The good news
Even though 2004 was a pretty awful year, there was at least some good news. At the global level, Europe has continued to give an example of a path towards spreading democracy that is not carried on the end of bayonets. The peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Ukraine and the election of a government committed to integration with Europe was one instance, as was the decision to open negotiations with Turkey, which has made great progress in the last few years towards providing a model of an Islamic democracy. As a couple of commentators have already pointed out, there are big challenges ahead and the whole enterprise may fail. Still such challenges have been overcome in the past as the admission of ten new members shows.
Russia’s decision to ratify the Kyoto protocol was another hopeful development. But we’re going to need more than Kyoto and it seems unlikely we’ll get it as long as Bush is in the White House.
At a local level, it’s worth remembering that the loss of life from even the worst disasters that have affected Australia is tiny by comparison with the continuing carnage from road crashes. In this respect, at least, we are making progress. New South Wales recorded its lowest toll in 55 years in 2004, and Victoria its second-lowest
Finally, there is some hope that the response to the tsunami disaster may go beyond the usual short-lived outpouring of sympathy and half-delivered promises of aid. Criticism of the stinginess of the initial response struck a chord, and focused attention on the weakness of the rich world’s aid effort, a weakness made more striking by the willingness to spend hundreds of billions on war. If we must have international rivalry, a race to see who can give most to help others seems like a good outcome.
Update An important piece of good news I forgot to mention was the signing of a peace settlement between the Sudanese government and the southern rebels. Assuming it holds, this will bring to an end a war that has lasted for decades and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Unfortunately, the fighting in Darfur (in the western part of Sudan) which began more recently is still going on. The world’s attention to this problem has been fitful and inadequate, but perhaps we’ll see something better in 2005.