.
Swati Sureka, Staff Writer
Fringe is the New Mainstream
2015 has been the year where every sort of political, social and religious fringe terminology has hit the mainstream. Terms and concepts such as “world war 3”, “new age”, “apocalypse” and “new world order” have broken out of the phpBB conspiracy theory forums, the closed circles of devout believers of every monotheistic religion, the common rooms of eclectic academics and the obscure bunkers of secret state agencies. Ukraine and Syria, GMOs, the admission of electronic surveillance as a fact, the refugee crisis and the often violent reaction to it, the globalisation of everything, coupled with the rapidity it all happens, seem to get people panicked and searching for answers beyond the usual. The nature of the Paris terrorist attacks along with news that in Germany and Austria citizens start to arms themselves with everything they can find make me wonder that if there’s going to be a WW3 at all, it will start as low-intensity warfare.
From a Hellenic perspective, things are even more surreal. The devastating economic crisis and the unabashed meddling of supranational bodies in internal affairs of Greece and Cyprus made every sort of previously marginal politics to rise in prominence. Are SYRIZA and Golden Dawn extreme? Nothing to see here, these are normal nowadays. Radical leftists are in cahoots with conservative nationalists anguishing over eroding sovereignty. In the new fringe, political discourse happens in even more eerily occult contours. One can watch state television debates over the possible materialisation of prophecies by contemporary Orthodox saints such as Cosmas of Aetolia and Paisios the Athonite. Last October two bombs exploded at the statue of a Byzantine emperor and a bank, signalling the start of a “pagan jihad” against Christianity and global government.
Is this the end? Who am I to say? But it definitely gets alarmingly interesting.
Lambros Kaoullas, Contributor
Despite, it being largely overlooked by the mainstream media, the event I have talked about most this year has been the crisis in Yemen.
Yemen is falling apart. In September 2014, northern Houthi forces seized control of the capital, Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led alliance to launch deadly and seemingly endless airstrikes on the country with the aim of restoring the government. In the last year, Yemen has witnessed nothing but death and destruction, violence and fear, hunger and destitution.
A brutal civil war has ensued, giving rise to levels of violence rivalled by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Nearly 5000 people have been killed while more than a million others have been forced to leave their homes. The majority of those affected are civilians, many of them children.
The international community has seemingly turn a blind eye to the suffering in Yemen and to the war crimes committed, particularly by the Saudi-led coalition, whose targets have included an MSF-run hospital and a water plant that was the only source of clean water for civilians in the surrounding area. Perhaps this is due to the controversial possibility that the arms used to commit such atrocities were sold to Saudi Arabia by the US and Britain.
Peace talks are currently running between the two sides in Switzerland, however all previous attempts at negotiation and ceasefire have rapidly collapsed. As 2015 comes to a close, Yemen’s future is at a crossroads. Depending on the outcome of these talks, 2016 could bring a number of possible outcomes including the potential division of the country. These talks represent the most promising chance of peace so far, but in the meantime, the suffering of innocent civilians continues.
Laura Cretney, Contributor, pinkjinn.wordpress.com
The Crisis in Burundi
For me 2015 has been a year marked by on-going armed conflicts around the world as in Syria or Central African Republic, resulting in the largest refugee crisis since WWII. Amongst all of these conflicts, one that I have found particularly worrying in the past year is the current crisis in Burundi, which is often forgotten in both public narratives and mass media. Since April 2015, political protests against the third term of President Nkurunziza have led to violence and killings, with many international organisations fearing that Burundi is on the verge of ethnic conflict. Of course, it would be rather too simplistic to define the current situation as ‘ethnic violence’; the violence has been restricted to parts of the capital, Bujumbura, and has so far been mostly a political crisis between Nkurunziza’s supporters and his opponents. However, there is an attempt to mobilize ethnicity as part of this on-going unrest, creating uncertainty on whether the ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis that led to civil war between 1993-2005 could again be mobilized towards mass violence. With the UN admitting only last month that it was ill equipped or prepared to face mass violence in Burundi, I will certainly keep an eye on this political crisis in 2016, hoping for a peaceful resolution.
Marie-Eve Hamel, Staff Writer
Here in California 2015 has been defined by the drought. There have been droughts in the past, but this one we’re in now is the worst on record since the late 1800s. The lack of precipitation effects everyone in California. The drought is so bad that the governor of California is allowing the lawn at the state capitol to turn brown and requiring restaurants to withhold water from customers unless they specifically ask for it.
Salmonoid populations, which were already struggling and are a keystone species, are literally frying because of shallow and warm rivers. Lack of rainfall this year also brought the worst fire in California’s history out in Lake County.
California produces most of America’s food. The central Valley in particular, known as “the salad bowl of the world”, also produces 90% of the world’s almonds and farmers are being forced to pull productive trees out of the ground because they cannot get enough water to the plants. On top of that the earth is literally sinking from wells being over drawn to access groundwater. Agriculture in general uses 80% of the state’s drinking water, but proper water conservation efforts can drastically cut water usage on farms and at home in your gardens.
- plant drought tolerant plants
- maintain an abundance of organic matter in the soil
- use drip irrigation
- densely plant food crops to shade out soil
- utilize roof water catchment and gray water systems
Dean Fernández, Contributor, Oz Farm
Reflections on Paris
The issue that most defined this year for me was the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference.
Following the disastrous climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, as well as the general failure of the Kyoto Protocol, the aim of this convention was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. After nearly two weeks of high-level deliberations, the 195 participating countries reached an agreement to reduce carbon outputs “as soon as possible,” and to do their best to keep global warming “to well-below 2°C.” This is the first truly global climate agreement of its kind, and it spurred optimism from leaders around the world.
However, I am hesitant to jump aboard the enthusiasm train too quickly. First, the agreements will only become binding when the 55 highest polluters ratify them, and there is doubt about whether this will actually occur. Further, there is a serious lack of enforcement mechanisms. These problems notwithstanding, I think the more serious issue is that the aforementioned 2°C limit is basically arbitrary (the story behind how this number was determined in definitely worth a read). As FiveThirtyEight’s Christine Aschwanden so eloquently put it, the limit is simply “a compromise between costs, benefits, and risks.”
In any case, global temperatures have nearly risen by 1°C already. Meeting the limit, regardless of its scientific veracity, will require a herculean effort that looks unlikely even with the Paris Agreement on the books. And even if this limit is reached, we will still likely face a world plagued by crop failure and famine, unprecedented global migration, disappearing coastal cities, and of course, unbearable heat.
Overall, we must understand that the Paris Agreement does not represent the end of this problem. Rather, it should be seen as the first step in what will hopefully be a series of increasingly ambitious policy interventions to ensure that we palliate the issue as much as we possibly can before it is too late.
Joshua Bird, Editor-in-Chief