ourEconomy: Opinion

ourEconomy editors’ highlights 2021

Our lives may have been put on hold, but our planet’s crises – and our journalism – haven’t stopped

Aaron headshot.jpg
Laura Basu Aaron White
23 December 2021, 1.45pm
Image: Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0

Laura Basu - economics editor

A friend of mine says he’s not counting the COVID-19 years towards his age. His life has been put on hold so it’s only fair. But even though many of us have been put into the stasis of loss, lockdowns and loneliness, our planet’s crises have been marching on – and so has ourEconomy’s journalism.

In 2021 we continued to focus our coverage of the climate crisis on its root causes in a broken economic system. Our COP26 content exposed how Europe is doubling down on its commitment to fossil fuels instead of investing in green energy. We showed how six fossil fuel giants – Shell, BP, Total, Equinor, ENI and Galp – and their lobby groups captured EU politics. We revealed how the US and Russia are both planning to profit from Europe’s gas crisis. Our former economics editor, Laurie Macfarlane, explained the real causes of Britain’s energy crisis, and how Scotland is now on the front line of a ‘net zero land grab’.

On a personal note, I got some cathartic satisfaction from writing about the Netherlands, where I live, debunking its carefully maintained image as a progressive country and showing how it is in fact “the dirty old man of Europe”. That was a follow-up to an earlier feature I wrote for the Dutch election in March about how, after a decade of cabinets led by Mark Rutte putting corporate interests above all else, the reality of the Netherlands is very different from the image it projects.

We also highlighted causes for optimism when it comes to the climate and environment. As an industry insider argued, the renewables sector has the potential to truly replace fossil fuels – but only if it starts playing the same game as those incumbents and pursuing a political strategy instead of playing by the rules of ‘the market’. We gave space to the rising voices demanding that the Global North finally acknowledge its past and present colonial actions and deliver climate reparations to the Global South. My colleague Aaron White spotlighted those countries – like Barbados and Greenland – which are taking positive steps to achieve climate justice. And our animated video narrated by George Monbiot showed how the COVID pandemic is not a discrete crisis but is deeply related to environmental breakdown, and argued that we needed to “bail out the planet”.

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To break down the ‘fourth wall’ of openDemocracy’s own operations for a moment, one piece that generated a lot of internal discussion was Ivan Wecke’s ‘Conspiracy theories aside, there is something fishy about the Great Reset’. This was one of the most-read openDemocracy articles ever. Some who read and commented had bought into conspiracy theories such as those claiming that elites had manufactured the pandemic or were using the vaccines as population control. This sparked debate about who we should be speaking to and who our audience should be.

My personal view is that, while there are those who spread conspiracies and misinformation for their own agendas, the millions who buy into them aren’t necessarily ‘fringe loons’ or extremists. They are, in one colleague’s words, ‘the bloke down the pub’. Little wonder, as we know that we can’t trust our politicians, and our political economic system is so strange and complex it’s virtually impossible for the human mind to grasp. That’s why it’s so important to engage with diverse audiences and to offer economics journalism that actually helps make sense of what is going on. The debate about conspiracy theories in some ways distracted from what Ivan’s piece was really about – concerns raised by hundreds of NGOs about the privatisation of global governance.

Aaron White - commissioning editor

If last year was about keeping pace with the unprecedented disruptions to our political and economic systems caused by COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and the US election – this year was about assessing their impact. As a section, we consistently asked ourselves: who benefitted from these ruptures and who was left behind?

Many of the most egregious winners were obvious, as billionaire wealth continues to soar, alongside corporate profits. Digging a bit deeper we also revealed how private equity and investment firms like BlackRock are taking advantage of the COVID disruption.

We were also committed to following up on the historic Black Lives Matter protests that took place around the world last year, and asking: what would it mean to build economies that prioritise repair and healing? Following a piece by Ronnie Galvin and Ron Daniels calling for a “reparative economy”, we launched a full series on the subject. Some highlights include an animated video narrated by Tricia Rose, a webinar featuring Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Esther Stanford-Xosei and Ronnie Galvin, and articles from around the world by Keston Perry, Harpreet Kaur Paul, Isaiah Poole, amongst others. Watch this space for more exciting content next year as we further explore what it means to heal from the legacies of slavery and colonialism and build a new, reparative and democratic economy.

This year also marked the beginning of a new Democratic administration in the US. Joe Biden entered the White House with the slimmest possible congressional majority gained by winning two Senate seats in Georgia, in a contest which I and former editor-in-chief Mary Fitzgerald covered on the ground. Throughout the year we’ve been tracking Biden’s accomplishments and disappointments: from the appointment of Lina Khan, who is taking on corporate monopolists as chair of the US Federal Trade Commission, to the administration’s failure to directly confront the fossil fuel industry.

Let’s not forget that it’s been an incredibly difficult year for those who in normal times keep our economy going but who seem to benefit the least from our economic system. This is especially true for the hospitality and gig economy workers who were excluded from many relief programmes. We have been tracking inspiring mobilisations fighting back against these deep inequities. One of my favorite pieces was by the labour journalist Luis Feliz Leon, who wrote about how undocumented workers in New York took on the state establishment and won access to COVID relief funds.

Away from COVID, we have also spotlighted protests ranging from Uganda’s ecofeminists leading the fight against oil industry land grabs to direct accounts of activists in Louisville still demanding justice for Breonna Taylor.

We don’t know what sparks will ignite next year. But we do know that when it happens, we’ll be there to make sense of how it fits into the big picture and offer visionary thinking about where we should go next.

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