Across the twelve issues of Geographical published in 2020 we covered a huge range of topics and visited every corner of the globe. Here are some of the best features of the year, with a word from the editor about why each was selected.
For many years, the UK exported much of its rubbish to China, adopting an out of sight, out of mind policy. But in 2017 and 2018 China implemented import bans on 56 varieties of solid waste, ranging from plastics to textiles and electrical items. In light of an even more restrictive ban, due to come into force at the start of 2021, it’s yet again a pertinent time to examine the world’s colossal waste problem.
Katie Burton (Geographical editor): ‘The sheer volume of rubbish produced by mankind has long made me feel uncomfortable. In fact, the sheer volume my own household produces often makes me uncomfortable. The prospect of the UK closing its eyes and shipping the problem away is just as uncomfortable as the idea of the waste itself. It therefore felt vital to confront the topic of waste head on, assess the scale of the problem and the potential solutions.’
The term ‘just transition’ is used to refer to the need to move away from a fossil-fuel based, extractive economy, but in a way that protects workers and communities from the harshest impacts of inevitable job losses. This modern take on the concept was enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement – something international trade unions fought for vociferously. But have we made any real steps towards securing it?
Katie: ‘We talk about climate change all the time at Geographical: about the things that need to change, the industries that need to come to an end. But it bothers me that working people are more often than not left out of these conversations. It’s all well and good targeting anger at a huge coal mining corporation, but when that corporation dies, thousands of people will lose jobs. In order to shore up support for climate change policies it is vital that we protect the livelihoods of the people who may lose out. In this article I sought to find out what plans are being put in place to ensure a just transition away from fossil fuels – one that supports both the planet and its people.’
‘Mosul emerges like a ruin from the Nineveh plain, a flattened monument to man’s inhumanity to man,’ wrote Hadani Ditmars, who journeyed to Mosul to meet a community rebuilding their homes, city and community. The Battle of Mosul, fought to reclaim the city from Isis between October 2016 and July 2017 saw as many as 11,000 people killed and more than 8,400 housing units destroyed. The patient reconstruction of the Al-Nouri Mosque provides a snapshot of the region’s efforts to heal.
Katie: ‘The news cycle moves on and, so often, places that were once on everyone’s lips become old news. Yet for the people who live in places struck by conflict ‘moving on’ is a huge, lengthy process. It was fascinating to take a look at Mosul through Hadani’s eyes; her vivid descriptions of the remaining destruction as powerful as the photos that display it.’
‘The moment the earthquake set in, the prayer stopped. The processional crosses froze in mid-air; eyes widened with fear searched the horizon. Father Yevgeny, who had icicles in his beard and an icon of Saitn Innokenti on his chest, pricked up his ears.’
Jens Mühling’s intriguing introduction plunges us into the somewhat bizarre landscape of Lake Baikal; a frozen region where survival is never easy.
Katie: ‘One of my favourite articles of 2020, Jens Mühling and Justin Jin’s trip to Lake Baikal opened up a world I knew nothing about: a place of bleak beauty coupled with great hardship. So too did their article hint at a worryingly fractured society and a growing mistrust of foreigners from across the border in China. A reminder that what goes on in small towns and villages all over the world can be indicative of wider geopolitical forces.’
Natural Europe isn’t what it once was. Forty thousand years ago, modern humans arrived. The megafauna that inhabited Europe’s grasslands and forests was faced with an unfamiliar and unforgiving threat. Today, thanks to legal protection and large-scale recovery programmes, European carnivore numbers are on the up, estimated at around 17,000 brown bears, 12,000 wolves, 9,000 Eurasian lynx and 1,200 wolverines. As more rewilding projects dot the European landscape, the plot to restore functional, connected and secure populations of carnivores is in motion. But in a human-dominated landscape, are visions of self-regulating nature truly achievable?
Katie: ‘Rewilding has been one of the hot topics of the last couple of years, but it comes with plenty of controversy. It seemed high time we dipped our toes into these murky waters. Geographical staff writer Jacob Dykes looked at the topic of European rewilding with both a philosophical and a practical bent, asking both wether we should rewild and whether it is even possible.’
‘Climate change “will create world’s biggest refugee crisis”’
‘UK warned of “climate change flood of refugees”’
‘Climate change will stir “unimaginable refugee crisis”, says military’
The above are just a few examples of recent headlines in British newspapers, highlighting a narrative we have become used to. But many climate migration forecasts are of a magnitude difficult to envisage and may oversimplify the complex reality of mass movement. Chris Fitch explores the difficulties of predicting the reality of climate migration.
Katie: ‘One of our key aims at Geographical is to question the “truths” we are so often told by other media sources. For many years, apocalyptic warnings about vast movements of people as a result of climate change have made headlines, but as long-time Geographical writer Chris Fitch discovered, these warnings paint a hugely simplistic picture of a much more complex story. His article is a reminder that in a world of seven billion people, there are no simple stories. Accepting and seeking to understand nuance is what makes good journalism so important.’