Year In Review: When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle!

2016, what a stinker of a year —right?
Trump, Brexit, Aleppo, record-breaking climate change and biodiversity depletion, geopolitical uncertainty and upheaval, bigotry and intolerance, fake news, an unstable and untenable local housing situation, growing economic disparity, close to 1,000 dead in the overdose crisis gripping our province, the pipeline, Site C — the list goes on!  

And then there’s all those celebrity deaths: Bowie, Ali, Prince AND Prince Buster, Gordie Howe, Phife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Umberto Eco, Jack Davis, Harambe, Castro, Gwen Ifel, Alvin Toffler, Elie Wiesel, Zsa Zsa, George Michael, Princess Leia — ugh! 
 
My own year read like a sad country song too: I ran and lost in a by-election, my cat died, my dog died, some friends died, I struggled through a few depressed and debt-ridden months and at times felt like my life was falling apart.
 
Yeah, 2016 was pretty rotten… BUT there are, and were bright spots...
 
If you’re reading this, then you’re alive —and hopefully of reasonably good health, as more of us increasingly are. In 2016 world hunger reached the lowest point in 25 years, a vaccine for Ebola was developed with the virus now virtually eliminated from West Africa. The World Health Organization introduced global protocols for self-testing of HIV (a big deal in countries where the stigma of HIV can be more life-threatening than the virus itself). Even as fake news and anti-vaxxers helped usher in the return of preventable diseases, 2016 saw the elimination of measles cases originating in the Americas, and a global health milestone in the fight to end polio with stepped down vaccination protocol as the type 2 poliovirus was eradicated this year.
 
Here in BC, we may have seen the approval of an expanded diluted tar pipeline to the Salish Sea, and the lumbering behemoth of Site C Dam poised to flood the Peace Valley — but we are also seeing a galvanized and renewed opposition that suggests we’ve only just begun to fight. 
 
Meanwhile, thanks to reforestation and emissions reductions, global carbon dioxide outputs seem to be flattening. Clean energy has made massive strides this year with the ratification of the Paris Climate Accords, and record investments in renewables continue to outpace fossil fuels, even as our own governments cling to the dinosaur industry. China placed a moratoriumon any new coal mines, and Belgium shuttered its last coal fired powerplant, making now 25% of the EU nations coal-free.
 
The United States opened its first offshore wind power plant in Rhode Island this year, allowing local (Bock Island) residents to switch off their diesel-generated electrical grid and even provide surplus power to the mainland. In Europe, where offshore wind technology is more mature, 2016 saw a 22% reduction in the cost of wind-powered electricity, out-competing coal and gas-fired in some markets. For the first time, the UK now generates more than half its electricity from low-carbon sources. Solar power infrastructure became even more affordable in 2016, new installations reached a record high in the US and globally, while new investment is fueling advances in solar thermophotovoltaics and perovskite solar cells that will further improve efficiency.
 
In the US, DAPL protestors manage to stay the black snake pipeline through the Dakotas, and the US Government has halted any plans for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and along the Atlantic Seaboard (for now). This year, the Trudeau government upheld a tanker moratorium on BC’s North Coast, and Shell Canada voluntarily relinquished nearly 8.5 thousand square kilometers of drilling rights to support “establishment of a national marine conservation area off the coast of Nunavut.” The BC Government formalized protection of the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world.
 
This year, even as we are losing biodiversity at alarming rates, a glimmer of hope that saw conservation and rehabilitation efforts move the Giant Panda and the West Indian Manatee from “endangered” species status to “vulnerable”, and the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ratify the largest conservation agreement in history, establishing new protections for some of the planet’s most vulnerable creatures, everything from big cats to sharks to parrots to rhinos. Here at home, Health Canada make a bold move to outright ban bee-killing neonicotinoids.

The Gambia and Myanmar both overthrew military dictatorships in democratic elections. In Colombia, the government and FARC rebels signed a peace accord, ending a decades old conflict. Italy, the last holdout of big European nations finally legalized same-sex marriage, Canada and Denmark both legislated significant new transgender rights, and as of this year the death penalty is now illegal in more than half of the world's countries
 
Even as we mourn the loss of great pop stars, thinkers, leaders and innovators — we are left with their legacies: the thoughts and works, music, films, and deeds that touched us in the first place.
 
Locally, the three levels of government are finally waking up to the housing affordability issue, particularly on the South Coast, with a series of overdue and somewhat clumsy efforts to mitigate the problem targeting everything from non-local capital and tax evasion, to vacant homes, to short-term vacation rentals, to help for first time buyers. It remains to be seen what if any of these measures will affect the local affordability crisis, but at least now it’s an election issue — and maybe we can yet see movement on things like a renters tax credit, raising the rates of income assistance, and the building of public social housing.
 
For me, while I was deeply saddened by the loss of my dog and desk-mate of the last 13 years: I can take comfort in knowing that both of our passed pets were rescued and shared happy lives with us. The losing by-election campaign gifted me the efforts of amazing volunteers and supporters, and the opportunity to work with and meet some fantastic people. We were able to push issues that mattered, and running a true grassroots campaign upset the conventional political narrative: showing Greens as a viable choice in a riding otherwise considered unassailable. In the process we grabbed one of the largest voter shares of any federal or provincial Green campaign between Vancouver Island and PEI. 
 
So my toast, on this New Year’s Eve: let's look for those silver linings in an otherwise dark cloud of a year, and as we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back into the fight, let some of those positives shine as we hope for a better year to come. To quote Monty Python, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: When you're chewing on life's gristle, Don't grumble, give a whistle!”
 
Best wishes for a Happy New Year.