TUMBY BAY - As 2020 draws to a close, confusion and trepidation seem to be the major emotions people the world over are feeling.
The confusion stems from uncertainty about how to interpret what appear to be existential threats in 2021 and beyond.
They include the coronavirus pandemic.
Covid-19 appears to be mutating and becoming more contagious, although scientists tell us it will be susceptible to the new vaccines.
The stealth and cunning with which Covid progresses will also ensure it remains a deadly spectre through 2021 at least.
Also on people’s minds is climate change, which is rapidly accelerating and creating disastrous consequences that present a danger to the world.
The US president-elect, Joe Biden, has vowed to tackle climate change as a matter of urgency but it will be an uphill battle for many years.
In contrast to most other countries, Australia’s federal government refuses to take the matter seriously.
Added to these dangers are the economic and geopolitical threats posed by a newly assertive China, threats that could end in very unpleasant global confrontations.
The China situation confuses everyone because nobody knows where it is going; it is an inscrutable problem.
All of these potentially catastrophic developments are likely to play out at a time when our leaders are either overwhelmed by events or in denial; either muddling along ineffectively or without a real clue about what to do.
At best we are going to stumble into 2021 looking like people caught in the glare of the spotlight of an oncoming train.
Any sense of optimism will be extremely difficult to sustain if effective steps are not taken to tackle these threats.
The pessimism and the feelings of despair that usually accompany such times can be detrimental to stability and a significant drag on positive progress.
Despite the statistics, good and bad, most people make judgements based on their lived experience, sometimes known as the ‘felt economy’.
Consider, for instance, the 70 million plus confused and ill-informed people in the USA who recently voted for the narcissistic and chaotic Donald Trump.
If they continue to live in ignorance and anger, their numbers are likely to swell rather than diminish and they may elect an even worse president four years from now.
A similar thing could happen in Australia if the rednecks in central and northern Queensland cannot be convinced that their future lies elsewhere than fossil fuels.
They need to be able to see the viable alternatives and know that the government is backing them in making the transition.
Australia’s current opportunistic and populist prime minister unfortunately seems to be enamoured of the right wing redneck view and this doesn’t inspire confidence there will be any meaningful change.
With Scott Morrison’s opposite number Anthony Albanese paddling in his wake, the signs do not bode well for Australia in 2021.
In Papua New Guinea, apart from issues related to coronavirus and climate change, there is real danger it will become a pawn in the spat between Australia and China.
This is particularly pertinent because of prime minister James Marape’s stated desire to control resource development – to “take back” PNG.
China now requires its trade partners to ‘respect’ the way it does business. Australia, seeing this as obsequiousness and an assault on sovereignty, is pushing back.
China may well think that moving into Papua New Guinea, right on Australia’s doorstep, could be a means of extending its sphere of influence as well as further goading Australia.
PNG, already home of much assistance from China, may see this greatly enhanced - another sting in the tail for Australia.
Of course PNG will need to carefully consider such offers, particularly as they may impact on the relationship with Australia as their biggest aid donor as well as drawing PNG more into what seems to be China’s imperial ambition.
Perhaps one of the most significant things 2020 has taught us is that neo-capitalism is incompatible with the welfare of the people and democracy in general.
It vastly favours the rich and drives the poor deeper into poverty.
It is most disconcerting that the coronavirus has revealed how cheaply life is considered by many people in positions of power or influence.
The speed with which the Australian and other sensible governments temporarily abandoned free market ideology as the coronavirus hit was salutary, and ample evidence that belief in the efficacy of free markets was false except insofar as it benefitted wealthy friends and donors.
Elsewhere, particularly in the USA, corporations used the pandemic to increase their profits, some to obscene levels. Since the start of the pandemic, for example, 651 American billionaires have gained a stunning trillion dollars’ worth of new wealth.
The signs are there that the Australian government plans to revert back to type just as soon as it can.
But it wasn’t looking all that smart before the coronavirus arrived, so whether any government can survive by going back to business as usual will be interesting to see.